Is this the future of downtown Iowa City? City officials release preliminary plans for public review

The City of Iowa City released a draft of its plans for the future of downtown Iowa City Tuesday, publishing the report in its entirety on for public review.

Weighing in at a whopping 164 pages, the report comes after a year of community outreach, committee meetings and collaboration between the City of Iowa City and Des Moines’ Genus Landscape Architects. It will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday, March 4 at 5 p.m.

So, what’s in the report? Well, a lot, but here are some of the key takeaways:

Downtown will become more bicycle-friendly

The report recommends expanding on-street bicycle lanes and adding six new locations for sheltered bicycle parking. According to the report, additional recommendations include:

  • Designated bicycle lanes are proposed along Clinton, Gilbert and Market Street. (The feasibility of potential bicycle lanes must be confirmed following a traffic study based on traffic patterns and site conditions.)
  • Equip new bicycle parking shelters with solar panels for improved safety and illumination.
  • Replace the existing corroding bicycle racks along the sidewalk with new racks. Specific locations and quantities will be identified during subsequent design phases. The recommended replacement rack: ‘Bola’ by Landscape Forms, black powder coat, standard inverted ‘u’ rack.

Proposed bicycle accommodations:

Streetscape Components PDF
Image via the Draft Iowa City Downtown and Pedestrian Mall Streetscape Plan: Streetscape Components

Our alleys could get a big upgrade

Downtown’s alleys are “underutilized, under illuminated, and most of the alley paving is uneven and in a state of disrepair,” the report states. A “green alley” program is recommended, which would include permeable pavement systems.

Other measures recommended as part of the ‘green alley’ program:

  • Consider policy changes to consolidate the dumpsters.
  • Add LED lighting for an improved sense of safety.
  • Celebrate the work of local artists with revolving ‘alley art’ shows. Feature local muralists, light artists and graphic designers.
  • Utilize the alleys as flexible programming space.

Bioretention to the rescue

The report suggests placing bioretention planting areas along select streets to help minimize runoff and remove pollutants.

Bioretention provides storm water treatment that enhances the quality of downstream water bodies. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that bioretention planting areas can remove 90-percent of metals, between 68 and 80-percent of TKN and between 70 and 83-percent of total phosphorus. When designed and built appropriately, bioretention areas can potentially achieve greater than 90-percent removal rates for total suspended solids, organics and bacteria.

via streetscape components pdf
Image via the Draft Iowa City Downtown and Pedestrian Mall Streetscape Plan: Streetscape Components

New ‘wayfinding’ elements are on the way

Officials selected option B (shown below) as their “preferred [wayfinding] option,” according to the report. The design, shown here at a larger size, will incorporate the names of streets and intersections. The design “affords opportunities to incorporate multiple languages,” the report states.

- via streetscape components pdf
Image via the Draft Iowa City Downtown and Pedestrian Mall Streetscape Plan: Streetscape Components

Some roads will undergo big changes

Outlined in the report are detailed suggestions for each individual street, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. More information about these changes is available here, but here’s the quick graphic overview:

Streetscape components pdf
Image via the Draft Iowa City Downtown and Pedestrian Mall Streetscape Plan: Streetscape Components

A skating rink next to George’s?

via streetscape planning pdf
Image via the Draft Iowa City Downtown and Pedestrian Mall Streetscape Plan: Streetscape Planning

According to the report, business leaders and the public have “consistently indicated an interest in more activities during the winter months and specifically an ice skating rink,” according to the report, which identifies the City-owned lot between George’s Buffet and the Bluebird Diner as an ideal location.

“The rink and associated support program could become a regional entertainment destination and a celebrated winter tradition,” the report states. “During the summer months, the rink is covered and the space transitions to an outdoor dining and flexible program space for small scale musical performances, readings, cooking competitions, outdoor yoga, or other.”

Proposed lights would cut energy usage in half

Utilizing more efficient LED lighting technology in the Ped Mall would reduce energy usage from 20,550 to 9,570 Watts, according to the report:


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The proposed lights will offer better light quality and are equipped with the latest LED technology to improve energy efficiency. As an example, for the existing Ped Mall lighting system, total energy usage approximates 20,550 Watts (total decorative lighting usage approximates 17,010 Watts and the existing floodlights use approximately 3,540 Watts). The conversion to LED would reduce the energy usage from 20,550 to 9,570 Watts (8,910 Watts for decorative lighting and 660 Watts for replacement floodlighting), for a possible total estimated energy reduction of 53.4%.

Significant changes are coming to the Ped Mall

The report’s chapter on Ped Mall renovations spans more than 30 pages, and the amount of suggested improvements is staggering. Beyond the slew of aesthetic tweaks and infrastructure upgrades, the report suggests a massive overhaul of the Black Hawk Mini Park (currently a construction staging area) as shown below.

The children’s play area, currently located between the Iowa City Public Library and Bread Garden Market, may also see an overhaul. A proposed “EcoLAB” would offer “an interactive, educational component” to the children’s’ play zone, according to the report.

The full Ped Mall chapter is available here.

Pedestrian Mall Planning PDF
Image via the Draft Iowa City Downtown and Pedestrian Mall Streetscape Plan: Pedestrian Mall Planning

The Ped Mall’s north entrance takes a beating

Many remain terrified of the Ped Mall’s north entrance:

During public input meeting #1, the north Ped Mall entry was identified as the least favorite public space in Downtown Iowa City. It was described as ‘the most dangerous and intimidating space’ in Downtown Iowa City. The public complained about the ongoing loitering and about the groups that ‘hang out’ on the benches for extended periods of time.

Here’s a closer look at the proposed changes:

Pedestrian Mall Planning PDF
Image via the Draft Iowa City Downtown and Pedestrian Mall Streetscape Plan: Pedestrian Mall Planning

Pay phones and print are dead

Downtown’s information kiosks get a bad review in the report’s section on “Existing Conditions,” which details the current state of downtown’s aesthetics and infrastructure. Also, some feelings get hurt.

The existing kiosks and posting pillars are showing signs of deterioration. As depicted in the image, many of the existing bases are corroding. They are also over-sized and appear out of scale with the context. Many of their original uses such as pay telephones and newspaper vending are no longer relevant.


It’s not going to be cheap

The implementation chapter, which breaks down cost estimates, funding sources and project prioritization, is available here.

“Implementation of the plan will be phased over numerous years and will be considered by the City Council during future capital improvement budget discussions,” According to a statement released Tuesday by the City of Iowa City.

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