Monday, January 24, 2022

Put city vision first

| August 18, 2021 2:30 PM

Within the next few months, Columbia Falls City Council will hear the first draft of the transportation plan that will guide development in and around the city for the next 20 year. This plan will be long term and all encompassing, affecting everything from new roads and bridges, to bike paths and sidewalks, to public transportation options.

The City Council has hired KLJ Engineering to construct this proposal. This is the same consultant used by the Kalispell City Council to craft their Move 2040 Kalispell Area Transportation Plan. While the draft presented to the Kalispell City Council provides vital data about growth in and around Kalispell, the current plan primarily relies on increasing capacity of existing roads and does not prioritize alternative forms of transportation as a way to improve automobile congestion. Most disappointing, and surprising, is that the recommendations of the new transportation plan undermine and devalue years of work the City of Kalispell has done to plan for the revitalization of its downtown.

In late 2017 Kalispell adopted, after much public input and excitement, a Downtown Plan that included goals to reduce lanes in the core of downtown and increase sidewalks and landscaping. Now Kalispell is being presented a draft of the transportation plan by KJL that, to put it bluntly, is unacceptable as it fails to prioritize the changes the Downtown Plan calls for. Columbia Falls is making great strides in revitalizing its downtown and it is imperative that the public let the City Council and the city’s consultant, KLJ Engineering, know right now that the Columbia Falls’ transportation plan needs to put the city’s vision for its downtown first.

Furthermore, the plan presented to Kalispell is almost single minded in its quest to increase road capacity for vehicles and makes little note of increasing access to other modes of transportation.

A report published by Transportation for America explains that adding capacity to roadways has not been shown to prevent congestion and actually increased congestion related travel delays in many cities across the country. A study of Boise, conducted between 1993 and 2017 demonstrated this phenomenon. During the study period Boise’s population grew by 117 percent while lane-miles in and around the city grew by 141 percent. Counter to policy makers desires, congestion, measured by delay times, grew by 446 percent. This report makes it clear that the best way to improve road conditions for all users is to incorporate bike lanes, sidewalks, and public transportation into infrastructure plans.

We encourage residents of Columbia Falls to contact the City Council now and tell them to direct KLJ Engineering to prioritize the vision the City of Columbia Falls has for its downtown when developing its transportation plan. Additionally, residents should ask that improving pedestrian infrastructure, such as sidewalks and bike paths, or expanding access to public transportation, be given meaningful consideration when developing a Columbia Falls’ transportation plan.

Ruben Castren, Citizens for a Better Flathead

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