A beautiful fall day in Des Moines

 

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There are many great things about my job as a flight attendant.  One of them is being able to explore new cities.  October 15th was a great day.  As a regional flight attendant, I don’t get to go to exotic places like San Juan or foreign destinations like Paris.  We fly mostly into regional sized cities like Tulsa, Raleigh, Charlotte and Knoxville.  Occasionally, we get really cool opportunities like Toronto, Canada or gulf coast cities.  My airline flies into Mexico and Canada and covers regional routes from Denver to Newark to Houston.  On this particular trip, I was scheduled for a 31 hour overnight in Des Moines.

I have had a few overnights in Des Moines before and we stay in a very nice hotel in the West Des Moines area.  It is surrounded by a zillion stores, shops and restaurants.  There is a massive mall area equipped with everything any shopper would love.  The thing is, I don’t like to shop much and I really dislike corporate shopping malls and franchise restaurants.  I work for a huge corporation but I prefer to walk in historic downtown America and spend my money in Mom & Pop stores.   Once I saw the long overnight on my work schedule, I was excited to go a bit further than the mall.  I did a quick Google search and saw that Des Moines has B Cycle bike share.  I have done bike share in many cities; Austin, Nashville, Omaha, Cincinnati, Fargo, Milwaukee, Madison, Columbus OH, Chicago and Washington DC.  Bike share is the best way to check out a new city.  I can cover so much more ground on bike than I can on foot.  I also saw in my Google search that Des Moines has a well-connected bike trail system.

My next concern was how I was going to get from West Des Moines to downtown.  It’s over 12 miles and I wanted an inexpensive option.  I looked up mass transit and found Des Moines has the DART system.  I called a representative with DART and they were very helpful.  They gave me preliminary directions and assured me there was a way to get from West Des Moines to downtown.  So, that morning I stopped at the hotel front desk and inquired about the bus stop.  It is actually across the highway, Mills Civic Parkway.  The highway is easy to cross at the stoplight and the area is well-lit and safe.  The stop number is #3292 and the #52 bus comes approximately at :25 after the hour, every hour.  Do not go to the stop #3284 on the same side of Mills Civic Parkway as the hotel.  You can always call 515-283-8100 for time clarification and tell them stop #3292, bus #52, to downtown.  The ride takes about 35-40′ and you go around two malls.  The clientele riding the bus are safe and the buses are very clean.  You will be dropped off downtown at the DART center, right in the middle of downtown.  There is a B cycle station right there at the bus center.

 

B Cycle is very easy to use.  The kiosk leads you easily thru the process.  If you are completely new to bike share programs, you can go to B Cycle’s website and they give a very thorough overview of how bike share works.  In Des Moines B Cycle, they give you 60 minutes with the bike.  Some cities, like Madison only give you 30″ at a time because they have so many stations throughout the city.  I always buy a 24 hour pass and then return the bike in the 30 or 60 minute time limit to avoid fee overages.  It is a good idea to have the B Cycle app downloaded on your smart phone, so you can easily find other bike stations.  The app has all the B Cycle cities listed, you just pick the city you are in and then all information given will be particular to that city.  That day, I also stopped in the DART station and got a paper map of the B Cycle stations.  The lady was very helpful setting me in the right direction.

When I start riding bike in a new city, I am cautious at first and try to find a side street and ride around a few streets to get a feel for the city.  Some cities are more “bike friendly” than others.  The motorists of Des Moines were fairly bike friendly.  Most of the time, the motorists will see that you are on a bike share bike and give you wide berth.  Des Moines does have some bike lanes but I did find the one way streets a bit confusing at first.  And their stop lights are ridiculously long.   It’s always a good idea to look at the map before riding.  I rode the bike to the state capital first.

I have been taking pictures of all the state capitals that I have overnighted in.  I have photos from quite a few of the states.  It is always nice to check another capital off my list!  Des Moines’ capital is quite beautiful and has the perfect location, overlooking the whole downtown area.  There was definitely some forethought thought in the placement because you can view the capital from certain streets, the full length of the street.  I then rode all the way down to 14th street, crossing the river to where Meredith Publishing is.  They publish Better Homes & Gardens.  I wandered from street to street for a while and found a sculpture garden full of interesting sculptures.  There is a lot of construction going on in Des Moines.  The bars along Court street look fun and had a fair amount of outdoor seating.  There were many insurance companies and banks, of course.  There is very few vacant buildings.  The economy of Des Moines appears to be really thriving.  Many old buildings were under remodeling/construction as well.  There was pockets of new mixed-use condos popping up everywhere.   I then rode back towards the East Village area, crossing the river again.

