More People Downtown Fuels New Travel Issues

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Crews are making progress on a lot of flood-related projects in Downtown Cedar Rapids, but that's creating a new problem of sorts.

More and more people are filling into the downtown as The Czech and Slovak Museum, the Paramount Theater, the Newbo City Market and the federal courthouse open.

Some would say it's a good problem to have, but others don't agree. Some say the parking pickle is no fun. City leaders are continuously watching the situation.

"What we're starting to see is an increased volume of traffic flow in downtown in the evening hours. We've always experienced the volume in the day time hours but now with some of these night time events, we've really seen a lot of people come back and visit downtown in the late night hours," said Jon Rouse with Park Cedar rapids.

Many are buying tickets to shows at the Paramount and Theatre Cedar Rapids. Friday will be another busy day as "Meet Me in St. Louis" opens at TCR. Park Cedar Rapids is taking action by increasing its night-time staff to help with the new parking demands.

City parking staff members are working around the downtown growth by looking at new programs.

"We have started to talk about the possibility of running valet services for folks so that's something that's in the works. We've done a trial run with it once and it was pretty successful, so we are going to continue hopefully to promote that program and get it off and running and off the ground," Park Cedar Rapids Jon Rouse said.

"We're kind of ready and willing to explore all of those options because, at the end of the day, you don't want people to miss out on all of the exciting things that are going on just because the construction makes it a little confusing or because parking makes it feel cumbersome," said Theatre Cedar Rapids Executive Director Casey Prince.

City parking leaders say two new parking garages are in the works as well. There's one going up across from the new convention center. Another one is in the works for the southern part of downtown. Rouse said Park Cedar Rapids was also working to create more visitor spots in monthly parking garages.

While many are dealing with fewer parking spaces, others just want to get through downtown. Some drivers find themselves struggling with the maze of orange cones and construction. Half a dozen projects are driving the congestion problem. They're not, however, all road repair projects.

"We are seeing some impact caused by building construction, for example, here on First Avenue near the convention center and then up along Second Avenue for the building of a parking ramp and also associated with the new central fire station," said Public Works Maintenance Manager Craig Hanson.

The hectic scene on First Avenue in front of the convention center complex is a place that's seen its share of almost-accidents. Hanson said that's about to wrap up.

"The date for the jersey barriers to move closer to the convention center right now is approximately the 30th of November, ...at that time, we'll have additional lanes on First Avenue open," Hanson said.

Hanson said that was set to happen last week, but contractors changed the date.

Public Works said the congestion problem could seem worse because there's extra people downtown.

"With opening of The Paramount, opening of new federal courthouse and additional businesses downtown you are starting to see more travel in the downtown corridor compared to two to three years ago, significantly more," Hanson said.

Whether it's parking or construction, those working downtown are ready to see things change after the flood.

"I think some of us have maybe just have forgotten over the last four or five years what it feels like to have that many people downtown," Prince said.
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