Investing in Safety – Des Moines’ Complete Streets Journey

Investing in Safety – Des Moines’ Complete Streets Journey

Complete streets provide safer streets for all users to access their destinations more easily. A corridor that accommodates transit, vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians can have risks including crashes, congested flow of traffic, and economic wellbeing if not properly planned. In Des Moines, Iowa, Grand Avenue stretches through the heart of downtown, passing Iowa’s capital building, city hall, many local businesses, and connecting trails. In an effort to improve overall safety and ADA compliance the City of Des Moines knew improvements to Grand Avenue needed to be made.

In a unique effort to ensure the right solution would be designed, the city kicked off a pilot project, implementing temporary ADA-compliant improvements to test their efficiency before starting construction. Ultimately, the city was able to gather information on if their design was feasible and publicly acceptable. Following the pilot project, the city collaborated with Bolton & Menk to bring their conceptual design to a constructable project. The team kept a balanced mindset, looking at what worked with the pilot project while also looking forward to what would further improve corridor pedestrian safety.

Grand Avenue houses multiple businesses, requiring minimal amount of time for business access closures. Pedestrian, motorist, and construction crew safety were of the utmost importance while also allowing businesses to remain open and outdoor dining to be available during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bolton & Menk’s Construction Project Representatives (CPRs) were able to guide the construction schedule.

Communication by the city throughout the project ensured all businesses and visitors were aware of project details and construction schedules. Before approaching the next corner for intersection improvements, the project team notified the businesses located on the corner and let them know of the schedule. The City of Des Moines also had a business district email chain that kept the public informed of the schedule and provided contact information for questions. This allowed the project to continue ahead of schedule, lessening construction frustrations along the project corridor.

However, projects rarely make it to the finish line without challenges. Due to the historic nature of the downtown corridor, the project team had to be aware of potential utilities buried along the corridor. To keep the project on track, the project designer and construction representatives made decisions for utility solutions quickly. Knowledge of the project background allowed the project team to make changes to the sizing of pipes and structure location as needed, while being mindful of the original design.

The project team continued with their plan to install bump-outs at identified corners to improve pedestrian accessibility, provide adequate drainage, install handicapped parking access, and repave the corridor. Along with the bump-outs, a complete streets plan was included to restripe E. Grand Avenue from Pennsylvania Avenue to 2nd Street to better accommodate bicycle traffic in the area. To ensure the safest experience for bicyclists along the corridor, the project team installed Methyl Methcrylate (MMA) paint. This thick, vibrant green paint is applied to highlight bike lane locations. Once bikers arrive at the intersection, there is a 6-foot-wide by 5-foot-long painted queuing area. Additionally, the MMA is painted across driveways to notify people driving in or out of the bicycle lane and potential conflict zone. This method requires less maintenance over a five-year period, compared to standard paint.

Gaining the city and project team’s trust through the design process, and having full-time CPR staff on site to deliver the complete street project in the heart of downtown Des Moines proved critical in the delivery of a successful project for the community. The repaving of Grand Avenue resulted in a safer corridor with shorter crossing distances for pedestrians and protected bike lanes for bicyclists. Due to the success of the Grand Avenue project the City of Des Moines has commissioned two identical projects in their downtown area – one is currently under construction and the second is scheduled for construction in 2022.

Written by Matt Ferrier, Principal Engineer and Jacob Ahrens, Project Engineer. Read about more projects just like this one, here! 

Matt Ferrier“The opportunity to both educate the community of their options and make something better, safer, more enjoyable, and usable,” is what drives Matt Ferrier, P.E., every day. Matt began his profession in 1999 and oversees the Central Iowa locations. He has gained experience in the consulting civil engineering field with a variety of infrastructure and public works projects, including design and construction management for numerous municipal improvement projects. Public involvement and interaction before, during, and after his projects is something Matt feels is the key to gaining and maintaining relationships with his clients. Matt was first drawn to engineering by his passion for aviation. He holds his pilot’s license and enjoys getting up in the air every now and then, especially when he can fly over Bolton & Menk projects.

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