I went to a delightful bike shop, called Ichi Bikes, on Walnut street and bought my husband a new bike bell and the guy in the back fixing bikes gave me directions to get to Gray’s Lake.  I then wandered around the East Village area on foot.  My kind of area.  Lot’s of  kitschy shops; clothing, art, hair salons, gift stores and I found a new yarn store.  I am obsessed with knitting and yarn and I can never pass up a skein of yarn found in a new shop.  The girl running the store (Hill Vintage & Knits) was so nice and lovely to talk to.  I stopped next door and had a salad at a little bar/café.  There is so much more to see and do in that area.  I will have to come here again!  I decided I wanted to ride the bike out by Gray’s Lake yet, so I headed in the direction the guy at the bike shop said to go.

It was easy getting into the bike trail system of Des Moines.  Like any other city in America; just follow the river front.  Every city is trying to get their share of the tourism dollar and riverfront’s are big business.  Des Moines has a very nice shared use path along the Des Moines river.  The signage was very easy to follow.  I rode around the back side of the AAA Iowa Cubs baseball stadium and followed the signs to Gray Lake.  The lake is beautiful and did not disappoint.  Many people were out walking today as the weather was absolutely beautiful, sunny and high 60’s/70 today.  The lake has a very cool bridge over the water.  There were plaques to commemorate the lives of loved ones, posted along the railing.  The sun was starting to go down and everyone was out walking their dogs, riding bikes or jogging.  Absolutely lovely.  Little girls learning to ride bike, dogs sniffing the path, geese flying over the lake.  Idyllic.  I love the energy you feel when everyone is sharing in nature like that.  And it was good to see many overweight people walking diligently, taking action to improve their health.  People of all ages and abilities.  I actually rode around the lake twice.  Then I headed back to the DART station to return my bike.  I put on 8 miles from downtown to Gray Lake and my circuit around the lake.  A nice little workout to add to my activity of the day.

It was quite easy to get back to the hotel.  I went to the “E” platform (as instructed) and waited for the Westbound #52 bus.  It leaves every 30″ on the :15 and :45.  It was a 35-40″ ride again, around two malls and then once you get on Mills Civic Parkway, watch for the hotel, it is about 2-4 stops.  You might want to mention to the bus driver which hotel you are staying at on Mills, so they know to stop.  You will need to request the stop.  The bus to downtown costs $1.75 one way.  I spent about 6 hours in downtown and really enjoyed myself.  I love being adventurous in a new city and Des Moines is a safe city to explore.  I loved being able to get out of the corporate jungle and see history, architecture, art and nature.  It truly makes this job a pleasure and creates many great memories.

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Tulsa-my perspective on the ground

 

Today I had the pleasure of going to downtown Tulsa for a long overnight.  My company so graciously put me up in the downtown Double Tree hotel. On the drive to the hotel from the airport, I asked my very talkative shuttle driver for recommendations for a great place to eat lunch.  Feeling in the mood for BBQ, he offered two suggestions in the Blue Dome District; giving the nod to Albert G’s Bar & Q restaurant.  I was completely delighted by one of their specialties; a smothered baked sweet potato, covered with brisket, BBQ sauce and sour cream.  The bartender encouraged me to try the pickle bar and it certainly did not disappoint.  A ton of food and very economically priced.  I arrived at noon and there was a brisk lunch time crowd. I absolutely loved the decor; the building was over 100 years old with exposed brick walls; high ceilings and a rustic look.  My bartender was quick to take my order and was outgoing and friendly.

I wanted to get a better feel for Tulsa’s downtown.  I came here about a 14 months ago and stayed downtown then as well.  At that time, I was able to ride bike along the Arkansas river on the trail.  A nice related story about that; I was going to rent one of the Tulsa “Townie” bikes parked along the trail.  I could not get the kiosk to rent me a bike; as this was not a familiar B cycle station, the bikes were managed by an independent company .  A nice lady saw me trying to figure out the kiosk and she tried to help me.  I told her I loved riding bike and was looking forward to a ride along the river. We could not get the kiosk to work and I was disappointed.  She quickly said, “My apartment is just across the street, you can ride my bike!” I was just overwhelmed by her midwest hospitality. Of course, I quickly said “yes!” and offered to leave my drivers license with her to prove I would bring the bike back.  She quickly added, “no, I can trust you.”  And she had the cutest 3 speed bike painted teal with a darling wicker basket. I had a delightful ride that day along the river.  I went all the way down to the casino and back.  According to MapMyRide; I rode 18 miles that day.  The trail is lovely; sponsored by the health system in Tulsa.  There are actually two paths that are paved; one for people walking their dogs and pushing strollers; the other for serious bikers.  There are beautiful trees; street lights lighting the path and great views of the river.  I returned the bike that evening after having a big salad at a restaurant right on the bike trail.  Since that great trail ride, I have judged many other city trails against the Tulsa trail. It truly is a very nice trail for the community.

