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Des Moines City Council approves lane reduction on street where teen was hit and killed

The stretch of road is where 14-year-old Ema Cardenas was hit and killed while walking home from school in April 2022.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Some major changes are coming to a busy Des Moines road in the name of keeping Iowans safer whether or not they are behind the wheel. 

In April 2022, 14-year-old Ema Cardenas was hit and killed by a driver on E University Avenue while walking home from school. For her mother, that pain hasn't faded.

"It's just hard that it was me and my family and people that loved Ema," Anna Campos said.

Just over a year later, the city of Des Moines is taking steps to prevent another tragedy. On Monday night, the city council voted to reduce E University Ave from four lanes of traffic down to three between E 14th Street and Easton Boulevard.

According to the city of Des Moines, the lane reduction will help lower driving speeds, reduce crash volumes by around 50% and improve pedestrian safety by adding more distance between the sidewalk and traffic lanes.

Campos had been pushing for those sorts of changes since Ema's death. She said the council's vote was a bittersweet victory.

"It had to be a tragedy for this to happen. I'm very happy with the outcome, and this is just one step. I am going to fight for more streets to be looked at," Campos said.

Some of those streets she has her eyes on include portions of Ingersoll and Euclid Avenues. Construction on E University Ave is expected to start in 2024; Campos hopes she can bring similar change across the city in the years to come.

"Nobody's going to know that things need to be done, if nothing's said. So that's what motivates me, just knowing that this one hurdle we passed over it and we can still continue to do better," she said.

The street renovations will cost around $900,000 in total: $500,000 will come from the Iowa Department of Transportation's Traffic Safety Improvement Program, with the rest coming from general obligation bonds.

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