Mar 17, 2023 - News

RAGBRAI planning "a big lift" as Des Moines readies for record crowds

A photo of RABRAI.

RAGBRAI riders in 2013, the last time the event was in Des Moines. Photo courtesy of Catch Des Moines

RAGBRAI's 2023 route is expected to take over a section of East 14th Street in both directions and will likely require the assistance of hundreds of traffic, law enforcement and emergency personnel.

Why it matters: While plans have been ongoing for months, decisions on things like a specific metro route and emergency contingency plans kick into high gear next week after the NCAA basketball tournaments.

  • Minimizing disruptions while maximizing public safety efforts for the world's largest bike-touring event is what deputy DSM city manager Matt Anderson describes to Axios as "a big lift."

State of play: RAGBRAI's 20,000-plus cyclists and tens of thousands of spectators last visited DSM in 2013.

  • In celebration of the ride's 50th anniversary, organizers are trying to beat a world record for the largest parade of bicycles — set in Italy in 2000 with almost 49,000 participants.
  • There could be around 100,000 riders participating in the 50-mile route from Ames to DSM this year, RAGBRAI ride director Matt Phippen told KCCI in January.

Flashback: There were 30 police officers stationed along the route on the DSM Water Works campgrounds and in downtown for 2013's DSM route. That was equivalent to an entire police patrol shift, the Register reported at the time.

  • At least $100,000 in corporate donations was raised to help cover that cost.

Zoom in: This year's route is far different than in 2013, Anderson says.

  • Riders will likely stay in the southbound lanes for much of the U.S. Highway 69/East 14th street route from Ankeny.

Yes, but: It's likely the event will require both directions of the highway after Euclid Avenue as the route heads towards downtown because of fewer medians.

  • Planners are still evaluating where the route will jog west from East 14th Street before reaching the Capitol grounds, Anderson says.

Meanwhile, planners are also considering how to handle crowds and shuttling people from the Capitol to associated festivities at places like Water Works Parks.

Plus, there will be more route assistance needed the morning of July 27 as riders leave DSM, per Anderson.

What they're saying: Multiple metro jurisdictions are involved in planning this year's route, A.J. Mumm, director of the Polk County Emergency Management Agency, tells Axios.

  • Specific metro route details will be finalized by mid-June, Anne Lawrie, director of RAGBRAI's cycling division, tells Axios.

Of note: The AAU Junior Olympic Games — expected to attract 14,000 athletes — starts in DSM on July 26.

  • The competitions at Drake Stadium and the MidAmerican Energy Company RecPlex in WDM are not expected to impact the RAGBRAI route, Trina Flack of Catch DSM tells Axios.
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