• Sat September 19 2009
  • Posted Sep 19, 2009
Des Moines, IA Des Moines' new bicycle-friendly streets policy that has stirred controversy on Ingersoll Avenue may be tested next in the Beaverdale neighborhood on the city's northwest side. It would be a good case history in how improving the appearance of streets, and how they are used, can have a visible impact on a neighborhood. Des Moines is striving to make travel as safe and convenient for pedestrians and bicycles as by car with a new "complete streets" policy. Some neighbors and businesses objected to the concept on Ingersoll Avenue west of downtown, but the city is pressing ahead. Beaverdale may be next. Neighborhood leaders and businesses are collaborating with the city on a plan for improving the major streets that bisect the area. In addition to softening the look of pavement and parking lots with decorative lighting, planters, banners and street furniture, the goal is to better accommodate all modes of transportation. That includes automobiles, bicycles, pedestrians, the handicapped and parents pushing strollers. The focal point of the streetscape change would be in the heart of the Beaverdale business district south of Urbandale Avenue, where Beaver Avenue narrows to two lanes with on-street parallel parking. This would be enhanced by sidewalk bump-outs that project into parking, street trees, planters, benches, banners and public art. The effect would be to invite drivers to stop, get out of their cars and do some window shopping. Street improvements extending along the 1.5-mile-long Beaver Avenue corridor would be a test of the complete streets policy. Beaverdale is already a bike- and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, but the $3.5 million streetscape plan under consideration by the city would take it to a new level. The Beaverdale plan calls for "traffic calming" devices, such as narrowing four-lane streets to two traffic lanes separated by a turning lane, with a lane dedicated to bicycles. Likely the most controversial proposal is for a "roundabout" at the intersection of Beaver and Urbandale Avenues. This would transform the existing intersection into a 150-foot-diameter traffic circle with no traffic signals. Vehicles would enter and move counter-clockwise around the circle, with the option of turning right onto intersecting streets. Roundabouts are common in many European cities and in Washington, D.C., but they have only recently been showing up in this country. Driving through a roundabout takes some getting used to, but it quickly becomes second nature. The roundabout, as envisioned by the Genus landscape architecture firm, would serve two purposes: One, it would address a confusing and dangerous intersection, where traffic from four directions converges and left turns are a challenge because Beaver crosses Urbandale at an odd angle. Two, the circle could serve as a dramatic centerpiece in the heart of Beaverdale. Members of the city's Urban Design Review Board, made up of architects and citizens, were mostly enthusiastic about the idea when it was presented this week, but they had some questions. Would it impede traffic wanting to move quickly through the intersection? Would pedestrians have problems navigating the circle? Those are the same questions the public will have, although a consulting traffic engineer said roundabouts improve traffic flow and safety, and architect Brett Douglas said Beaverdale businesses are excited about the idea. Beaverdale has long enjoyed a unique sense of identity and a consistently solid residential and commercial economy. This plan promises to enhance those assets, and it could be a model for other neighborhoods in greater Des Moines.

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