When you think about transit-friendly and walkable cities, chances are Des Moines, Iowa doesn't immediately come to mind. However, in the past 20 years, Des Moines has been aggressively working to improve its downtown district adding transit, bicycle, and pedestrian-friendly amenities to its landscape.
Since the 1990s, Des Moines, with a population of 400,000, has been investing nearly $2 million annually to help advance the city's Complete Streets agenda. With Denver, Seattle, and Chicago serving as models, the city of Des Moines has worked to adopt development plans that cluster homes, jobs, schools, and stores in the same area. As a result, Des Moines was recently named the best walking city in Iowa and has been ranked 72 among 500 cities across the country as a pedestrian-friendly city.
Just this past year, the city of Des Moines launched a comprehensive bicycle and trail master planning effort in partnership with the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART). As part of this planning process, the city launched a comprehensive bike rack program to accommodate more than 3,000 riders per month in the cycling season.
Transit is an important piece to the success of the city's multimodal commitment. DART provides approximately 16,000 daily bus trips. Ridership in central Iowa has grown 18 percent between 2007 and 2009 - four times the national average. Because of an increased demand for good multi-modal transit service, DART is currently in the process of completing designs for a LEED-certified transit hub in downtown Des Moines.
By investing in multi-modal infrastructure, the city of Des Moines has been able to provide residents with several choices for their transportation needs. According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago’s Housing and Transportation Affordability Index, 58 percent of communities in Des Moines spend less than 45 percent of their total income on housing and transportation costs.
As Earth Day gets closer, people start thinking about ways to live greener, healthier and more environmentally aware. Having transit alone isn't going to solve our climate change problems. As Des Moines has showed us, it is the interconnectivity of bicycle, pedestrian-friendly amenities, sidewalks, transit, and destinations that encourages people to feel safe and confident enough to get out of their cars and try something new.
This article was featured in Talking Transit, MPC's bi-weekly e-newsletter. To sign up to receive Talking Transit, please visit http://www.metroplanning.org/signup.html.