Oct 31, 2023 - News

Des Moines metro roads are becoming less safe for cyclists, pedestrians

Data: Iowa DOT and Des Moines MPO; Chart: Axios Visuals

Cyclists and pedestrians in the Des Moines metro are facing more serious injuries and fatalities due to car collisions in recent years.

Why it matters: Traffic conditions here have become less safe for all road users since 2020, but they're especially pronounced for pedestrians.

State of play: One cause could be that drivers have increased their speeds since 2020 due to a decrease in commuter traffic on the road, Dylan Mullenix, interim executive director of the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), tells Axios.

  • "If there's not a lot of people around you, I think people tend to maybe be a little bit more careless," Mullenix says.

Zoom in: Combined with a post-pandemic increase in cyclists and pedestrians, the increased speed from drivers may be resulting in more "conflict points," he says.

  • Last year had the highest five-year average for pedestrian/cyclist serious injuries and fatalities in over a decade — 31.2, according to the Iowa DOT.
  • There were 43 crashes involving pedestrians resulting in serious injuries and fatalities — the highest number in over a decade, according to the MPO.

What's happening: The MPO is creating a "vision zero" plan for the metro thanks to a $800K grant from the federal government, with the goal of eventually ending all traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

  • The City of Des Moines has already created its own "vision zero" plan, but the MPO's will reach the whole region.
  • Once the plan is created, metro communities can apply for additional grant money to help fund street improvements, such as protected bike lanes or improved street signals.

The intrigue: Traffic engineering is centered on speed and convenience, says Alec Davis, head of safe street design advocate Momentum DSM.

  • But projects like Ingersoll Avenue's streetscape show that better designs can create safer environments for all road users, Davis tells Axios.
  • Local areas he would concentrate on improving include Locust and Grand, Southeast 14th and Southwest 9th.

The big picture: A nationwide growth in both the size of SUVs and the number of people driving them has made collisions safer for the drivers themselves, but researchers say they've instead been catastrophic for cyclists and pedestrians.

What's next: The MPO will spend the next year meeting with communities to identify unsafe areas to incorporate in their plan.

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