Transit 2030 will be broad framework for future
Head out of downtown Des Moines onto Interstate Highway 235 during rush hour. Frustrated by traffic? Now imagine twice as many cars on the roadway, and suddenly things don’t seem so bad.
But with population projections that show Greater Des Moines’ population will have doubled within the next 25 years, that situation doesn’t seem too unlikely.
Eyeing that projected increase, and the challenges it presents to the area’s transit system, the Des Moines Metropolitan Transit Authority called on business and community leaders to create a vision for the future of transit in Greater Des Moines. The process allowed members of the Transit 2030 Committee to see what Greater Des Moines’ transit system could become, and consider that system’s role in a healthy, vibrant community.
“I think folks generally look at public transportation as something that exists solely to reduce traffic congestion or save energy or promote cleaner air, but there’s a role in the overall transportation system that starts to bring other benefits to the community,” said Steve Spade, general manager of the Des Moines MTA. “It starts to become a tool in the way you influence how your community grows.”
The 27-member Transit 2030 Committee began its visioning process in November, and is now set to unveil its vision at a Thursday luncheon. Though some may anticipate a strategic plan to address transit issues, the committee has remained focused on developing a broad framework that will encompass future plans to be developed by various jurisdictions.
“The framing speaks right to the interesting thoughts in there – that people will be seeking to live here because of its diversity, because it is world class,” said Greater Des Moines Partnership CEO Martha Willits.
Committee member Mark Tezak, director of human resource development for Principal Financial Group said the Transit 2030 group emphasized a vision of inclusion – in terms of a multimodal transit system, which includes everything from private and public transportation to recreational transportation, a multi-jurisdictional approach to implementation, and the development of a system that is clean, safe and available to everyone in the community. Willits called it a “180-degree turn in how transportation systems can be thought of.”
“You can’t look at incremental solutions,” Tezak said. “You have to look at doing things in fundamentally different ways, and more collaboratively than has typically been the case. Then we started talking about what is it that transit enables. You start to deal with some of the obvious things about being able to get people to and from work. But you broaden it beyond that to quality of life issues.”
As an executive for downtown’s largest employer, Tezak recognizes the need to bring thousands of Principal Financial Group workers, and workers from other companies, into downtown Des Moines, and the challenges that creates. But he and other business leaders on the committee were asked to take on the role of responsible citizen as well in developing a vision for transit in the community.
“The other thing businesses bring to the table has to be broader than that in perspective, to include what the community needs,” he said. “Because if the community isn’t attractive, then we’re not going to get those potential employees to even consider the business, or if they do, get them to stay.”
Originally formed as the Transit 2010 Committee – committee members decided that time frame was too narrow to consider an in-depth vision – the Transit 2030 Committee has attempted to consider transit issues before anticipated problems present themselves. Tezak, a 23-year resident of Greater Des Moines, felt this was the best time for the area to consider these issues because of the evidence of growth in downtown Des Moines alone.
“I have watched downtown really come to life, and I think a lot of the things we’ve talked about in those meetings are absolutely credible because people have seen that now, and a lot of those vision plans have come to fruition,” he said. “If you go back 10 or 15 years, I’m not sure people would have been ready for the kind of vision we’re talking about.”
With the committee’s five vision points now in the hands of the Des Moines MTA, Spade said the board of directors must develop recommendations as to how transit services can be effective in meeting the vision.
“It’s nice to have that kind of goal to shoot for, and it really helps now as we formulate our plans,” he said. With a vision for the entire area’s transportation network, he said the Transit 2030 vision is one that is applicable beyond public transportation, and can be considered within other public entities such as the Metropolitan Planning Organization, as well as cities and counties.
“I think that offers us some interesting opportunities and challenges for all of us that have some role in transportation,” Spade said. “For us to be on the same page trying to respond to the same vision is really going to help us.”
A Transit 2030 subcommittee has been formed to see the vision through to the implementation process, which is now in the hands of the Des Moines MTA, which will use the vision in its ongoing strategic planning process. Over the coming months, Spade said the Des Moines MTA will develop recommendations as to how transit services can be effective in achieving the committee’s vision. The plan will go before the MTA board in September before being presented to the community.