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Better Block Ottumwa

4 Dec

This is from our friend, Nick Klimek, AICP

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to help the community of Ottumwa, Iowa build a better block in its downtown. More specifically, an official “Better Block” – the national movement that seeks to redesign the public environment through temporary interventions. The interventions may only last a few days, but with the hope that they serve to empower and inspire participants, community leaders, and property owners to immediate and sustained action.

My professional career began in Ottumwa, Iowa – first as city planner, then planning director – and allowed me the opportunity to aide a dedicated group of downtown advocates on the pathway to revitalize downtown Ottumwa; at the time, a task considered unattainable. Much progress has been completed since then (a new business incubator/downtown market, rehabilitated storefronts, and dozens of new apartments above the storefronts) but one question remained: how much more could be done without the millions of dollars needed to improve the street?

Main Street Ottumwa offered a solution – to use temporary interventions to transform the former highway corridor into the environment that its stakeholders want and need. Through a partnership with Main Street Iowa, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the community hired Better Block to lead the community in its transformation. Upon hearing of this project, I knew I had to be part of it.

I arrived back in Ottumwa on a Thursday morning to a sea of volunteers eager to help. We learned of the plan: to install protected bike lanes; install landscaped bump-outs and pedestrian crossings; arrange trees and flowers; install chairs, benches, and bike racks; design and set up three temporary businesses in vacant buildings; create public art installations; and to create a community event space. Quite ambitious for a days’ work. Continue reading

What do you do when there is nowhere to go? The need to plan for everyone.

19 Oct

Mode Shift member, Scott Ussery, brought a troubling circumstance to our attention at the intersection of 38th Avenue and Leavenworth. He wrote to us, “there is building demolition/construction on the Southwest corner of 38th Ave that closed the sidewalk along the south side of Leavenworth and construction on the Northeast corner of 38th Ave that has closed the sidewalk along the north side of Leavenworth.”

In other words, there was no safe path east or westbound on Leavenworth between 38th Street and 39th Street.

View to the west, you can see the sidewalks blocked on the north and south side of Leavenworth with no safe crossing or detour. Note pedestrian walking in the street on south side. Photo: Scott Ussery

This is not the norm in other cities. Most municipalities require a plan for how traffic will be managed around work zones. In order to get a project approved, you must submit a Traffic Management Plan (TMP) that details what work will be done, what affects it will have on traffic — all traffic, from vehicle lanes to bike lanes to pedestrian infrastructure — and what you will do to minimize the disruption. Continue reading

Pilot Transit Tour was a success!

13 Oct

Last weekend, we piloted our Transit Tourism program that organizes fun outings for people looking to learn more about Omaha’s transit system — where it goes and how to use it. We hosted a group of ten participants ranging from small children to retirees. Our first route took the group from Crossroads Mall to the Old Market.

The day started cold and rainy, but concluded with a pleasant, sunny fall afternoon. We started the day touring the Czech/Slovak Museum housed in the former Chili’s at Crossroads Mall. In addition to the exhibits of Czech crystalware and accordions, the museum had a large, illustrated history of the Czech people set up in the common area of the Mall.

Our first leg of the transit journey began with the walk from the museum to the bus stop. This walk highlighted a number of challenges that transit users encounter. First: how to get from the museum to the sidewalk. There are no obvious or marked pathways for a pedestrian to leave Crossroads. There is a sidewalk that connects to 72nd Street on the east end, but to the south, west and north, there isn’t a clear pathway for pedestrians. Fortunately, Curtis, our guide for the day, knew about a narrow pedestrian ramp that connected the parking lot to the sidewalk on the south side of the mall property. Continue reading