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Abandoned Railroad Line Provides Cross-Town Trail Opportunity

Formally adopted by the City of Council Bluffs in 2015, the West Broadway Corridor Plan was developed to guide the transformation of this busy stretch of roadways into a walkable, eye-catching urban streetscape. The plan also proposed the redevelopment of the former railroad line running parallel to West Broadway into a multi-modal recreational trail with open plaza areas and other bike-friendly amenities. The entire corridor is 66-feet-wide with the southern half targeted for the trail and other pedestrian features, while the northern side is being preserved for future transit features that would also connect into Omaha. Extending just under two miles from 14th to 35th Streets, the new trail would also fill a critical gap in the regional trail system. City leaders teamed with the trail designers from Snyder & Associates to develop this transformative trail section.

Using the acronym, FIRST AVE, (Furthering Interconnections, Revitalization, Streetscapes, Transportation, and Aesthetics for a Vibrant Economy), the First Avenue Trail project was designed to enhance the operation of the West Broadway neighborhood and provide opportunities for redevelopment of blighted industrial properties. It will connect neighborhoods, schools, and businesses and provide a safe route for pedestrians and cyclists to travel across Council Bluffs all the way to the riverfront, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, and into downtown Omaha.

Unique Design Amenities Honor Railroad Heritage

The extra-wide First Avenue Trail provides plenty of space for several modes of transportation. Photo credit: Ashley Kruse, City of Council Bluffs

The Snyder & Associates designers created a plan to establish an extra-wide trail along the project area. Suitable for several modes of transportation, one section of the trail has a 10-foot-wide middle section paved in asphalt for bicyclists and other faster-moving micro-mobility devices, such as E-scooters, while two-foot-wide concrete shoulders along both edges were included for slower-moving pedestrians. Due to a design change, another portion of the trail is proposed to be even wider, having a 12-foot middle section with two-foot-wide concrete shoulders.

More than just a trail, however, our team set out to create a space that provides a unique user experience along the near two-mile-long corridor. Described by many as more of a “linear park,” the area along the trail includes attractive landscaping, several public green spaces, and trail plazas located every three to four blocks. The plazas were designed to pay homage to the former rail line running through the area and include industrial design aspects and materials incorporated into the amenities.

The plazas also include a variety of wayfinding signage, bicycle parking, shade structures, benches, and pedestals for holding public art pieces in the future. A local, private business plans to add a bike-sharing station adjacent to a plaza area once it’s completed. This will allow patrons to rent a bike to ride along the trail and conveniently return at other bike share locations. Additionally, since the trail runs along the backside of many of the businesses along West Broadway, city leaders hope to start a mural program to display artistry on the back walls facing the trail.

Bicyclists are already taking advantage of the new trail system. Photo credit: Ashley Kruse City of Council Bluffs

Special features were included where the First Avenue Trail passes Thomas Jefferson High School. This includes an attractive black, welded-wire fence with gates, ADA-compliant ramps leading to the school, and long seating walls for both students and trail users. Additional landscaping along this section ties in with the rest of the trail. To accommodate early morning and late-night trail users, the entire two-mile section has decorative lighting to create a safer user experience.

Anticipated Development & Recreational Opportunities

City leaders anticipate the First Avenue Trail project will spur the development of other high-density residential and mixed-use facility efforts. They expect the district will greatly benefit from the multi-modal corridor and add to the residential base needed to support expanded commercial uses along the West Broadway corridor.

The first phase of construction on the trail project included the section extending from 35th to 25th Street. Construction on the 16-foot-wide, phase-two section, which extends from 25th Street to the 14th Street area, will begin in the summer of 2022. At this location, the trail will link with existing trail sections on the east side of town. Plans also call for the addition of a new community park near this juncture, on the east side of Indian Creek. This park would further add to the community-focused amenities established by the creation of the First Avenue Trail. As professionals who also live and work in the Council Bluffs community, the Snyder & Associates team is proud of this transformational project.