Burden offers design suggestions

Friday, November 30, 2012
Dan Burden, an internationally recognized authority on livable and sustainable communities, was in Spencer Thursday morning offering suggestions to local leaders on how to improve the city's downtown pedestrian traffic, safety and retail bottom line. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

Authority applauds adaptive use of historic buildings

In conjunction with Spencer's Blue Zones Project kickoff celebration Thursday, Dan Burden, an internationally recognized authority on livable and sustainable communities, spent the morning with more than 50 local citizens and officials, conducting a downtown walking audit.

Burden, who has worked around the world in more than 3,500 communities, helping to craft healthy streets, design traffic calming measures and establish bicycle and pedestrian programs, told the group, "Every downtown is organic. It's a play that's being written."

Dan Burden paused to measure the lane width on Grand Avenue during a walking audit of downtown Spencer Thursday morning. He suggested the addition of a bicycle lane and possible change in parking, could add to safety and retail dollars. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

The audit consisted of aesthetic and functional design suggestions to the downtown district as a means to create a greater push for pedestrian safety, the ability to accommodate all ages and mobility needs, with the ultimate result leading to increased retail possibilities for the business community.

"The purpose of a walking audit is looking for spots with teachable moments. You have children and seniors with mobility issues. We design our community differently. ... Health needs to become a very natural thing again," Burden said, cautioning the participants they would never see things the same way again following the tour.

He continued, "Use common sense. Is that the right way to do a driveway? Is that the right way to park a car."

The audit consisted of several recommendations, including the reduction of the size of driving lanes and employment of better use of the space by reducing pedestrian crossing distances, parking changes and bike lanes. He asked city representatives to consider sidewalk matters and best and safest use of space practices.

Burden outlined five principles of bringing back life and vitality to main street.

First he noted that windows in buildings, allowing people to see outside, provide citizens with a sense of security; the first three feet from a building is a perfect place for street furniture and planters because nobody walks there and it adds to the aesthetic. He also mentioned how complexity in a downtown has people wanting to come back because they always see something new - memorability - and the concept of enclosure.

"Spencer can be a showcase for other Iowa towns on how it can be done."

The tour guide, who offered Spencer residents a new way to look at their city, congratulated the community on the use of its buildings.

"I celebrate when I see the adaptive use of any building," Burden said. "You can turn this into the most bustling street in this part of Iowa. These buildings need to be honored and adapted."

In 2001, Burden was named "one of the six most important civic innovators in the world by Time magazine, and was honored by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences as a distinguished lecturer. He was in Spencer as a consultant to assist with concepts associated with the community's designation as a Blue Zones Demonstration Site.

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  • Reduction in the size of driving lanes and adding a bicycle lane on Grand to improve safety? Sounds like a brilliant idea to me. LOL

    -- Posted by deweyh on Thu, Nov 29, 2012, at 8:40 PM
  • Dewey, it's not only about safety, but also about bringing vitality and life back to main street, in a way the community hasn't thought about before. Creating a culture where walking and biking is the main mode of transportation. Where community, friendships and socializing are the focus. His suggestions are just that, suggestions. Have an open mind, look at the big picture, what do we want to leave for our children, how do we want their lives to be? Rushing here and there, or can we slow our lives down, and put our social and family lives back into the picture? Spencer has the opportunity to change the way we in America live our hurried lives, it's a great opportunity to have world-wide experts come in and give us suggestions. We (citizens of Spencer) will ultimately be the ones making decisions based on our needs, and Spencer's goals for the future. I hope you can have an open mind and discover more about what both Dans have accomplished in other towns and what their goals are for the Blue Zone Project.

    -- Posted by Vanessa on Fri, Nov 30, 2012, at 7:28 AM
  • LOL Ness we meet again :D Buwahaha As I was trying to explain to you last night I do not have a problem with everything that you brought up. But Grand Ave. is just a poor place to set up these types of activities. Grand Ave. is there for a specific reason. To get our cars and trucks from one end of town to the other. We have a great trail system already! Let's expand on this. I do not see how making Grand less navigable will help anyone. A special bike lane on Grand will not help people slow their lives down that is a personal choice that would be made by individuals. Once again I am not against the idea of adding choices and alternatives for life style. I have spent many a minute sitting at side walk cafe's myself and have exposed myself to many different cultures and areas. I enjoy bicycling and relaxing but once again in my opinion Grand Ave. is a very poor place to implement this type of system.

    -- Posted by deweyh on Fri, Nov 30, 2012, at 8:24 AM
  • If we make Grand Ave less "vehicle" friendly, as other bigger cities have done (downtown MPLS---Nicollet Mall) we may find that the area becomes a ghost town, not more "vital".

    It will encourage people to go around it, not through.

    The several times a day train slows traffic so that we can see the things we might want to get out and look at, as do the stop lights.

    That said, it is a nice idea to see how people can safely park and cross the streets. I'd suggest that bike traffic on Grand is a terrible idea, both for pedestrians and vehicles.

    -- Posted by kmom on Fri, Nov 30, 2012, at 10:43 AM
  • How exciting to ponder the combination of smaller driving lanes and all the oversized loads hauled through town!

