Weighs on the transport plane
I was only recently made aware of this planning process and this draft plan. And so, unfortunately, I only have about an hour or so to go through a few highlights and offer a few observations.
First of all, I would like to thank you, municipal staff, your Project Advisory Committee for the hundreds of hours they have, I am sure, invested in presenting the draft plan to you. As a former regional planner, I am well aware of the enormous task that this represents.
Second, I want to stress the complexity of this plan at this time in Columbia Falls history. For no other time in the city’s history has there been such a dramatic change in land use functions and real estate market conditions. The valley as a whole is and is likely to continue to experience unprecedented growth and change. And because of Columbia Falls’ proximity to Whitefish and Glacier National Park, it will be both directly and indirectly affected in ways we can’t imagine. So… please keep a very open and flexible mind about future changes and impacts.
Third, the urban form. Like all cities facing high growth rates, it is imperative that the desired urban form be one of infill and increased density. Not only do land prices and infrastructure costs (both construction and maintenance) suggest such a model, but all associated social, economic and environmental conditions dictate it. Typically, transportation plans follow land use and growth management plans. They are the implementation vehicle for achieving many goals and objectives in land use. Without the ability to review and compare the growth and land use management plans adopted by the City with this transportation plan, I can only recommend to Council that all transportation system improvements adopted comply with and reinforce the objectives of managing sustainable growth. I am unable to predict when public transport may / will become a realistic and viable option for the valley – but it is necessary for a growing, elderly, low-income, tourism-oriented workforce.
Annexation too. As the city continues to grow, it must be proactive in initiating annexation measures to extend municipal control of development with uniform development standards in unincorporated areas.
Fourth. Highway 2, the railway and the river. Unlike most cities, Columbia Falls has a triple challenge of being on a major national highway, a major river, and is cut by several active railroads. These not only frustrate local movements of cars, bicycles and pedestrians, but they also create jurisdictional and public safety issues. Ideally, some type of truck / through traffic bypass south of Hodgson Road would lead non-local and through traffic to Hwy 206 en route to the Canyon, West / East Glacier and Canada. Without this option, the only choice the city has is to implement strong traffic calming measures and create secondary roads for trucks and hopefully pedestrians / bicycles where possible. At present, the existing system is fully self-orientated with almost no suitable route for cyclists and pedestrians of any length or working models (Talbott is ideal for going east / west and connects well with three schools – if you live in the immediate surrounding neighborhoods but not efficiently connect with the CBD, Tamarack or the North Fork safely.
Fifth. Existing conditions vs projected conditions.
For the reasons already mentioned above, a time horizon of 2040 for the purposes of the project is too short (only 19 years). 2050 might even be too short for the planning of large infrastructures. You only have to go back to around 2015 to witness the explosion in visitor traffic and 2020 has dramatically increased it. What seems clear nationally is that all middle to senior managers who have the opportunity and financial capacity to work from home and who are not bound by a location are choosing smaller, non-metropolitan areas for their work. live (and NW Montana is a perfect candidate).
Growth projections. If we compare the evolution of Columbia Falls’ population between 2000 and 2020, it was over 46%, which was during a major national recession.
Using such a low figure to project a population of 2040 seems very low and all other transport variables are based on this figure for trip generation rate purposes.
This means ADT, service levels, accident estimates, etc. are likely low, especially when growth rates of 1.5% for highways and 1.1% are used for arteries and collectors – this could lead to huge undercounts.
Sixth. Development standards. The only section that deals with the type of new street development standards (and I would say there is redevelopment) is in Chapter 10: Strategic Plan. The street cross sections shown here provide options for car, transit, bicycle, and foot travel, as well as lighting and landscaping. We need multi-use corridors that feature mixed-use modes of travel.
We need to calm the traffic. We need improved shoulders. We need roundabouts. We need reduced speed limits in many areas.
To close, rather than being or seeing ourselves as “a community of passage”, we must begin to see ourselves as a community of destination. Car and truck traffic in particular needs to be redesigned to be limited locally and not just an annoying slowdown along a long highway.
Note: This letter was Malone’s reflections, as sent to city leaders, on the transportation plan.