The Ped Mall is downtown Iowa City and has bars, restaurants and boutiques sprinkled throughout. The Ped Mall is where people congregate for lunch everyday, where children run and giggle on the playground or in the water fountain in summer, and where people socialize on weekend nights.
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Dubuque Street then and now - before the construction of the pedestrian mall and the pedestrian mall today.
Photo credit: Iowa City Hall Urban Planning Department
Marcos Grilled Cheese stand is "Iowa City's Famous" food cart. One man declared that "You gatta celebrate life with a grilled cheese! Especially here, they're delicious!" But we never interact with the people making our food for more than 5 minutes. What goes into a night of grilled cheeses? Read more here...
Pedestrian Mall started being constructed in 1977 after years of debate on where the construction would take place, what would be there and how much should be spent. Before there were people walking around on the brick, there was concrete streets. Read more here...
My Experience during this project was quite interesting. I could only report at night, forcing me to stay up and forgo weekend plans with friends. Read more here...
Beer in one hand, shot in the other and her hips are swaying side to side with the beat of the music. She tries to hold a conversation over the music, but her slurred speech is being drowned by the bar speakers and other drunken conversation. Her lipstick is smudged just a bit and her shirt is showing just a little too much cleavage, her heeled boots are killing her but another shot should dull the pain.
Another college girl at a bar downtown? No. A grown woman visiting her alma mater, the usual for a weekend night on the pedestrian mall in Iowa City any weekend during the year.
The Ped Mall At Night: A Timeline
On a Thursday, the bars already have some students crammed in them, mostly Greek-life socials, underage and a few stopping by after class. On Fridays, “FAC” (Friday After Class) has been going on since 4 p.m. If it’s a home football game on Saturday, the bars have been busy all day.
These three days of the week are considered by college students to be the most socializing time of the college experience---the weekend. (Sunday is considered more or less a day for recovery of the body and mind, to retrace missing time slots in memory, and to mourn the loss of a part-time job’s pay check.) The crowds keep busy inside restaurants and bars, but action doesn’t change much outside either. Food carts all around the pedestrian mall offer a variety of snacks with quick and quirky service, which is most enjoyable during the campus-orientated schedule.
The food carts are pulled in on the hitch of a truck on Thursday nights, but on Fridays and Saturdays they are pulled in at seven in the morning. About 20 minutes after this load-in, the grill is fired up and service can begin.
Marco’s offers a simple menu: the nostalgic grilled cheese, a double-decker grilled cheese (three slices of bread with cheese in between each) and quesadillas. Options include ham, tomatoes, hot sauce, sour cream and pico de gallo. Marco’s prices range from $3.50 to 5.50. George’s offers gyros for $5, which comes wrapped in a pita, stuffed with gyro meat, tomatoes and Tzatziki sauce – a traditional Greek sauce.
“Usually a half hour after we set up we will get our first customer,” Assistant Manager of Marco’s Grilled Cheese stand explains. “Then we get a few people and when 10 comes around, that’s when we get a few more people.”
At this time of night, every night, the bars kick the underage patrons out of the establishment. The employees at Marco’s don’t even have to look at their watch at this point because people start pouring out onto the brick pavement. Workers call the moment the “ten o’clock kiddy corral.” Typically, a few under-agers venture their way over to the carts, order some food and go home with their heels in hand.
The Pedestrian Mall, normally, has a traditional flow of ‘traffic’ much like driving in the country---walking to and from in right and left lanes on the brick. On weekend nights, that is shot. People stumble all over to make it to their destinations. Girls click clack in their heels, holding onto each other. Even in colder weather their outfits still suggest a warmer temperature. The guys shiver, making their ways to various lines for ATMs. While people go every which way, it becomes obvious that there is a cop walking through by the crowd.
When police officers appear in the area, the flow of traffic changes as if a rock dropped into a still lake, sending ripples throughout the otherwise ‘calm’ waters. The officers cause the intoxicated crowds to walk the opposite way, similar to a shark moving too near to a school of fish.
This is usually the time when police officers switch patrolling. The early night shift wraps up and makes their way to the station, while the late night officers bundle up with warm gear and head out.
“There are three different sets of officers on foot patrolling the downtown area. One unit in a squad car, one marked car out in the east side neighborhoods and one in the west side,” says Lieutenant Mike Brotherton. “We have one unmarked car patrolling both sides of the river, but they are usually on the east side since the west side is so quiet.”
Brotherton explains the use of one unmarked car is to avoid people running if they see a cop car. It makes it easier on the officers to approach a group without having to worry about chasing them down.
Marco’s and George’s food stands have a steady flow of people coming and going, grabbing some munchies before leaving then off on their merry way. The food cart employees say there is never really a problem with hungry customers not using “proper etiquette” or being rude. But one thing they do really appreciate is the tip. Starting late September all the way until late April, the weather is frequently cold, wet and dark.
