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Let's Catch Up - March 2022


You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to notice that heavy truck traffic is going off the rails in and around Des Moines. Soon, more of that traffic will be going onto rails instead.

Last month, the first railcars were unloaded at the new 35-acre Des Moines Industrial transload terminal on East ML King Jr. Blvd, at the intersection of the Norfolk Southern, BNSF, and Iowa Interstate rail lines. According to COO Gabe Claypool, 11 railcars hauling 90 tons of 20-foot-long rebar bundles from a steel mill south of Dallas relieved the Interstates of bearing a convoy of 44 semis. The rebar will be trucked to Central Iowa job sites.

The transload facility was born out of a Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) project. The Des Moines Area MPO also raised nearly $13 million in public funds for the project, including an $11.2 million Better Utilizing Infrastructure to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Gabe reports a lumber contract was recently inked up; several more contracts are in progress.


Des Moines is on the threshold of creating its own Vision Zero program, joining 40 or more U.S. cities that have embraced plans to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

At its March 21 meeting, the City Council approved a $223,445 contract with Toole Design Group to create a Vision Zero plan for Des Moines. Toole’s work will engage local stakeholders and take about 12 months to produce. Toole created the Vision Zero plans the Minneapolis, Denver, Boston, Long Beach, and other major cities.

In other cities that have embraced the Vision Zero planning:

• Traffic deaths are preventable

• Safety trumps speed

• Reduce school zone speed limits to 15 or 20 mph

• Safer pedestrians crossings (extended medians and continental striping)

• Multi-year action plans to integrate Vision Zero policies and design recommendations with engineering plans and budgets

Many cities incorporate Rapid Delivery Projects (RDP)—street changes implemented in six months or less using interim materials such as pavement markings, colored paint and pavement treatments, flexible delineators, changes to signage or traffic signal timing, and changes to the speed limit.

Let the planning begin!


Invest DSM, which offers grants to homeowners to improve their property, had a banner 2021. Here’s what the numbers say:

  • Homeowner applications from the four Special Investment Districts (Oak Park/Highland Park, Drake, Franklin Area, and Columbus Park neighborhoods): 454

  • Total completed project costs: $2,442,265

  • Total final Invest DSM grant amounts: $879,863

  • Total final homeowner investment: $1,562,401

  • Per-grant-dollar homeowner investment: $1.75

The City of Des Moines and Polk County Supervisors are equal partners in supporting Invest DSM, a nonprofit, to strengthen neighborhoods.

In 2021, the City Council initiated a city-wide pilot Block Challenge Grant program, modeled after Invest DSM, for all neighborhoods:

  • Homeowner participants: 120

  • Total completed project costs: $464,732

  • Total City grant amounts: $253,530

  • Total final homeowner investment: $718,263

  • Per-grant-dollar homeowner investment: $1.71

TWO COLEMANS, ONE ‘MOM’ MESSAGE: 'BE NICE ' One paragraph jumped off the page of a March 11 Business Record profile of Tony Coleman, new CEO of Broadlawns Medical Center. When Joe Gardyasz asked Tony about the best advice received from an important mentor, he responded that his mother’s “Be Nice!” mantra has resonated through his life. “It’s nice to be nice,” Tony said. “And that simply means to treat everybody with dignity and respect.”

Tony’s guiding-light words echo those of another Coleman. In December 2019, when Chris Coleman finished two decades of public service as an at-large city council member, Chris taped his mom’s mantra message (see photo left) at each of our voting buttons. Terrific—make that nice!—messaging in these tumultuous times with anemic civility.


City of Des Moines departments are beginning to tally key 2021 achievements. Here’s a snapshot of two early reports:


  • 60.1% increase in eBook circulation (140,388 downloads)

  • 56% increase in eAudiobook circulation (128,603 downloads).

Here’s the complete report.

Parks & Recreation:

  • 16,726 Youth Recreational Scholarships

  • 2,304 park volunteers

  • 21,307 volunteer hours

  • $608,115 value of donated time.


Earlier this year, Brad Nielsen and ten friends pooled donations to purchase a shiny green Dero FixIt station that will be installed Monday at the YMCA Supportive Housing Campus at 2 SW Ninth Street. It’s the same top-quality bike repair stand and sturdy pump many of us have seen along high-traffic trail locations.

Brooke Heldt, YMCA community engagement director, reports that generally, 20 bikes are parked outside the facility, whose 140 apartments serve men and women, and another 10 bikes stored in residents’ rooms.


“Primary Health Care. Anyone home?”

With that announcement, Rob Zlomke, street outreach worker for Primary Health Care, walks into another homeless encampment in Des Moines. It’s a routine he repeats daily.

In late January, nonprofit employees who serve the homeless population conducted their semi-annual Point In Time (PIT) count of the Des Moines homeless populations. They counted 88 individuals outside, plus an additional 45 who took advantage of free motel rooms, provided by Des Moines and Polk County, during cold snaps.

Rob, who has been working with homeless people in Des Moines for five years, knows just about all of them by name. And makes himself known to each new face.

On a recent morning, I shadowed Rob and Amy Miers, a Supportive Services for Veterans caseworker, picking our way through a faint trail to check out Billy, who has a remote brush-covered tent on the north side of Des Moines. Rob provides Billy with a DART pass so he can check in weekly with his parole officer. Before leaving, Rob produces a handful of batteries for Billy’s LED headlamp.

