thumbnail of Take Des Moines, Please
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
You're right. The definition of the urban transportation crisis depends on your perspective. For instance if you are embedded in Chicago traffic the most conspicuous element of the problem is the lack of public buses and trains. The supposition being that with more public transit clogging up the freeway would be reduced. Thereby making infinitely more pleasant.
There are obviously other points of view. To an urban planner. Transportation is a tool for shaping a city. To a businessman. The real estate value and business potential. To an urban traffic official. It is a chess game. And to a politician transportation it always borders on and is perpetually comprehensible to the voter. It is becoming increasingly evident that transportation problems. Is not always a liability. For example many experts say that Chicago's transportation network is comparatively well integrated and efficient. On the other hand. Many smaller cities are floundering. Thank.
You. Des Moines is a nice town that people are proud of the art center and there's a legitimate theater that holds 4000 people. The air is still pretty clean and it's the capital of Iowa. It's a great place to be raised if you're under 20 or to retire if you're over 60. According to the 1970 census half the people are in that group. Moreover the ones in between two all right.
The annual average income in Des Moines is eight thousand seven hundred dollars in the top 20 nationally. And hang in there by 1990 it will be in the top seven twelve thousand five hundred dollars. In Des Moines the living is easy. And if you put stock in projections there ought to be 20 or 30 years more of the same extrapolation between Des Moines and Chicago would seem to be a little dubious at best. The entire population of metropolitan Des Moines is less than half the number of cars alone. It had a Chicago's Loop and a 12 hour work day sample. That does not even include the one hundred forty thousand people who ride mass transit during the same period. Still there are some fundamental comparisons. Both cities were built on rivers. Both were originally forts. And both cities had a plan. Ever sets the Burnham plan of
99 which was actually one of the first major planning documents for any American city. We have had the objective of maintaining a very strong central city. As Burnham stated that the plan was to emphasize those things that were should be emphasized and to many of the things that should be diminished and one of the things he felt needed to be emphasized and maintained was the central city. Consequently since 1990 we have followed through our planning years of planning this philosophy and to that end all of our transportation routes and all of our major highways have centered on the on the downtown or the Chicago central city. It was 25.
Years we're having it out over a teacher named scopes. And in 1925 the first Bartholomew report was commissioned to develop a city plan for. His summary of recommendations. The present arrangement of streets which is required to meet the circulation requirements of the community was incorporated. Its streets have been planned by men who are more interested in selling land than in the highways and traffic arteries of a great city. The reason is that the city today finds itself in a position somewhat faulty equipment. There are nearly fifteen hundred necessary terminations and system numerous important thoroughfares are too narrow and the fact remains however that much of the cost of making a first class city
has become an absorbing interest prevention scarcely things are done every day will require corrective action. Talk is cheap and besides according to historians the surveyor who laid out Walnut Street used the rope instead of a chain the rope sack and so consequently did Walnut Street. It is conceivable that the surveyor did not stop there. In 1940 the Nazis were invading the lowlands and the Republicans were running Wendell Willkie speaking of failures. That was also the year the Tacoma bridge fell down. And in 1940 commissioned another Bartholomew report. The city had
changed in 15 years. There were only fourteen hundred and eighty six dogs and dead ends. Which is not. Expected in the future. Most of us were in Camelot but Harlan Bartholomew was back and
this time the city meant business or more accurately business meant the city. A group of downtown merchants calling themselves the Committee of 100 hired Harlan who by this time was almost a legal resident. First central business district of the mind was far too large an area where the amount of business and activity conducted within it. The second major defect is the generally poor quality of buildings. The third building quality throughout the downtown area. The fourth major problem is the poor access. There's been virtually no change of major street and highway access in and out of the business district in 20 years. And the final thing is the generally mediocre character and appearance of the downtown. Downtown does not constitute a real attraction that will bring people into it far beyond the metropolitan area. The third and final Bartholomew report proposed beefing up retail activity downtown.
