Commuting by Sky Glider

If you attend the Iowa State Fair for enough consecutive years in a row, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that fairs have always had a role in showing off new technologies and introducing people to better ways of doing things. The Fair is certainly a place to gather and eat fried foods and marvel at blue-ribbon ears of corn, but it is also a place to pick up on ideas that may actually have practical applications, too.

And it is in that spirit that I would like to submit the Sky Glider for your further consideration.

Sure, many of us appreciate it as a terrific vantage point for people-watching and maybe even great place to catch a brilliant sunset above the treetops -- but I want to suggest it as a solution to our traffic problems.

It is no secret that Des Moines has one of the shortest average commutes among big metropolitan areas. But it is also no secret that our main arteries are getting...a little clogged. There is talk that I-235 is already well ahead of its projected traffic volumesfor this stage in its life cycle -- and even though far-sighted measures are being taken, like the Highway 65/5 bypass and the Veterans Parkway/Grand Prairie Parkwayconnector, it's not uncommon to get bogged down on Hickman or Oralabor Roads during rush hours.

So why not think about a few oversized Sky Gliders to connect some of our population centers and workplace hubs?

Sure, I offer this suggestion mildly tongue-in-cheek -- nobody really thinks we're ready for an elevated train system like the one in Chicago.

But as we get smarter about building cities that are friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians year-round, maybe we really should ask ourselves if we're thinking far enough outside the box full of ever-wider roads. Other cities have undertaken novel mass-transit ideas out of necessity: Several mountainous cities have aerial tramwaysbecause they're good ways of overcoming hilly local terrain.

But when we see other cities struggling to retrofit their existing infrastructure to accommodate mass transit (see, for instance, the efforts to put light rail in the Twin Cities, or to reintroduce streetcars to Omaha), maybe it ought to convince us to think about at least laying the foundations now for the options we might want to have down the road (so to speak), when we really are trying to accommodate a million people in one contiguous urban-suburban mass.

That day might be a long way off. But maybe it isn't, either: Waukee and Ankeny are two of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, and it can't be long before places like Bondurant and Grimes and Norwalk find themselves leaping up the population ladder, too.

As we have to rethink the purpose and future of places like Valley West Mall, and as new "town centers" are built with increased density in mind, it is certainly time to consider how transportation from hub to hub might fit into the future of the Des Moines metro area.

A giant Sky Glider obviously isn't the ticket (certainly not without enclosed, climate-controlled cars), but we should probably start taking a look at some novel ideas before we find ourselves irreversibly gridlocked.

Brian Gongol

Brian Gongol

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