Interactive website helps citizens get involved in transportation planning

2014-03-13T21:01:00Z 2014-03-19T08:28:08Z Interactive website helps citizens get involved in transportation planningBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Residents are invited to help determine — and even design — what the Billings area will look like 20 years from now.

Hint: It’ll be home to almost 59,000 new residents, about 46,000 of them working people.

How will all the new folks and veteran Billings residents get around town safely and easily?

That’s what the 2014 Billings Urban Area Long Range Transportation Plan will help local, state and federal political leaders to figure out.

Local planners and the Boise, Idaho, engineering firm hired to help devise the plan, Kittelson & Associates, as well as the DOWL HKM firm, held an open house Thursday at the Billings Public Library to update the public and elicit comments on the plan, which is near completion.

There’s a way for residents to help steer the remainder of the planning process as well. By visiting the interactive website http://maps.kittelson.com/billingsprojects, residents can select from almost 250 proposed street, pedestrian, freight, transit, bicycle and other projects to leave a comment and read what others think. Each project is mapped, and projects are grouped by types. Residents can hide the kinds of projects they’re not interested in to focus on their kinds of projects, whether they be rail, mass transit or pedestrian safety.

To date, about 260 people have submitted comments, and more than 500 people have visited the interactive site. Andy Daleiden, project manager with Kittelson and Associates, said the groups with the highest interest have been:

  • Bicyclists who want the city’s trail system completed and want to see better connections between on-street bicycling opportunities and the trail system;
  • Pedestrians who want to “fill in the gaps where sidewalks don’t exist” and who want better pedestrian connections in and around schools;
  • Those who want better and more frequent public transportation service;
  • Those who are concerned about freight transport, both by truck and by rail. The latter group wants to see signal enhancements at railroad crossings to indicate how long the wait will be; the former group is interested in improving intersections to enhance movement.

Those residents who prefer paper and pen can send written comments to Scott Walker, transportation planner for the Billings-Yellowstone County Metropolitan Planning Organization, 2825 Third Ave. N., 4th Floor, Billings, MT 59101. Walker’s email address is walkers@ci.billings.mt.us.

Thursday’s open house featured display boards where the 25 or so attendees could learn more about what their fellow Billings residents are thinking about the city’s transportation shortcomings and opportunities.

According to those display boards, residents who use public transportation — or who would like to use it more — said they want more shelters and more bus stops, transit service to Lockwood and to the airport and for Billings MET Transit to promote ridership with colleges, hospitals and downtown businesses.

Comments about streets and highways centered on providing better connectivity among the West End, downtown and north part of Billings; paving various streets; and reprogramming traffic signal systems to adapt to train delays, such as signals on parallel roads remaining green.

According to Daleiden, the next steps following Thursday’s open house will include making cost estimates on each of the proposed projects and determining available funding over the next 20 years.

The plan should be completed by June and adopted later in the summer. Local and state agencies will have input before it’s adopted, and residents will have at least two more months to submit comments on the plan.

Comments will be considered as potential projects are prioritized, Daleiden said. Public comments “are not the only factor, but they are an element to inform the consultants” as well as the local committee working on the plan.

At least one man in attendance praised the effort that’s going into creating the plan, which is updated every four years.

“I’ve looked at the website,” said Roger Williams of Billings following the presentation. “It’s truly extraordinary.”

Williams, a member of BikeNet, an organization that supports constructing urban trails, said he retired from work five years ago and gave up his car four years ago.

“Things are getting better every year in Billings,” he said. “There’s a growing emphasis on safe streets, and non-motorized uses are taken into consideration.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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