Residents rally for street planning resolution

2011-08-21T20:30:00Z 2011-08-22T06:02:05Z Residents rally for street planning resolutionBy ZACH BENOIT Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 21, 2011 8:30 pm  • 

About 100 people rallied on Sunday afternoon at Montana State University Billings in favor of a "complete streets" resolution that could improve bicycle and pedestrian trails. The resolution is scheduled to be voted on by City Council on Monday.

The Complete Streets Policy, created by the Healthy by Design Advisory Committee, would set up guiding principals for the city to consider each time it builds or works on a street, encouraging the inclusion of things like sidewalks, bike lanes, bike parking, signs and traffic signals.

"The idea is to at least have it officially documented that this is the city's policy," said former Billings Mayor Ron Tussing, who organized the event.

Tussing organized the Complete Streets rally after he watched a recent city council meeting and learned that, while some council members were receptive to the idea, they also discussed tabling it at Monday's meeting.

At the same meeting, the council also voted to adopt a Billings Area Bikeway and Trail Master Plan with all mentions of Complete Streets left out.

The rally started with 60 to 70 people taking a 5.5-mile bike ride through what Tussing described as "the good, the bad and the ugly" of trails and lanes in Billings.

That means they got to see some areas that have bike lanes, some that don't and others that were planned to but never happened, all with the goal of understanding the differences complete streets can make, Tussing said.

"We want the council merely to take into consideration the concept of Complete Streets and the safety and health aspects of it," he said.

He also took issue with recent statements by the state's Transportation Planning Division that the policy could limit flexibility and create unnecessary work exploring all options for street work.

Tussing spoke with Governor Brian Schweitzer's office last week and said they told him they're not opposed to Complete Streets policies as long as there's some flexibility with the implementation.

In an email to Tussing, Deputy Chief of Staff Sheena Wilson said the state government hasn't "weighed in specifically" on the policy under consideration in Billings.

She went on to say that her office's concern is with "how a specific policy is written it could present predetermined design goals," which she said could increase project costs and timeframes.

"There should be flexibility," Tussing said. "I can't be a hard and fast rule that everything has to have a bike path on it."



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