Specifically it called for the addition of amenities such as pedestrian mall. And the shift of parking facilities to the periphery of the business district. One of the planners predicted that if the plan were not energized within six months it never would be. It is not known whether he stayed around for the hatchet job. The Des Moines River is sort of a natural Maginot line between the sovereign and independent nations of the east and west sides of the city of Des Moines. But by the time they had concluded this. There wasn't much left of the Bartholomew report. And what. Was left. Was polished off. When younger's department store built a multi-level parking ramp in the center of the business district. The plan was dead before the ink was dry. Today there is fragmentary evidence of the Bartholomew plans but fundamentally very little has changed. And now straight some tall buildings still provide a lock for car emission and noise.
The blocks are still short. And there is still no through Access north and south. East 14th is the major north south thoroughfare. But it is out of the central business district while second six nine. And Flora drive one way or another. And when driving. With. The climax of ad hoc traffic planning with three major traffic inflows and outflows occurring at one spot. In about thirteen hundred high schoolers a gas station and almost permanent bridge construction and one begins to understand why the commission for the blind uses this mess. As the final travel exercise for its students. It seems then that. Has hardly suffered a paucity of city plans. There have been eight transportation plans alone in the last 15 years. Further today two planning agencies the city planning department and the Regional Planning
Commission are both engaged in simultaneous and unrelated planning. It will affect transportation. The difficulty apparently in Des Moines is not making plans it's following them. What I want is a different city every city is different but the more it is the largest city it's been the center of Iowa for many years it's essentially a transportation banking insurance center demoing by its nature is a low risk community. I think if you think about it as a lot of what we do here most of the money in the morning has been made by not taking any risks in the insurance business in the banking business. So we have a man who risen to positions of responsibility and success by not taking risks as opposed to say in Minneapolis which is built in the grain business which has got to be one of the highest risk businesses in the world. So in the morning we have an atmosphere of low key conservatism and a lot of low
risk. It's not exactly fair to malign Des Moines businessman for being something less than swashbuckling. After all it is doubtful that Howard Hughes could have effected a far reaching city planned to mourn. Sooner or later the government in Iowa runs into the legislature. As recently as 1960 there were 30 United States in the United States in which the urban population constituted a majority of the people but not a single state in which the urban population controlled the state legislature. This is why the federal government is in such programs now as urban renewal public housing expressways and highways civil rights education mass transportation. There are some that say that is because of federal states rights. But as I read history I would say it's because a portion of State Legislatures deliberately defy their own constitutions and the federal Constitution by refusing to apportion
over the first 60 years of this century has ignored urban problems. They have forced the predominant portion of the American people 70 percent in 1960 74 percent in 1970. The turn of the federal government for the resolution of the problem. Well of course none of the current relationship between the state and municipalities We are creatures of the state and or the what they call the Dillon Rule of Law. We had only. The authority to do things that have been expressed they granted to us by the legislature and with the implementation of home ruled in cities and towns should be able to do anything that is not expressly forbidden by the legislatures. The Home Rule Bill will be a help but we still haven't got ricotta FIDE that we've taken out many of the things in it that say we can do this we can't do that we can't for instance a float a bond issue to repair a swimming pool. We can put a bond issue to build a new one.
