116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Despite the rain Wednesday morning, Dan Burden arrived armed with a safety vest and measuring tape prepared to give a "walking audit" of parts of downtown Cedar Rapids.
Burden, the executive director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, is known for transforming about 3,500 cities from across the United States to more walkable, livable and sustainable places to live. “I've worked with cities with populations of 800, 800,000, even 8 million,” Burden said. “Each one is different, and every time, I see things for the very first time. Some things I hope to never see again.”
Burden said Cedar Rapids could become one of the nation's most beautiful communities, a city known for its bridges and waterfront houses. He added the Cedar River, which brought the city its greatest disaster with the 2008 flood, could be transformed into one of its greatest assets.
Standing outside of City Hall on the corner of Second Avenue SE and First Street SE, Burden pointed to a parking ramp across the street. He suggested using parking ramps as multi-purpose buildings. Instead of just collecting cars, a ramp could be used as an architectural feature or a space for shops. After he crossed the street, he whipped out a measuring tape to determine the width of a parking space.
“The more on-street parking, the better,” Burden said. “It's an edge, a buffer to the sidewalk, provides convenience and slows down traffic.”
“Also, get rid of one-way streets,” Burden added.
He went on to explain the difficulties tourists or community members may encounter on one-way streets, saying they may have to drive in a circle in order to get to where they want to be, making it more of a hassle. One-way streets allow traffic to get out of town quickly, but that mentality is reversed, he added.
Burden said he wants people to look through a different lens, to see a city's potential. By making Cedar Rapids a more livable, walkable community, Burden believes students may "come back after college," or "people will want to start a business," creating more jobs and opportunities.
Stephanie Neff with Healthways, a company that shares the mission of Blue Zones to make communities a better place to live, said around 100 people, including city officials, planned to attend the audit, but believes the weather may have contributed to a lower turnout of about 30. Neff is optimistic the changes that will soon be integrated in Cedar Rapids. A community meeting, open to input from the public, will happen in May or June, she added.
Last month, Cedar Rapids celebrated becoming a Blue Zones Project demonstration site, hosting a community rally in the New Bohemia area. The Blue Zones Project is a part of Gov. Terry Branstad's Healthiest State Initiative, designed to make Iowa the nation's healthiest state by 2016.
Ron Griffith, a project engineer for the city of Cedar Rapids, said New Bohemia is a great example of a developing, mixed use area. “We're moving towards incorporating more complete streets elements,” Griffith said. He added that Wednesday was informative and the visuals were beneficial.
“It was nice to see how other cities have applied these concepts,” Griffith said. "We have a lot of irons in the fire."
Paul Zykofsky, Land Use and Transportation Programs Director for the Local Government Commission, led a presentation touching base on ideas like bike lanes on both sides of the street, and roundabouts. He said some cities may encounter resistance to changes, but he provided a simple solution.
“Just get them to try it,” Zykofsky said.