    -- Posted by a-thought-or-two on Fri, Nov 30, 2012, at 10:46 AM
  • An excellent way to improve the downtown traffic, in any given city, would be to boot Wally World out on their collective ozzes.

    -- Posted by Doctlby on Fri, Nov 30, 2012, at 2:19 PM
  • Vanessa, what a joke.

    I'm sure all the elderly of spencer will enjoy dodging kids riding bikes in their family environment.. that being the busiest street in town.

    Are you kidding me? Vitality and life? Change our hurried lives? It doesn't matter how slow you go, the world is going to keep spinning just as fast. Spencer isn't the epicenter for some giant social movement, so let's stop spending money making main street pretty.

    I'm guessing you are one of the people who supported buying speakers for our lightpoles too, huh?

    -- Posted by PleaseThink on Fri, Nov 30, 2012, at 11:22 PM
  • This is one of the worst ideas I have heard to date from the city of Spencer. If they were going to have this man look at the traffic of downtown Spencer, it should have been at 5:00 pm on a given workday. Or better yet, 4:00pm to 6:00pm on a Friday during the summer months. Try 12:00 - 1:00pm any day.

    The traffic flow in this city is so horrible already and then they want to make it worse. I heard people walk away from this event saying they want to cut Grand Ave. down to a single lane each way. Can you imagine that left hand turn car stopping traffic from 1st to 8th street.

    I would urge that the citizens of Spencer speak up against this type of change. It would be one of the worst things with traffic flow that ever happened to this city.

    Phil Schilling

    -- Posted by PJSchilling on Sat, Dec 1, 2012, at 6:37 PM
  • Phil I agree 100% this is the worst idea ever

    -- Posted by Amish4life on Sat, Dec 1, 2012, at 6:54 PM
  • I am sick and tired of the only thing the city can think of to do to improve Spencer is to work on Grand Ave. over and over and over again.

    Narrowing the lanes? The most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of. There are trucks that don't take the bypass...when they should...and that alone makes narrowing the lanes absurd.

    Rather than harping on how to get traffic through town and telling us how to eat and exercise...can't the city just work on bringing more businesses/jobs to town?

    And to call this a busy, rushed life we have here in Spencer is silly. Chicago, Minneapolis, LA, big cities have rushed lives...we're doing just fine here and it's why the majority of us have stayed here. I, for one, like the pace of life, though I would like to have more choices for shopping and restaurants and jobs.

    -- Posted by spencer-gma on Sun, Dec 2, 2012, at 3:02 AM
  • For cutting the lanes, just stupid. Does anyone remember what it was like during construction??? Lunch hour is just a joke when going thru town. A bike lane on one of the most busiest roads?! And you would throw your kids out there riding a bike?! Hmmmmmmmm Using this to slow down the town life style is good, but and I mean but, have you stopped to think of it from this point of view, this is just another feel good FAD!!!! Spencer, how many times can you redo a road before you say enough is enough? I for one would like to get thru a whole year with out you messing with this road in some fashion or form. This health kick thing, why don't you hire ppl to go to the ones that are interested and personally teach them? Why do we need to spend tax dollars on this? Also this is such a dumb idea. Most of (k all) of what is in the brochures are all common sense crap!!! Why do I have to pay to go thru this?

    Bicycle lanes and sidewalks and also to redo roads pay for the maintance so on and so forth, did you know that you have walk routes/bicycle routes and plenty of area to walk. It's called the side streets. Call a friend or two drive to a country road and walk your little hearts out. There are plenty of paved back roads that you can use too that are not high traffic. Write to me and I will personally start driving you to these as long as I don't have to spend money on this crap. IT IS JUST ANOTHER PASSING FAD!!!

    -- Posted by acerdj on Sun, Dec 2, 2012, at 8:28 AM
  • I hope that everyone sharing their opinions on this are also printing them off and giving them to Mayor Peterson and the City Manager Bob Fagen. This is something we, as a community, have the power to effect. The voices and opinions expressed on this forum are better served in the hands of our community leaders.

    -- Posted by old timing man on Mon, Dec 3, 2012, at 9:10 AM
  • I am not saying that the Blue Zone project is bad... I just wish the community would put as much effort into bringing a factory or some other bussiness that could help support our families. The amount of time and hype spent on this could be very useful in other areas!

    -- Posted by spencer lover on Mon, Dec 3, 2012, at 2:48 PM
  • Finally something most of us agree on... this is a stupid idea simple as that. All the money spent on that wierd design of the bridge for what ? To try cause accident with people distracted looking to figure out wtf it is. Or how about having to use a rubber or poly edge on a blade so the sidewalk doesn't get scratched ? And the poles they put down grand from 9th to 18th... why did they fill the plant holders with balls? It looks ridiculous, and in the summer their plants get a nice watering from automation while it is downpouring out. It's all a waste. If they want to make it beautiful plant some nice trees in the median and let them grow for the next 100 years. And let the people who volunteer there time to plant flowers continue and it would be perfect.

