Sunday, March 27, 2016

Another vulnerability in the suburban development pattern

42nd Street NE in Cedar Rapids is undergoing some badly needed reconstruction this spring and summer. The street is down to one westbound lane from the exit off I-380 to Wenig Road.

The street in this 0.6 mile stretch is residential, with most houses built between 1955 and 1960, so it's not a stretch to guess the street is about 60 years old and this is the first reconstruction of this magnitude. There are, besides the houses, two schools: Pierce Elementary School one block east of Wenig...

...and Kennedy High School at Wenig and 42nd. (Kennedy's baseball field, not pictured here, was featured in the first game scene of the movie "The Final Season.")

Beginning with Lovely Lane United Methodist Church across Wenig from Kennedy, there are a number of churches along 42nd as well. Except for Lovely Lane, all are out of the construction zone, but their members normally would use 42nd for access from the east.

Average daily traffic count for 42nd is 14000 directly west of I-380; 11000 closer to Wenig; and 8600 west of Wenig.

The project involves a thorough resurfacing; while they're at it, they're widening the road slightly in order to add bike lanes. But the bike lanes are merely piggy-backing on the road reconstruction which is badly overdue. There are potholes. James Muench, assistant principal at Kennedy High School, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette it was "pothole city."

This is not a complaint about construction. Roads wear out, just like everything else in nature, and need replacing. The problem is that 42nd is designed to be THE arterial for this area. While it is being repaired there are no nearby alternative routes. To both the north and south of 42nd are residential subdivisions with no through streets. The nearest parallel through street is Collins Road, 0.6 miles to the north, but it's limited access and doesn't intersect with any north-south streets for an impractically long way. South of 42nd the nearest alternative is Glass Road, nearly a mile away--serviceable enough, but the only connection is via Wenig, a narrow winding hilly street that normally carries 1640 cars per day and has a 25 mph speed limit (and no sidewalks).

This isn't a life-and-death crisis, and I'm not trying to make it one. But having designed neighborhoods with only one route in or out certainly creates problems when we confront the inevitability of maintenance.


City press release on construction schedule,

B.A. Morelli, "'Pothole City' 42nd Street Getting Major Makeover," Cedar Rapids Gazette, 3 March 2016,

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