For too long you know the municipal government has been the low man on the totem pole. The federal government and state government have preempted the prime source of revenue for a governmental operation and we've been saddled with the property tax along with what is a seventeen hundred eighty eight other. Local jurisdiction school district cities and towns and so forth and. Our finance department has analyzed the situation and we can see where the property tax is just not responsive to changes in economic patterns. Taxes are a lousy way to raise revenue. They are the people in the home we have a high percentage of homeownership. So it's very difficult. We really need to tap the sources of revenue. We need to tap the sales tax and to tap the income tax to come back to cities and towns so that we can have the revenue necessary to perform the services that we have for I think cities have held out the hope that we reapportionment perhaps
we would have a better hearing in the halls of the legislature but I have some personal reservations about that. I don't think it's really a matter of a party. As far as attitudes towards cities and towns in the Democratic and Republican parties. And too much of a discernible difference. I can see the minority leader in House of Representatives of course a former Democrat who hasn't given any indication of sympathy towards cities and things like. Most human migration is from areas of lesser economic opportunity to areas of greater economic opportunity. And I would say that it's easy enough to understand why they buy goods from rural areas. But I would say that metropolitan areas it cannot attract in migrants especially with
her own state. Probably areas which have failed to keep up with The Times failed to take the opportunity to expand their economic base failed to join the 20th century. Sometimes the gods are still dominated by razor strop 19th century mines and no state legislatures from rural areas. Chicago cheated not only have they operated under basically one plan. But the city was obviously empowered to carry it out. These are basic elements in coordinating the city's transportation modes. There is yet another parameter for comparison. Suburban development. Both Chicago and a mine have suburbs and must face the proposition. That the way we live often determines the way we travel.
Many times people have made an attempt to compare Los Angeles and Chicago with two very distinct types of cities. Los Angelos is a city of great area sprawl over many many square miles. And whereas Chicago is highly concentrated within a two hundred twenty where Miles is has a very high concentration of population some 3 and better in three and a half million people. True when the expressway in the automobile came into being and the outward movement of people and the settlement of the suburban communities was accelerated. However all of the sick salary and growth didn't hurt us a bit and we don't care because of any growth in the outlying areas as they had a companion effect on the central city. So over the years as we've developed our rapid transit commuter rail. Spend public monies and we have done many many things
to encourage the growth and the use of public transportation. We have not. Necessarily prohibited dot all bills from coming into the central city but the fact that over the many years that there we had a good transit public transportation the number of people that come to the central city central corridor by public transportation remains pretty much about 85 percent of the total coming out. During the heavy peak hours in the mornings and that is these are the workers. And the commuter rails that bought new cars and kept up their schedules. We have built extensions to the subway. We brought in the subway train. And much of this particularly the CTA is a Transit Authority which is rapid transit. Much of that has been public funds the city has actually sponsored the extension of many of these lines. How could you cango sprawl. You can hardly build suburbs on a lake to
mine on the other hand is a textbook example of urban sprawl. A little over two hundred thousand people banging around in one hundred eighty square miles of space. Are compulsion for Laban's from is even seen in the downtown area. The central business district normally the most compact area of the city structures from tech to the capital east and west and from the railroad tracks to the urban renewal area north and south. It is larger than the business districts of San Diego Minneapolis Kansas City and St. Louis in the suburbs the census tells the story. During the 1960s the population of Des Moines fell about 5 percent. But Urbandale grew by one hundred thirty nine percent the fastest growing city in the state. West and averaged 500 new residents a year between census Windsor Heights grew by one thousand seven hundred fifty two people in 1960 to three thousand nine hundred seventy and the population of
quadruple in 10 years. They are suburban dormitories and in order to get into the city of Des Moines you have two transportation options. Drive your car. Or your wife's. The city becomes spread out when you feel major transportation cities tend to be impacted as a transportation. Now in cities that have attempted to accommodate to the automobile we have seen the phenomenon of the city spreading. That is wherever you put new traffic facilities you tend to get new shopping centers for example you tend to get industry following the roads that are created or the streets created around the city. This tends to spread cities so that
we have at the extreme a city like Los Angeles which is spread all over Southern California almost. We see this in a smaller examples within the state of Iowa. For example in Des Moines people find that the downtown business district can accommodate the automobile. So business offices tend to move to the periphery shopping centers move to the periphery in order to get sufficient parking space for the automobile apparent pedigree. It is curious that the builders of shopping centers have recognized what traffic managers and some downtown businessman have not namely that it is more functional to keep cars outside of the area of retail activity. Suburban living is also expedited by freeway freeways as we have
recently discovered and not only affect travel. But also blood pressure. The heavy in the recent flap over a proposed north south freeway was the Regional Planning Commission. They have the audacity to suggest that a freeway should be built to accommodate the second heaviest car in the city. Normally this sort of thing is done by displacing a lot of black people. But the north south freeway was different. It was planned so that a lot of BBQ pits would be replaced with passing lanes. That brought suburbia with the somewhat familiar revelation that cars pollute the air are noisy and dangerous to kids and that freeways lower land value. And so the north south freeway though quite inevitable has been quietly buried until the heat is off. What progress is now taking it on the chin. A freeway is comprised of long strips of concrete mainly funded by the federal government.
