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D.M. council wants to know who pays to ‘connect downtown’


A grand design to slow traffic in downtown Des Moines bumped into a caution signal this morning from members of the Des Moines City Council. Their message: Go slow with this.

A plan to convert one-way streets to two-way travel on narrower pathways that protect bicyclists and provide safer crossings for pedestrians is desirable, but darn expensive, with a price tag of $33.5 million for full implementation over the next 13 years, council members Chris Coleman and Christine Hensley said.

“If the city has available moneys for the neighborhoods, then it shouldn’t be spent on this,” Coleman said after a presentation by Paul Moore of NelsonNygaard Consulting Associates, a national firm that specializes in transportation issues. The mobility plan is called “Connect Downtown” and was spearheaded by the city of Des Moines, the Urban Land Institute Iowa and the Greater Des Moines Partnership as a way to enhance recruitment efforts, improve safety, and enhance travel for pedestrian and bicyclists.

The business influence was not lost on Coleman and Hensley, both of whom said businesses need to be prepared to fund the changes. Coleman said some of that funding could come from an increase in special property tax assessments businesses pay in self-supporting municipal improvement districts or a reallocation of a percentage of tax increment funds.

Moore noted that Oklahoma City used a sales tax program to accelerate a similar street plan for its downtown.

In Des Moines, a model of the street-slowing plan can be experienced on a segment of East Grand Avenue in the East Village, with its reduced traffic lanes, curb bump-outs and bicycle lanes that are protected from traffic by vehicle parking lanes.

Implementing the plan throughout downtown, based on various models used by the consultants, would slow downtown morning rush-hour traffic by 1.2 minutes, midday traffic by 3 seconds and evening rush-hour traffic by 25 seconds. 

Coleman said he liked the philosophy, but not the math behind the proposal.

Hensley agreed, saying, “We need a plan and a commitment for how we raise these funds,” with much of that commitment coming from “major corporations.”

City Manager Scott Sanders cautioned that for now the City Council should focus on coming up with a plan for how the street conversion could evolve.

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