City looks for student input on community improvements

Christie Smith

Council members brainstormed ways to improve an area known as the Lincoln Way Corridor and issued a call-to-action for community members at a special meeting of the Ames City Council on Tuesday night.

The Lincoln Way Corridor spans an area of nearly 7 miles through Ames along the east-west running Lincoln Way.

The city hired Houseal Lavigne Associates, a corridor planning firm from Chicago, to conduct a study on the area that connects Campustown to downtown and other neighborhoods across Ames. The study phase will continue throughout the spring semester and end around finals week in May.

Gloria Betcher, Ward 1 representative, said the timing of the study would hopefully maximize student input.

“This is the point where students can have input,” Betcher said. “They are citizens of Ames.”

During the study phase, students and other members of the Ames community can go to the project website and submit input on the project by completing a survey or labeling a customized map of the Lincoln Way Corridor with areas of concern or community assets.

Community members can also participate in one of three workshops in March:

The Corridor Neighborhood Workshop will take place from 5:30 to 7 p.m. March 2 at Zeke’s on Lincoln Way. The neighborhood workshop is designed for input directly from people already living in the Lincoln Way Corridor or in the areas abutting the corridor. If unsure about qualifying, detailed maps of the corridor are available on the project website.

Directly after the neighborhood workshop, a community workshop will take place from 7:30 to 9 p.m. March 2 at Zeke’s. The community workshop is open to all residents of the Ames community.

A business workshop will take place from 8 to 10 a.m. March 3 at City Hall specifically for Ames business owners and managers.

“[We know] businesses have very unique needs,” said Doug Hammel, a representative from Houseal Lavigne Associates who attended the City Council workshop via Skype.

With the Lincoln Way Corridor Plan, the city hopes to address traffic and mobility issues in the area as well as land use and development for the corridor and neighboring areas.

“There are not going to be one-size-fits-all recommendations,” Hammel said.

After the firm collects suggestions and concerns from community members through the workshops and online tools, the firm will create a plan of action for the city to get the best use of the corridor. The plan phase will conclude in fall 2016 when the firm presents its recommendations to City Council.

The city will then be tasked with evaluating the firm’s recommendations and deciding which plans to work into the city’s budget.

Tuesday’s City Council workshop was a preview for Houseal and Lavigne Associates into the community’s concerns.

Council members were asked to come up with a list of all of their concerns for the area and then to narrow that list to a prioritized list of three issues.

Several council members cited issues with mobility in the area and safety concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Sam Schulte, ex-officio representative, said he was concerned with intersections in Campustown, where students frequently cross Lincoln Way and are forced to stop in the medians.

With one student fatality and another injured trying to cross Lincoln Way in recent months, Schulte made safety for pedestrians along Lincoln Way one of his top three concerns.

Council members also discussed concerns with under-used commercial space and the general appearance of the corridor.

Chris Nelson, Ward 4 representative, said the corridor “lacks first impression.”

“I’m not proud to be driving down Lincoln Way,” said Mayor Ann Campbell.

Several members agreed the corridor could benefit from a “consistent identity” to tie the various areas of the community that the corridor spans together.

Tim Gartin, Ward 2 representative, said he would like to see more creative housing options in the corridor. Gartin said he thinks Ames could benefit from more townhomes and loft-style apartments like those found in Ankeny or downtown Des Moines.

Gartin, also a member of the CyRide Board, said another main concern for any development in the area would be the impact on Ames’ leading public transportation system.

“We need to make sure we consider how CyRide integrates into this,” Gartin said.

Though each of the representatives had unique concerns on their lists, overarching themes of safety, mobility and appearance were prevalent.

“There is a limited amount of real estate that we have to work with that’s trying to accomplish a lot of different things,” Hammel said.

Hammel said the purpose of local workshops was not just to highlight the areas in need of improvement but also to get insight on local landmarks and assets to the community. Council members cited the corridor’s central location, name recognition and historical significance as its strengths.

The surveys and map tools available on the project’s website, accessible on the city of Ames website under “Planning,” allow for community members to identify both their positive and negative feedback as well.

While it’s too soon in the process to say what improvements will come to the Lincoln Way Corridor, it isn’t too soon to get involved.

“It’s up to the students, honestly … community members have the opportunity to define what those big changes will be,” Schulte said. “Definitely submit comments online, that’s a really easy way to get involved.”