“Sure we signed up for the job, but we don’t have to be out here serving the drunks,” says Nick, an employee of Marco’s.
The Iowa City police officers work with the University of Iowa’s police staff to patrol the downtown area. There is a University officer on bike, while others walk just like some of the Iowa City officers walk. Before any city officers can stroll into a bar, they have to check in with campus dispatch to inform them of who is going into which bar.
“Now that there is a bar called ‘The Library’ we have to specify that we are in the bar and not the University’s library,” says Officer Murphy, a police officer who has been on the squad since October 2010. “Because they actually have given us clearance to go into the real library before.”
After the officers get clearance they greet the doormen, many of whom the officers know on a personal basis, and proceed to split up once inside. The officers go around to check IDs, making sure someone with an “X” drawn on his/her hand is not holding a drink, as well as to make sure there are no fights in event.
“We’re not out to ticket every person we can. We’re not trying to find a reason to give you a ticket. We understand you are just trying to have fun,” says Officer Krack, who is relatively new to the squad since joining April 2011. “If you are causing a problem or clearly breaking a law, then we’ll step in. But we want you to have fun too. Just be smart about it.”
On a “slow” evening, the officers have broken up a fight in local bar The Summit, written out four PAULAs, ran to another scene where a girl was punched in the face and given a ticket to a girl who had a fake ID all by midnight.
“Usually weekend nights are busy, but because it’s an away game and close to midterms, the bar scene kind of calms down,” says Officer Krack. “But tonight, it’s kind of slow. Usually we have bigger issues on hand then tickets.”
Officers Krack & Murphy’s favorite bar to go into is The Summit. It’s one of the few bars downtown that 19- and 20-year-olds can stay in after 10 p.m. The partners like this particular hangout because there is always something interesting going on, such as underage students holding drinks, plenty of fake IDs, fights or people getting sick.
At this time, some people start to stumble home, the lines at the food carts start to form, and the outside atmosphere becomes noisier.
Some bars start to turn on their lights around 1:30-1:45 a.m. so people start to leave and head outside. The lines in the food carts become longer and customers shout towards the cooks as if they are long lost pals.
One girl has a birthday crown on her head and beer goggles over her eyes. She sways as she stands in line trying to count her money to see if she has enough for a grilled cheese. “It’s my birthday, can I get a free sandwich?” Assistant Manager Mark laughs and politely tells her no. When one of her friends asks why they don’t offer free sandwiches for your birthday he explains that there are over 20,000 undergraduate students at Iowa, that’s over 20,000 free sandwiches and a huge profit loss. This seems to either make sense to the girls or they simply ignored it and continued to order sandwiches anyway.
This is about when the officers stand next to the trees on their concrete bases, a few feet above the crowd gaining an eagle eye on the general area. They catch a guy walking around with a beer in his hand, which results in a ticket for an open container. They spot a fight and one officer leaves to break it up. Otherwise, the night stays calm.
At this point all the bars have closed, there are a few people left in line at the food carts and everyone embarks on their journey home. The Pedestrian Mall has very few people, and those who are still around are on their way out. The officers find a guy sitting on the ledge of the planters, head in his hand sleeping. They walk over to try to wake him up. After a few attempts, he wakes very confused. He tries to convince the authority he is staying here at the Sheraton in “Cedar Rapids.” They inform him he is in Iowa City.
“I know, that’s what I’ve been telling you. I’m here with…oh no…um…oh no.”
Officer Murphy asks the man if he feels alright. Officer Krack takes a few steps back to stand next to Officer Murphy.
“I think, um, oh no.”
The drunken man vomits on the sidewalk, and the officers are not upset but rather concerned with the fact this guy is too smashed to be left alone. After sometime, the man declares he has finished and the officers start to walk him over to the Sheraton, while asking whom he is staying with. At this point, his sentences are trailing, and he stops as if he is going to be sick again but instead leans on the officers. The officers agree that he is in no condition to go up to his room to sleep alone, and take him into the station to rest and sober up a little.
Before the clock strikes 2:30 a.m., the Pedestrian Mall is a ghost town. No one is there except for the two officers walking the inebriated fellow to their squad car. In a few hours the puke, cigarette butts and ATM receipts will be gone in time for the families to come enjoy the Pedestrian Mall in the daylight.
This is a picture of Dubuque Street in the 1970s before the Pedestrian Mall was built.
Photo credit: Iowa City Hall Urban Planning Department
This is another picture of Dubuque Street, the other side of the street - it was all torn down.
Photo credit: Iowa City Hall Urban Planning Department
This is a screen shot of the Pedestrian Mall from Google Maps Satellite.
Photo credit: Google Maps
Tickets will be issued for violation of:
- Riding a bike, scooter, skateboard or rollerblade
- Walking a dog
- Possession of an open container
- Public Intoxication
- Fake ID
Source: Iowa City Police Department