    -- Posted by hcsiowa on Tue, Dec 4, 2012, at 11:48 PM
  • He was here to voice ideas. Why bash a guy for that? Yes some are not great ones and I highly doubt Spencer will ever go to 2 lane so settle down on that point. Why criticize a city for trying to better itself? There is nothing wrong with trying to make downtown more attractive for pedestrians to enjoy and actually shop locally. I wasn't at this event so I have no clue what other options he suggested but maybe it helped others come up with ideas. Yes city government has made some bad choices on how to spend money but what government ever spends it very wisely?? Well that's my 2 cents.

    -- Posted by iowafan11 on Wed, Dec 5, 2012, at 9:48 AM
  • For almost 20 years, the Iowa DOT had planned to build a Hwy 71 bypass west of Spencer, but the City and a lot of merchants didn't want to lose the traffic going through town. The Beltway east of town has taken a lot of traffic from away from downtown but I doubt the new west route will have the same effect, because of access to it.

    So will Grand Ave become a 2-lane road with a center turn lane so that bicycles can have lanes as well? Nice...a fairly busy state highway with around 10,000 vehicles per day becomes a 9-block bottle-neck for trucks, travelers and residents going to work, lunch, the post office, the south mall, etc.

    I like how these so-called "experts" come here to tell us how to do things...do they not know that we have the YMCA, a local fitness business, walking/biking trails & numerous golf courses (here and Okoboji area), malls that welcome people to walk their halls, etc...?

    Anytime there's someone with this much passion, there has to be money involved...it goes without saying that BCBS stands to save a lot of money by promoting healthy lifestyles...

    -- Posted by Dennis the Menace on Wed, Dec 5, 2012, at 5:50 PM
  • "the first three feet from a building is a perfect place for street furniture and planters because nobody walks there and it adds to the aesthetic." Spencer had a cute little coffee shop that tried to do just that, put furniture out so people could enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the world go by on Grand Ave. Somebody griped to the city that it was cluttering the sidewalk and needless to say the furniture went away...and so did the coffee shop. Someone had foresight and a dream; and struggled to do something that now is being hailed as a way to improve downtown.

    -- Posted by amlt75 on Thu, Dec 6, 2012, at 5:53 PM
  • From Title 5, Chapter 1 of the Spencer City Code:

    Goods and Wares on Streets: It shall be unlawful to place upon or allow to be placed upon any sidewalk, street or alley, any goods, wares or merchandise, for sale or show or to suspend the same in any manner over a sidewalk, street or alley so as to interfere in any manner with the free and uninterrupted passage on the sidewalk, street or alley. (Ord. 328, 2-3-86)

    If the coffee shop closed because they couldn't have tables and chairs on the public sidewalk, they didn't have a very good business plan. I'd be more inclined to think that their prices were too high...

    -- Posted by Dennis the Menace on Thu, Dec 6, 2012, at 7:45 PM
  • Let me throw this out there. If we need to start resizing these streets for bicycles, how about they start paying for street taxes too. Like plating and tagging their bikes. Don't you think that they should help the cost just as well as the ones that pay for gas,plates, and tags? I don't mind them on the back roads, but when it comes to wasting money again, they should have to pay.

    It would be nice to see ppl sitting out on stoops, and sidewalks like the old days, but that is not the case anymore. Now is about going with trends and convinence.

    Dennis...don't think the city won't put an ammendment to that so they can do this fad!!!

    Also, where the H*** will they put the snow and the parked cars if they narrow everything? Talk about soon to be ticked of drivers! Isn't it more important to have customers be able to park in front of your place of business, than a bicycle to ring it's bell as it goes by?

    -- Posted by acerdj on Fri, Dec 7, 2012, at 4:59 AM
  • The part everyone forgets is that gas taxes-paid by people driving cars, is what is usually supposed to be used for road construction. Bicycles and pedestrians? Not so much. So lessening the amount of driving or parking space, already cramped enough at times even in the small town of Spencer, to put lanes for the relatively few bike riders and walkers is not only irresponsible, but financially unfair since the tax burden is distributed against drivers in favor of non-drivers.

    Better idea to just take away the draconian and useless ordinance against riding bikes on the sidewalks. Costs nothing and most will realize that hey, not a lot of bike riders anyway, huh? Holy cow. Tough.

    Having "vitality" back on main street isn't going to come from bike lanes and lessening driving lanes. It's going to come from strong business models and competition from those businesses, and the city leaving them alone and not raising their tax burdens by creating more wasteful projects like the one this burden (pun most definitely intended) recommends.

    -- Posted by jlees on Mon, Dec 10, 2012, at 12:03 AM
  • jlees is on the right track with his take.how about bringing in someone who can tell the leaders how to grow some JOBS,reduce TAXES,minimize REGULATIONS,and the rest will take care of itself.pretty things generate 0 income,jobs,or benefits to the community.spencer and the surrounding area including the small towns, needs work and that is the bottom line.i get really tired of the leaders of our community wanting to put makeup on a corpse and then say it may be dead here but it looks nice.

    -- Posted by big12cc on Mon, Dec 10, 2012, at 10:36 AM
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