Next stop: an encampment of several tents, where Scrappy has made a home for several months but will vacate, acceding to the property owner’s wishes. Michael, newly tenting beside Scrappy, needs a birth certificate to apply for a job. He also needs medical assistance to check on a nasty lower-leg infection. Rob informs Michael where he can seek free medical help.

We counted at least six tents tucked among towering trees at an encampment along East Side railroad tracks. One man was digging a deep hidey-hole beneath his tent to ride out any storm; he feared one of the trees would crush him and his tent during a spring rain. Another camper was fashioning a bike trailer from a stack of repurposed aluminum tubing. Both welcomed replenished supplies from Rob’s well-stocked car trunk: peanut butter, hand warmers, soup mix, AA batteries, noodles, and clean socks.

We swung through downtown to drop by a couple of locations where Rob expected to see some of his regulars. Not today. So we set out on a zigzag route through downtown parking lots and warehouses to a patch of asphalt. A short hike over a levee took us to a string of tents dotting the north bank of the Raccoon River. Some of the homeless have relocated their tents farther away from the Raccoon in expectation of rising waters.

Rob’s “Anyone home?” drew a couple of people from their tents. Rob reminded both that several agencies now staff the Outreach Project, a drop-in center at the Des Moines Central Library on Mondays and Friday afternoons. There, they can complete paperwork for a replacement Social Security card, apply for a government-issued cell phone, send an email to a family member, and schedule a mental health appointment.

Rob shared that beginning in April, the Bike Collective will begin free tune-ups at the library for the homeless on alternate Tuesday afternoons.


Last year’s Wild Lights Festival at the Blank Park Zoo, presented by MidAmerican Energy, was a roaring-lion success, with the 42,000 tickets sold doubling the budgeted attendance of 20,000.

This year’s two-month (44-date) version of the Wednesday–Sunday evening amazement opens April 1. Look for a new lineup of 40 larger-than-life illuminated lanterns featuring endangered animals and Asian mythical creatures.

POTHOLE SEASON Robins have returned in Des Moines neighborhoods (yea!), and so have potholes (ugh). You can help our Public Works crews locate potholes you drive across (or into) by logging potholes via the myDSMmobile app. Also, you can use the app to report graffiti, streetlight outages, weeds, and a dozen other issues. Several residents have reported potholes filled within two days after reporting via the easy-peasy smartphone app. Free Android and iOS versions are available.


The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) has scheduled a May 26 grand opening for its new offices and warehouse at 100 Army Post Road (originally built as an Albertson’s grocery store). Best known for its Food Pantry Network serving 34,000 annually, DMARC has started moving offices from 1435 Mulberry and a warehouse near East ML King.

A few weeks ago, Leslie Garman, director of development and outreach, gave Ward IV Council Member Joe Gatto and me an early peek facility, resulting in a definite “wow.” The new 48,000-square-foot building dwarfs the DMARC 1970s offices: 1,000 square feet tucked into a corner of Central Presbyterian Church, or about the size of one of the new volunteer training rooms. The warehouse alone is four times larger than its current space.

DMARC has grown to include more than 130 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian places of worship, representing nearly 70,000 congregants. DMARC also engages with followers of Baha’i, Buddhist, and Native American faith traditions. Learn more about DMARC.


(From Kathy Barnes, Food Security Task Force member)

It’s spring! Now’s the time to plan, plant, and prepare your garden spaces for the season. Here are a few tips to get your growing (and enjoying) delicious, healthy foods in your yard.

First, check out FEED DSM, Des Moines’ new resource for producing food in the city. You’ll find information on how to grow food, what’s available and allowed in Des Moines, and where you can find additional guidance and support.

As you plot out your garden, develop a plan to rotate crops during consecutive growing seasons. This helps keep the soil healthy and pests at bay. For example, if you grew tomatoes in one spot last year, plant a legume (such as peas or beans) in that space this year, and move the tomatoes to a new place.

Here are a few early-spring crops you can plant directly in the ground as soon as the soil temperature persists above 40 degrees: arugula, beets, carrots, kale, lettuce, peas, radishes, and spinach.

Not sure what to plant and when? The National Gardening Association provides this handy Garden Planting Calendar. Enter your ZIP code, and you’ll get the information you need, specific to your growing area.


“It’s a little gritty, a little dirty,” Lewis Major describes the sound from his treasured three-string cigar box guitar. But when Lewis cranks it up, the sound transports blues fans to the roots of Sweet Home Chicago.

“Early blues musicians could rarely afford a factory-built guitar,” Lewis says, “so they made their own instruments using items they could easily obtain—wire, an empty cigar box, and a piece of wood. They're not fancy, but they get the job done. More importantly, homemade instruments like CBGs were instrumental in forming one of the most influential American music ever created—the blues.”

When he plays with the local blues band Major Blues and the Mugshots, which he did for a couple of Sunday gigs this past winter at the Botanical Blues at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Center, Lewis switches from his reliable Fender Telecaster to his CBG for two or three numbers. His favorite CBG tunes are “Death Letter Blues” by Son House and “Come in My Kitchen” by Robert Johnson.

A friend in Eastern Iowa handcrafted Lewis' CBG; it was the maker's first attempt at adding a pickup that allows the CRG to be plugged into an amplifier. When plugged in, the sound is raw, honest, and original—just like the blues.

You can see and hear Major Blues and the Mugshots perform and hear a cigar box guitar when they perform Thursday, June 23, at the Jester Park Nature Center from 6 to 8 p.m.

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