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Vernon “on guard” at Collins Road/First Avenue East: Roads aren’t runways for 747s, she says

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Monica Vernon, Tom Podzimek on April 10, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Council member Monica Vernon isn’t about to rest on this one.

Coming down the pike in the next few years are major road projects that will widen Collins Road NE and will also improve a long stretch of First Avenue East.

Maybe you remember:

One early concept was to widen First Avenue East from five to seven lanes. The outrage that followed was something of a defining moment in Cedar Rapids. As a result, road projects now come with sensitivity to design that is often called Context Sensitive Solutions or Context Sensitive Design. This means not just laying more pavement, but it requires thinking about how attractively it can be done. This means trees, landscaping and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly features.

Some more recent discussion on the First Avenue East project has centered around incorporating a landscaped median on the avenue, turning it into something of a boulevard.

Just this week, Rob Davis, the city’s engineering manager, talked about “the complete street.” Cities don’t just build for vehicles anymore, he said.

Even so, council member Vernon got exercised this week at the City Council meeting over an item on the council consent agenda relating to the phase of the Collins Road NE project that will add turn lanes to the intersection at First Avenue East. The phase of the project also includes improvements to Collins Road from Twixt Town Lane to east of the Slumberland store, and on First Avenue East, from Tama Street SE to 40th Street SE/NE.

The council agenda item this week involved adding to an agreement with the Iowa Department of Transportation related to property acquisition for the Collins Road/First Avenue project.

Dave Elgin, public works director and city engineer, noted that planning work on the project had extended over two to three years and had included public information meetings, and he said that the businesses in the project area endorsed the project idea.

Vernon, though, said she worried about just how wide the intersection and streets might get there and how much concrete one day would go in.

“It already feels like a 747 could take off there at some places,” Vernon said.

Vernon said she it wasn’t as important that retailers were on board with the project as that the city was using “best practices” of design.

Let’s make sure an important gateway to the city doesn’t end up looking like an industrial area, she said.

Council member Tom Podzimek wondered if Vernon might be engaged in a little “mission creep,” the suggestion being that council policymakers might be turning a bit into citizen civil engineers early in the road-building project.

Vernon disagreed.

She pointed to the Mount Vernon Road SE widening project of a few years ago, as she has done in the past, to note the kind of unadorned swath of concrete she doesn’t want to see again.

“I will remain on guard,” Vernon said, until she said she sees differently.

She noted that she also had her eyes on the widening that is coming to Council Street NE from Dry Creek to north of 74th Street NE.

“I want them to look smashing,” she said of these road projects.

Council member Brian Fagan agreed with Vernon, and he thanked her for reminding city staff of the design emphasis the council previously has said it supported.

City Manager Jim Prosser noted that the council must approve any road design before bids are let on a project.

Expect some nice debates in the months and years ahead.

On the Council Street NE project, for instance, Davis, the city’s engineering manager, talked this week about all the trees the city would be planting along the widened street – made even wider by the addition of the amenity of sidewalks – even as he talked about a new design that will add right-turn lanes at the Boyson Road/Council Street intersection. The resulting wider intersection, he said, will help smooth out stretches of the roads that have been little short of a bottleneck.

In other words, a wider Council Street NE is in line for both trees and more turn lanes.

Davis also talked about the Collins Road/First Avenue project that will include adding much-needed sidewalks along First Avenue from Lindale Mall along the Cedar Memorial Cemetery to 40th Street. Adding the sidewalks will involve raising the height of First Avenue about three feet along the cemetery. Sidewalks, too, necessarily will widen the profile of the avenue at that point, he added.




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