Ninety percent of the time it does its job by moving large numbers of cars long distances and doing a brother safely and quickly. A freeway should have ramps to get on and off. Space so that the traffic will flow. But should have crossovers. And should not deteriorate the street frontage nearby. The question is of course if that is a freeway then what is a McVICKAR. I know most people that attempt to drive the
express way through the mind feel that it's a very very hazardous task. Your accident rate on this freeway is fantastic. This is due to some poor planning. Obviously the task that's provided a driver in in traversing the expressway in the mine is an impossible one. He's told that he must keep his car between 40 and 50 miles an hour and at the same time be able to read all of the directions that are presented to him at in in the center of the mine. Distance separation of six tenths of a second and it takes a driver two and a half seconds to observe a direction and decide what he should do about it. Then they the pattern of on and off on alternate sides of the freeway make it a
crisscross mixmaster type of pattern that just has to produce accidents. It was predicted it would produce accidents on the design table. It's the prediction unfortunately has been fulfilled. What demoing wants to mine gets in the three mile span between the Harding road and east 15th Street exits. There are 13 entrances 17 exit ramps and nine dead in line. Further there is no through lane either east or west down on this stretch. Certainly keeps the average driver on his toes. It could also be a strong impetus to start taking the bus. My present bus system was operated for profit. The assumption was there was a market for IT services. The facts are there is no market for a service is not a probable basis is heavily in debt.
Nothing other than a piece of land and some equipment it has a tremendous standing bond out and they're proposing. Basically that we subsidize the bondholders. And you see that we bail them out. My position is. New York for example you had to let the subways deteriorate terrifically. That didn't work. People were still writing them they were dirty they were messy they were just atrocious. But people still wrote them. So then they increased the fares. And this didn't take enough people off so they made the fares still higher then the schedules have to be reduced. The next thing to drive people off is to make the schedules inconvenient. And finally if nothing else works in most cities and in most cities they found that increasing the fares to an exorbitant degree making the
schedules very inconvenient allowing the equipment to run down didn't work. So they the last step is always to completely discontinue it. Another matter is the whole business of developing an attitude I guess this is the really the most important part. And it's really never been done in the country yet and that is to develop an attitude on the part of the residents that in effect it's almost unpatriotic to have. Your family drives three or four cars. The husband driving it to work. The housewife driving another car to shopping. Maybe a teenage person in the family driving another car just to sport around in. Almost like it was in World War 2 when because of gas rationing and tire rationing and so forth. Every time you listen to the radio at that time or
read the paper or were talking with your friends it came out that you really shouldn't drive your car because it was unpatriotic. The people who were actually in reverse. In this experiment laboratory patient and someone else is rewarded. One wonders if any of the guys who developed mass transit plans would be caught dead on a bus themselves. And a half percent of the people who come into town take the bus. Therefore we present Mrs. Marcy Tobin who is indeed an expert. She has written public transit. For street. Shelters for years.
You could sit at the skate into the fairgrounds for 10 things. It is.
An unresponsive legislature. The urban transportation crisis. Now we will examine the real Mephisto. And your car the as.
