CEDAR RAPIDS — Once the city’s flood-damaged Ground Transportation Center bus depot is renovated and reopens a year from now, a portion of one-way Fourth and Fifth avenues SE will convert to two-way traffic to better handle bus traffic.
The change in a portion of the one-way downtown avenue grid is something downtown leaders and City Council members have talked about for several years as a way to slow traffic down and turn the downtown into a place to experience rather than a place to hustle into, from or through.
Now, the redesign of the GTC bus depot, which sits at Fourth Avenue SE at First Street SE, is turning talk into action. The redesign of the depot — so buses no longer back out of stalls, putting bus patrons walking to and from buses at risk — necessitates that city buses both arrive and depart on both Fourth and Fifth avenues SE.
“A strong majority of downtown stakeholders continue to support conversion of some of our one-way streets back to two-way,” Doug Neumann, executive vice president of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, said Tuesday. “In this case, there’s no choice but to convert to two-way traffic around the GTC, but this project has rejuvenated interest in converting additional blocks of Fourth and Fifth avenues.”
The basic plan for the GTC redesign calls for Fourth and Fifth avenues SE to change to two-ways between First and Third streets SE, though the City Council’s Development Committee and City Manager Jeff Pomeranz this week expressed support for a more expensive redesign option that will convert Fourth Avenue SE to two-way out to Fifth Street SE.
Brad DeBrower, the city’s transit manager, put the cost of the renovation of the GTC and the conversion of Fourth and Fifth avenues SE between First and Third streets SE at more than $9 million.
Of the cost of the basic project, the city will pay about $3.4 million from city funds, including $1.6 million from local-option sales tax revenue. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is contributing another $1.5 million in disaster funds and the Federal Transit Administration about $4.4 million.
Construction is expected to start in the fall and be complete by next spring.
Altering a portion of the downtown one-ways will return that part of the downtown to the way it was some 50 years ago.
Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter said that Fourth and Fifth avenues SE in the downtown became one-ways after the downtown train depot was torn down in 1961, a demolition that allowed Fourth Avenue SE to continue through what had been the depot site.
Four or five years earlier, Stoffer Hunter said the city converted busier Second and Third avenues SE from two-ways to one-ways to improve traffic flow at a time when the number of people who owned a car had been rapidly increasing and when “everybody was still going downtown.”
Stoffer Hunter said the conversion from two-ways to one-ways a half century ago came in piecemeal fashion and not all at once, similar to the way the streets now appear to be turning back to two-ways. He noted that one-way portions of Second and Third avenues have converted to two-ways in the vicinity of the Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa’s new medical building, which is being built at 10th Street SE on what had been a portion of one-way Second Avenue SE.