Government

Bicycles top of mind in Cedar Rapids plans

City aims to improve safety, access in upcoming projects

Cyclists cross First Avenue East, parallel to the downtown train tracks, on the 2017 Mayors’ Bike Ride in Cedar Rapids. The city plans to install railroad arms at the crossing in 2019 and 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cyclists cross First Avenue East, parallel to the downtown train tracks, on the 2017 Mayors’ Bike Ride in Cedar Rapids. The city plans to install railroad arms at the crossing in 2019 and 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Several safety improvements have been identified to improve the biking and pedestrian experience in downtown Cedar Rapids — changes that align with efforts for a railroad “quiet zone,” conversion of one-way streets to two-ways, a landmark recreational project called ConnectCR, and a new bike share program slated to launch next spring.

It was the plans for ConnectCR, a public-private partnership, that spurred a review of how bicyclists can travel from Cedar Lake at the north end of downtown to the proposed Sinclair Smokestack pedestrian bridge at the south end of the NewBo District, and how that route can fit in with other infrastructure projects, said Matt Myers, a Cedar Rapids traffic engineer.

“This is about creating a bicycle network integrating the ConnectCR vision, the downtown, NewBo area and Czech Village to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail,” Myers said.

The effort highlights the challenges of modifying a downtown designed for trains and automobiles to be welcoming and safe for other modes of transportation.

Myers on Tuesday detailed more than a dozen projects scheduled, proposed or somewhere on the drawing board to members of the Cedar Rapids City Council Development Committee.

While some projects are funded, others are not.

Advocates are still raising money for ConnectCR, a more than $20 million project featuring a cleaned-up Cedar Lake and a bridge over the Cedar River connected by a trail network through downtown.

eighth avenue SE

While Cedar Rapids has made strides in walkability and bikeability, Eighth Avenue SE has remained a barrier between downtown and the NewBo District. Pedestrian signals have been added, but crossing can still be dangerous, committee members noted.

“It’s just a matter of time before someone gets hit,” said council member and committee chairwoman Ann Poe. “We really need to do something more aggressive at that intersection. I want to see how we can get those cyclists across Eighth in a safe fashion.”

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A $275,000 Americans with Disabilities Act project is slated for the Eighth Avenue-Third Street intersection next summer to update the traffic signal and improve the crossing for those with disabilities, Myers said.

FIRST AVENUE

Railroad crossing arms are scheduled to be installed on First Avenue East at its crossing of the Fourth Street railroad corridor and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, which run alongside each other through the downtown. That project, estimated at up to $1.5 million, is slated for 2019 and 2020.

As part of that project, the bike trail would be realigned to not cross the railroad tracks. Also, medians are to be installed on First Avenue to break up the crossing for pedestrians.

Railroad crossing arms also are planned where the trail and tracks cross Third Avenue SE in the summer of 2019, a project estimated at around $400,000, Myers said.

Third Avenue SE next summer also will be converted from a one-way to a two-way street from First Street SW to 19th Street SE — the final leg of a multiyear effort to convert all downtown one-ways to two-ways — and protected bike lanes would be extended on Third from Third Street to Eighth Street SE.

Pedestrian friendly bumpouts — which shorten the distance to cross the street — would be added in 2020.

‘quiet zone’

The crossing arms are part of an effort to create a railroad “quiet zone,” which would provide relief from train whistle. A half mile of protected track is needed to apply for a quiet zone.

Once the First and Third Avenue crossing arm projects are complete, Cedar Rapids can apply for quiet zone, from the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel to Fifth Avenue SE, Myers said.

Still, to have a broader impact on train noise, Cedar Rapids would need to address 17 railroad crossings in the downtown area — roughly 1.5 miles of track, he said.

That would require crossing arms or some other rail safety measure where the track crosses Sixth through 10th Avenues SE along the Fourth Street corridor, along with many other crossings on the Union Pacific and CRANDIC tracks, Myers said.

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The $4 million to $6 million needed for that work is not budgeted, he said.

12th avenue SE

Other proposed improvements are slated for 12th Avenue SE, including a pedestrian crossing near the NewBo City Market and a pedestrian crossing and railroad gates near Sixth Street SE, behind the market.

Bike lanes are being considered on 12th Avenue SE from the 16th Avenue Bridge to Seventh Avenue SE, and an additional bike trail also is envisioned along the old railroad right of way in the old Sinclair packing plant site leading to the Smokestack Bridge.

Also, a 200-bike, 20-station bike share program in the core of the downtown is moving forward and fits with the ConnectCR concept, said Bill Micheel, the city’s assistant director of community development.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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