The. USA. The turn of the century and everything seemed under control. A real seer of the time said it was nothing less than feeble mindedness to expect anything to come of the horseless carriage movement. And six years later and we Ford's million Model T rolled off the assembly line. Your dream of Michael. You're right. You will always find the right you're
right you're right right right. Right. You. Heard. Bill. There. You. Wave your. Hand. I tell you one thing. The cities are finished said Ford in the early twenties which is rather like Napoleon predicting that someone would get hurt at Waterloo
Flanders standardisation and another planet a few years later. Workers took a cue from the backers and developed overhead hooks to transform the assembly line into a production chain. The demand for American automobiles would never again exceed the supply. Production did fall during the Second World War down to 600 passenger cars. But no one could get gas or tires anyway. In 1946 the war was over and we got back. Literally there were cars produced that year. And they would see the total output of the previous 11. 20 years later we're home free. The United States is the largest banana republic in the world. And our bananas.
Our cars. Next year there should be somewhere between 90 and 100 million cars on the road. Four out of five American families own at least one car. And that's half of. In the world. By tomorrow there will be 6000. Eighty one percent of the American people travel to work by car. The next closest is 45 percent in West Germany. And if you walk to work. You are in an elite minority 6 percent of the population to be exact. We do not own cars to travel. We travel in order to own cars. Passenger car miles traveled in the US are increasing six times faster than the population. If you are average you will buy rent or borrow 20 to 50 cars in your lifetime. You will also own a new car at least every three years. It was the automotive industry that first taught us that something. Did not have to be terribly common. There's no doubt about that. We love those
cars. And when something. For example nationally is projecting its needs for the next 50 years at a figure just. About three hundred twenty billion dollars. Of course figures like that are. Another way. In the city of. Agencies seven city agencies and the Polk County government hears it. They would obviously like a hunk of the hundred and twenty million dollars you spent on fuel tax alone last year. That is second only to the income tax and after refunds probably exceeds it trying to determine exactly what happens to car related revenue. It's like trying to get a headcount of the Viet Cong. Suffice it to say that most of it goes to the Highway Commission 30.
I had a problem they needed to get the state out of the roads farm to market roads primarily and roads across the state. So we had. And actually within the Constitution of the concept of the road tax to self finance the construction of roads. Now this was this appeared to be a very good method at the time to get the road building activities out of politics. However the result was we created a commission the Highway Commission which is the dictator as far as road construction policy is concerned. In order to keep it out of politics we have no legislative oversight over how they spend their construction funds nor do we have
any executive oversight by the executive branch of the government. The only control that the governor for example has is the appointment of highway commissioners. But there. The commission spends about $400000 annually and has a staff of 11. The Highway Commission spends one hundred fifty million dollars a year and employs over four thousand three hundred people. It should be no surprise to anyone that when an agency like that is charged with building roads that is exactly what they are going to do. Last year they literally could not build them fast enough. Still the commission does what it's supposed to do very well. The fact that in a given year the
Highway Commission in the cities will probably see is not their fault. There are other ways to get a piece of the action every day. Taking the most out of the.
