The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, more commonly referred to as RAGBRAI, will be stopping overnight in Iowa City this summer for the first time in four decades. Though exciting news for the city, it has recently been announced that construction on the city’s beloved Ped Mall will begin April 30, and will overlap with the riders’ arrival. Allowing construction to take place on one of Iowa City’s highlight features amidst the event is a terrible mistake.
RAGBRAI was started by two Des Moines Register columnists in 1973 and is a seven-day long trek across the state of Iowa, its route length averaging at roughly 468 miles. According to the RAGBRAI website, it is the “oldest, largest, and longest recreational bicycle touring event in the world,” attracting riders from all fifty states and multiple foreign countries.
The ride is a wholly unique experience; you won’t find anything like it elsewhere. It gives the state of Iowa a chance to showcase its beautiful features and hidden gems. Among the features and hidden gems to be showcased during this year’s RAGBRAI is Iowa City.
People who might never step foot into Iowa City limits if not for the ride will be seeing the city for the first time. Excluding the university’s unique qualities, the Ped Mall is one of Iowa City’s defining features–and these newcomers’ first view of it will be masked by demolition.
City officials agree the timing is not ideal, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported, but maintain that access to businesses and the heart of the city will be preserved and open to the public throughout the project. The appearance of looming construction itself, however, might be enough to deter visitors.
In the age of Instagram, aesthetics mean a lot to people. Urban Land Institute planning and land use analyst Ed McMahon noted in a presentation for the Northern New England APA Conference in Brunswick, Maine, that “young adults–Gen Y–, as well as baby boomers, singles, and others, want to walk more, drive less, and live in the vibrant core of their community.”
All of these qualities are emphasized by Iowa City’s Ped Mall. Although it’s certainly true that the Ped Mall needs to have work done, choosing to complete the construction when thousands of new visitors will be seeing the city for the first time is a poor decision.
Many of the riders in RAGBRAI could be looking at Iowa City as a potential future home, whether it be students looking to enroll at the university, young couples looking to start a family, or older people looking to retire. Iowa City has an innovative, vibrant core, and to portray it incompletely to the RAGBRAI riders, amidst machinery, fences, and torn up bricks, would be doing one of its greatest selling points a huge injustice.
Twinkling lights strung high above dinner seating, vibrantly decorated benches, artwork strewn across the walk: these are a few of the things Iowa City’s Ped Mall beautifully boasts. The RAGBRAI race highlights what is most stunning and unique about Iowa. In sharing our small corner of the state, we should be putting forth our best–not construction promising better.
Published by The Daily Iowan — 4/18/18