This time I wanted to walk through the downtown of Tulsa and judge the city as a pedestrian. I am not an expert but I have read a lot about walkability, bikeability and pedestrian friendly downtowns. I watch webinars regarding bike friendly communities; walk scores and urban design & planning…just for fun!  This last year I have been consumed with learning about urban design.  My job as a flight attendant takes me all over this great country and I dearly love travel.  I have always loved great design and notice architecture everywhere.  I have read many books about sustainability and resiliency and I desire to further my knowledge in this field.  I have considered returning to school and formally learning the courses taken by urban planners and designers.  I would love to focus on biking transportation and pedestrian friendly communities.

It’s with the basic knowledge that I have acquired in the past year, I bring the following critique of downtown Tulsa.   As a flight attendant; I see many regional sized cities and can easily compare them to each other.  This critique only covers the area of downtown I walked around (over 2 miles total of wandering).  Tulsa is like many other cities; carved up by interstates and multiple lane highways.  The downtown area is essentially a circle surrounded by an expressway.  They have many one way streets; with multiple four lanes, all going in one direction.  Parking spaces line both sides of their one way streets.  Honestly; I feel Tulsa could go on a “road diet” as the roads are just not that busy.  A road diet is when a four lane road is taken and repainted to be a two lane road; with bike lanes added.  A turn lane is placed in the middle; the lanes are narrowed.  The curb to curb ratio remains the same but there is more space for bike lanes.  The roads I am talking about are all one way streets that are four lanes wide. I would love to find their actual “car counts” for some of these streets.  The DOT studies car counts all the time; I am sure the numbers are available somewhere on a website.   Tulsa was definitely designed for the auto dependent resident. The traffic that was actually driving on the streets was going quite fast as well.  Pedestrians feel allot safer when the speed of the cars racing by is lower.  Road diets also tend to lower the noise from traffic and make outdoor patio restaurant seating more inviting.  There was some nice sidewalk space in the Blue Dome district that could easily accommodate outdoor patios for three seasons. There were no bike lanes painted on any of the streets.  I did see two people biking today (temperature was 43) but they just took their space along the row of parked cars.  As a biker; I am always cautious of biking along a row of parked cars as I am always looking to prevent being “doored” when i am riding.

The one thing I did notice repeatedly; Tulsa has parking ramps!  Everywhere! above the ground and below the ground.  They take up 3/4 of a block sometimes or greater.  There is also an overabundance of ground parking lots and copious curb side parking.  A few of the ramps have tried to aesthetically improve the outside of the ramps but you can’t put lipstick on a pig I say! I imagine the zoning laws in Tulsa favor parking ramps.  I noticed the lots were maybe 60-75% full and parking costs were very cheap compared to other cities.  I say raise the cost of parking and get rid of about half of them!  Parking lots should be priced for 80% occupancy.  Parking spots are prime real estate and they are taking over the downtown!  If I was redeveloping Tulsa; I would reduce the zoning laws requiring parking spaces and I would get rid of a few of the ground lots and redevelop the space with 4 story mixed use/condo residencies; ground floor full of shops; floors 2,3,4 are condos.  Many cities are reducing their parking zoning requirements and allowing “shadow” parking.  Meaning, that a developer can count a parking space for the resident from 6pm to 8am and for business owner from 8am until 6pm.  This reduces the overall need for parking spaces.

Tulsa has some nice art placed through out the downtown; a sculpture here; a painted wall there.  But there could be much more art space through out.  The Blue Dome area has some nice galleries and artwork/signage. They have the four B’s found in downtown…Banners, Berms, Bollards and Benches.  There was some nice landscaping around some buildings.  Trees lined many of the streets.  I would love to see more green space though; small little parks (perhaps in a space that used to be a parking lot!).  There is some nice architecture; especially looking up at sky line.  But near the ground some of the store fronts in the core of downtown could improve their aesthetics. I imagine a few less parking lots would be helpful for Tulsa’s run off as well.  The downtown is a bit hilly and I imagine all the storm water flows towards the Arkansas river.  Parking lots and large surfaces of asphalt can cause problems with runoff. If they took a few surface parking lots and converted them to green space/parks or added some urban garden plots, the runoff would be more environmentally controlled.

I looked up Tulsa online and they did receive the Bronze award for being a bike friendly city. The signage downtown is thorough and plentiful.  Their trail system is very nice and I saw a racing group on a group ride the last time I was here. If they had a central area downtown where people could congregate to eat; where food trucks can be set up, that would increase foot traffic.  A place or two of green parks instead of so much parking. I would continue to develop the Blue Dome District and along the edges of it I would add more mixed use retail/condo buildings.  I saw bike racks parked through out downtown and the transit system is functioning.  I did not see many business people using the transit system.  The old YMCA building needs to be torn down and redeveloped.  I am excited to come back in the summer.  I see that Tulsa wants bike share companies to submit requests to the city so I hold out hope that B Cycle will come their way.  It is so much easier to see a city on bike!