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Where should downtown two-way traffic end? Aldermen consider Division Street

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Davenport is considering making 3rd and 4th streets, shown from River Drive, two-way in fiscal year 2024.

Aldermen next week plan to debate where to end two-way traffic conversion on Davenport's two downtown east-to-west one-way streets.

The city council plans to culminate a decades-long debate with a final vote Wednesday on whether to eliminate one-way traffic on two of the city's downtown streets — 3rd and 4th.

Already, the measure has squeaked passed the council in the last two votes — Mayor Mike Matson broke a tie-vote in the most recent.

But a sticking point remains on how many city blocks should allow two directions of traffic. 

Currently, the ordinance applies to River Drive to Marquette Street. At-Large Alderman JJ Condon, a downtown resident and staunch supporter of converting the streets said Wednesday he was "considering" introducing an amendment that would extend the two-way traffic flow to Division Street, where it would then end and continue as one-way traffic to Telegraph Road.

Condon said he thought if the city could afford it, the conversion should've extended the full 2.5 miles of each roadway, but he said the two-way conversion in any form he believed would be beneficial to Davenport.

"No version of this conversion would be impervious to critique, but I will let you know that I can support multiple versions of this conversion," Condon said. "For me, it's important that we let this progress happen in whatever version that our majority body decides."

Last week, Alderman Robby Ortiz, 4th Ward, said he'd support the conversion so long as the distance was extended. A business-owner himself, Ortiz said he wanted to bring the economic benefits promised by a two-way conversion further to the west of the Downtown Davenport Partnership's jurisdiction.

Much of 3rd and 4th Street further onward is residential, which Ortiz said he believed wouldn't see the same business benefits of two-way traffic. 

Another supporter of the two-way conversion — Marion Meginnis, Ward 3, said she would prefer the terminus to be at Marquette Street, but would still vote for extending a few city blocks if that's what it took to pass.

"My preference is Marquette. I understand that for many reasons we've got people in the West who are concerned about the possibility of an extension, and I accept that concern," Meginnis said. "However, this is so important to me — and it is very important to me that this conversion go forward — that if in the end, my only choice is an amendment to Division, then I will support that."

In a city staff presentation in July, city staff estimated the cost of extending the conversion of two-way traffic to be: $1.6 million to convert River Drive to Marquette Street, which is what is currently proposed; an added $450,000 to extend to Division Street, and an additional $1.2 million to extend all the way to Telegraph Road because of rail road signal replacement at car-rail intersections on 3rd and 4th Streets.

Davenport isn't the only city to consider doing this. Cedar Rapids has converted 19 street segments since 2019, according to the city's website. Des Moines, Indianola, and Peoria have also either converted or are planning to convert their one-way streets to two-ways. 

Proponents point to planning and urban development studies that show two-way streets make areas more pedestrian-friendly by reducing lanes and slowing traffic, which attracts more businesses, residents, and patrons. Plus, advocates say two-way traffic makes traveling less confusing for first-time visitors and would allow two directions of traffic on 4th Street in case flooding would close 3rd Street.

Opponents then, point to lost parking spaces for patrons who want to visit downtown businesses as the city considers creating designated loading zones for delivery vehicles that currently take up a lane of traffic on 3rd and 4th Streets. Many residents who disapprove also worry about cost overruns and express that the funds should go toward street repairs instead. 

"Philosophically, to me, we have a downtown that can't support itself by the residents that live there," said Alderman Ben Jobgen, Ward 6, who voted 'no' on the proposal last week. "...People have to come downtown purposefully, right? And people are coming down town purposefully in automobiles."

Jobgen said although he's opposed to the conversion, he did believe if it does go through, the conversion should extend at least to Division Street. His other "bugaboos" with the project, he said, included the proposal converting some intersections to four-way stops and an uncertainty of whether the city will be responsible for changing the grade of the intersections of River Drive and 3rd and 4th Streets.

"If the city's on the hook for approximately $1 million on this conversion project, maybe we can use that money to fix those intersections now," Jobgen said.

City Engineer Brian Schadt told council members on Wednesday that the Iowa Department of Transportation could ask the city to change the turn radius at River Drive and 3rd and 4th Streets regardless of whether the city goes forward with the conversion. And it would cost the same to correct regardless of traffic flow — between $1.2 and $1.5 million, he said.

Owners of businesses in the heart of downtown, including the Hotel Blackhawk, Analog, and several apartment building owners, have urged the council to support the proposal. 

But business owners further west, including the owners of Sweet Delite, remain staunchly opposed to the conversion. 


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Bettendorf, East Moline, and Silvis Reporter

Sarah is the Davenport, Scott County, and Iowa politics reporter for the Quad-City Times/Dispatch-Argus. A DeWitt native, she graduated from the University of Iowa in 2021 and was editor of the student-run newspaper The Daily Iowan.

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