City is a very very expensive mode of transportation. We sleep. We do business and. We are entertained in them. We are entertained by them most peculiarly at times. Paying money to watch cars run into each other. We eat in them. We take them on vacations. We pamper them. About two million Americans have put their homes
on wheels. So in a sense. We live in them and most certainly about 65000 times a year. We die. In. Europe then. It's like wiping out the city of Council Bluffs over the next year. There are some things about driving your car that you want to know. Last year there were 22 million wrecks on American roads. Aside from keeping a lot of
insurance men and lawyers employed. And also injured over four million people. If you drive a car with any degree of regularity. 55 percent will happen within the next three years. Sometime in the next 10. Read. There must be a reason short of death wish we cling to our cars. Every American boy's experience anyway where this is us. This is the result. It represents the scape grace of a gift
to cope with. Automobile Manufacturers capitalize upon this by the cars every three years on about a three year
cycle where they change bodies so that they can contain different things for us to look at. It's a sales gimmick but nevertheless you can't sell something to someone if he isn't interested in the feet of water. You could change the structure of potatoes every three years he would sell me more cars. Well it is just something it's an extension of the man himself you might say. I saw an ad in the paper for this car and it was down in southeastern Iowa. When I looked at him it just really got me right here. It had the brass right said everything on it it looked like a true antique but I thought this is the car for me. You know when you restore a car as thoroughly as I have restored this one you really have a part of yourself in the car. You just wouldn't consider ever selling it at least I wouldn't with this particular car. When you consider that there is no peace no ever smaller that has not been
a part in creed. You all put back together. Or in some places it was necessary the part was replaced. So I guess you could say that I have a real keen working knowledge of this vehicle in. All the parts of it to just become something reading rather than a piece of machinery. I
am a car is a very complicated thing. I am a kid. It means a lot of things to me and different things to different people. But we find that the biggest thing that people express when they draw cars and talk to us about them is the various things that are associated with the masculine stereotype like power and competitiveness and speed control and mastery. To say something very trite This is what women's liberation women talk about when they talk about you know stereotype masculinity it has so much aggression and competition and machismo and all of this stuff which actually moves it into this aggressive thing. And and the cars reflect that.
And so I've collected cars that I thought were too wild to believe or that if a kid drew them would make me think all kinds of things. And the most bizarre that I run across is the one that's a it's a dragster with in which the it's sort of a combination dragster and truck where the truck body is a bathtub and the driver's seat is a toilet stool and it's in it's all chrome and and and with fur and everything and it's just a you know it gives you an immensely strange complicated feeling. You know even seeing it that big. Sure.
Yes I think the saving grace for this there is. And that is if they do their research they can perhaps avoid the most acute problems let's face it. There is the question of whether your experience will be. If it indeed remains to be seen. The prognosis is this. By 1990 you will be making more money. There will be about two hundred thousand cars in Des Moines. Two for each family. There will be little if any public transportation and what there is will utilize buses in some yet undefined way. But in 1972 the salient point about the morn's transportation crisis is this. There is no transportation crisis. And if Des Moines economic base and population remain static there will be one in the foreseeable future. Remember the city has been rather adept at avoiding great
change in the past. But with all the vagaries of the future there is one certainty. And it's got something to do with supply and demand. You and I will drive our beloved cars until we collapse or bankruptcy. When we are finally forced to spend inordinate periods of our workday in traffic jams or shell out $65 a month to park downtown. Find it impossible to breathe in the city. Then and only then will we rise up in demanding that our elected officials do something about that in the city. Until then see on the freeway.
Take Des Moines, Please
Producing Organization
Iowa Public Television
Contributing Organization
Iowa Public Television (Johnston, Iowa)
Public Broadcasting Service Series NOLA
TDMP 000000
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/37-35gb5qs1).
Program Description
Documentary on mass transportation problems in the city. Take Des Moines, Please won the National Emmy Award for Community Service.
Broadcast Date
Broadcast Date
Asset type
IPTV, pending rights and format restrictions, may be able to make a standard DVD copy of IPTV programs (excluding raw footage) for a fee. Requests for DVDs should be sent to Dawn Breining
An IEBN Public Affairs Presentation
Copyright IEBN 1972
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Director: Beyer, John
Director: Photography: Burnell, Ron
Editor: Burnell, Ron
Narrator: Faison, Matthew
Producer: Beyer, John
Producing Organization: Iowa Public Television
Production Assistant: Lage, Rick
Sound Recordist: Miller, Michael
Wardrobe: Lage, Rick
Writer: Beyer, John
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Iowa Public Television
Identifier: 8D8 (Old Tape Number)
Format: U-matic
Generation: Master
Duration: 00:57:10
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Take Des Moines, Please,” 1972-01-25, Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 16, 2024,
MLA: “Take Des Moines, Please.” 1972-01-25. Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 16, 2024. <>.
APA: Take Des Moines, Please. Boston, MA: Iowa Public Television, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from