Dan DeGeest’s Council Review, August 13, 2017: Complete Streets Plan

Also recapped: Discussion of social services priorities, economic development review

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Annotating the Council Preview in highlighted text

Hello friends,

I hope everyone is enjoying the dog days of summer and getting ready for the return of our bustling college community. I took a little break and did not review the July City Council meeting but got back to it this week. I was particularly interested in this meeting because of agenda item 28 to approve an agreement to hire a consultant to develop a complete streets plan for Ames. The council adopted a complete streets policy last year but to date has had no comprehensive plan or design guide to help them implement it and projects completed in the interim have been varying degrees of multi-modal friendly.

Complete streets is an initiative I championed extensively during my campaign, something I feel very strongly about, and something I am convinced will greatly improve traffic, health, and safety in our community. While it is frustrating that two years have gone by and the city is just now ready to create a plan, it is very encouraging that they have reached out to a handful of the best consultants in the country to do the work. See below for more details on this and a few other agenda items.

As always, thanks for reading.

Dan DeGEEST>>

The Ames City Council meeting for Aug 8, 2017. The agenda included:

Item 27: Resolution awarding contract to RDG Planning & Design of Des Moines for healthy life center planning study in an amount not to exceed $93,450 (Video)

At a recent council meeting, we directed staff to send out a request for proposals for a planning study regarding the healthy life center concept. These RFPs were evaluated by a team of representatives from some of the collaborating partners (Iowa State University, Mary Greeley Medical Center, Heartland Senior Services, the Ames Community School District, and the city), and the recommendation is to work with RDG.

A healthy life center, often referred to as a warm water pool, is another project that has been bouncing around for several years and was discussed often during the 2015 campaign. Just like complete streets, we are two years down the road and still just trying to get approval to complete a study and probably still years away from anything actually being built. The RFP was issued to 55 interested parties with responses received from nine firms, pretty good response compared to only getting one for the affordable housing project at the old middle school property. RDG scored well and was also one of the lowest bids. Along with overall planning RDG will be tasked with completing a comparison between a 25- by 33-yard stretch pool and a 50-meter pool and incorporating space in the conceptual drawings for the future addition of six indoor tennis courts (something that council member Tim Gartin pushed for in a previous meeting).

Motion to award a contract to RDG Planning & Design for conducting the healthy life center planning study in an amount not to exceed $93,450 passed 6-0.

Item 28: Resolution approving professional service agreement with Toole Design Group of Madison, Wisconsin, in an amount not to exceed $99,994 for development of Ames complete streets plan (Video)

In 2015, the council decided to move forward with a complete streets policy. Nearly two years later, we’re ready to move forward with a consultant who will work with city staff to draft an actual plan, which, when finished, will include specifics about how to improve all modes of transportation when designing Ames streets. As an advocate of complete streets, I am excited that we’re making progress on this, and will soon have a comprehensive plan. (Well, “soon” relative to the speed at which bureaucracy moves … we’re two years in already.)

The city has previously adopted a complete streets policy, which in a nutshell says that every new transportation project will attempt to incorporate designs and facilities to meet the needs of the various types of users such as CyRide, bicyclists, and pedestrians, not just automobiles. While the policy has been in place for a while now, we still lack a comprehensive plan and design guidelines to help our traffic engineers meet these goals. Complete streets are not one size fits all and how existing roadways and new development address multi-modal needs can and will vary from project to project and having this design guide from an experienced consultant will be crucial for success.

I have talked to a lot of people about this, including developers who are on the hook financially under our current ordinances for building roads in new subdivisions and worry that this will just add more cost. Their first question is always, “Who will pay for the infrastructure?” Council member Gartin also seemed to hold this view and overall spoke in favor of complete streets but with concern about the cost. But it is all conjecture without and actual set of guidelines that will help decide what sort of infrastructure is needed. Not every street in Ames needs dedicated bike lanes, not every street is a bus route, and some streets might just need better signage or paint to meet the needs. Moving forward with Toole Design Group (one of the best in the country) will help us figure this out.

Motion approving agreement passed 6-0.

Item 33: Discussion with Analysis of Social Services Evaluation Team volunteers regarding city ASSET priorities for the 2018-19 fiscal year (Video)

The ASSET process is one of the major ways Ames funds local human service agencies. The volunteers meet annually to review the goals and priorities of this program, and are recommending the same priorities as last year. The city’s priorities are to “meet basic needs” (for those with low or moderate income), “meet mental health and chemical dependency needs,” and support “youth development services and activities.”

The needs and goals this year are still in line with the previous year and ASSET volunteers are recommending they remain the same. The real question is always how much will the city be willing to fund this program at budget time. In years past they generally argue over 1 percentage point and settle on a moderate increase of around 5 percent for the program.

Motion approving the City’s 2018-19 fiscal year ASSET priorities passed 6-0.

Item 36: Development review presentation (Video)

Annually, the council hears a report on user surveys relating to the inspections and planning departments and the economic development process. Those who use inspections and planning (landlords, developers, etc.) had the option to fill out an online survey during January and February. Fifty-five users took the survey, and most graded the departments favorably.

No news is good news, at least it appears to be in this case. The 55 respondents of the survey rated city staff and the various processes for development favorably. A few on Council questioned if the time and effort to put out and process this survey is even worth it since year after year it seems to reveal the same outcome. It’s a good question.

Council Comments (Video)


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Dan DeGeest is a software engineer at Ames tech company Workiva and a former candidate for City Council.