If an Iowan were to complain about traffic conditions in Des Moines to someone from out of state, they would likely be laughed at. Traffic in the metropolitan area of Des Moines is nothing compared to that in cities such as Chicago or Los Angeles. However, there is a bigger commuting issue that plagues the state. Many people who live in small towns scattered across Iowa must commute long distances to the major employment centers in urban areas. To address this issue, the state is looking into developing more regional transportation options; enabling people to reside in small towns.
The small towns in Iowa were once supported by the agriculture industry. As agriculture jobs dwindled, urban areas such as Des Moines developed more jobs in other industries. This employment shift forced residents of the small farming communities to commute to the urban areas to find work. Today, while some choose to move closer to these job centers, others choose to remain in their town in order to preserve their rural lifestyle. Approximately three fourths of people living in a town with a population of less than 2,500 commute somewhere else to work. As of 2010 there are eleven counties in Iowa where more than 50% of people commute to work outside their county, up from two counties in 1990.
The Iowa Department of Transportation is now responding to the needs of these commuters by developing a statewide rideshare system, based on the Iowa Commuter Transportation Study that helped determine the feasibility of regional transportation improvements. The rideshare system would include park and ride facilities where commuters could leave their car and carpool or vanpool from there. While 26 park and ride lots already exist in Iowa, they are informal and poorly maintained. The rideshare system plan will improve the existing lots and create new ones that are located in optimal locations. A greater amount of park and ride lots will decrease the amount of single-occupancy vehicles on the road, which will reduce traffic and make for an easier commute. This regional transportation improvement will help ensure the preservation of small town life in Iowa.
Is there a park and ride facility close to where you live? What regional transportation options exist in your city? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Molly Carpenter. Data linked to sources.