Saturday, January 28, 2023

Thoughts of traffic, development

| December 14, 2022 7:45 AM

Growth and development are inevitable in the Flathead. It is only a matter of deciding how, where and when such growth should occur for the long-term health and sustainability of our residents.

Like all subdivisions, the developer and their technical staff do not intentionally plan or design for human death. City staff and authorities responsible for reviewing and approving such subdivisions equally do not intentionally act to facilitate human death. Neither of course ultimately accepts any legal or financial responsibility for such outcomes from residential development. Yet ... the reality is human injury and even death can and do occur from the over population and use of small, narrow country lanes that were never designed or engineered for urban level usage and congestion. Consider just two examples close to our family.

Example No. 1. On April 26, 2019, just prior to summer break, 37-year-old Jessica Farbstein hit and killed local Columbia Falls resident Brooke Hanson (age 15) on Tamarack Lane just west of Meadow Lake Drive. Brooke is one of the children of good friend and local businessman Mike Hanson. Our families and children own and recreate often at Meadow Lake Resort.

Example No. 2. On a summer evening in July of 2021 while our youngest son was biking home from work at Great Northern Cycle when he was forced to crash his bike into a ditch to avoid hitting a car passing another car on the 90-degree curve at Tamarack Lane and Witty Lane. Of course, while no cars stopped to help, our son had to be taken to the North Valley ER and treated for broken ribs and major skin tears to his arms and legs. He’s recovered, continues to bike, and continues to inform us of the many never misses he and most of his regular commuting cycling friends report – in part because Flathead County Deputies rarely patrol this stretch between Columbia Falls and Whitefish even though it’s a known and highly promoted major bike route.

Who is responsible in these cases? The county for failing to plan for and construct urban level arterials with adequate view clearances, shoulders, sidewalks, passing lanes, etc.? The county and City of Columbia Falls for approving urban level development in an otherwise very rural setting? Or simply the drivers of these two cars? Or … all the above parties? Legally it would likely only be the drivers, but morally as community leaders you are sworn to protect our resident’s public health, safety and general welfare.

The act of approving, denying or conditioning any subdivision assumes the responsibility of placing public health and safety and the general welfare of a community’s residents as the highest priority. Planners are becoming to removed from human factors and overly dependent upon such measures as “levels of service,” “average daily traffic,” “critical lane volume,” “floor area ratios,” “filtration rates,” etc. and other statistical calculations.

When they need to emphasize principles such as walkability, connectivity, core orientation, sustainability, and of course quality of life.

We plan for people and we have to plan for human error and worst-case outcomes.

So, will approving Tamarack Meadows help improve or at least maintain the quality of life and the public health of the Mountain Watch, Meadow Lake and Columbia Falls community? Will it increase or lessen the potential for human life and death interactions I discussed above?

You must decide.

For our family, the density is too great, traffic volumes are too high, roads too narrow and too unsafe, human circulation facilities (bike lanes, sidewalks) too inadequate, general circulation patterns too limited, drainage too inadequate, emergency response routes too slow, and water resources possibly too scarce. We support a less dense, larger lot size development pattern more fitting with a lower volume footprint consistent with a rural environment. Leave urban development inside city limits.

Patrick Malone

Columbia Falls

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