Billings must get its transportation system going the right way to promote downtown as a great place to live, work and enjoy.
When Downtown Billings Alliance presented its comprehensive strategic plan Tuesday morning, most questions and comments from the crowd centered on transportation.
One of the plan’s four “transformative issues” is “multi-modal streets and connectivity.” The goal is that Downtown Billings “will be viewed as a safe, attractive and connected environment, which encourages downtown visitors and residents to walk and cycle between destinations to support increased multi-modal activity and communication within this unique economic and cultural asset.”
Transforming downtown into a pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood would require a traffic and bike study, the DBA consultant told the group of more than 60 people who gathered at Billings Public Library on the coldest morning of the year so far.
Such a study already is in the works, according to Wyeth Friday, Billings’ Planning and Community Services director. He said a pedestrian and traffic study to be released later this year will include input from the Montana Department of Transportation on that very topic.
“There will be some strategies and recommendations,” Friday told the gathering Tuesday. “It’s on its way and going forward.”
The idea of switching one-way downtown streets to two-way traffic received positive comments from Billings folks who gave input for the downtown strategic plan in a public forum, eight focus groups and more than a dozen stakeholder interviews. The Tuesday morning presentation also drew two-way traffic fans.
The downtown plan calls for changing parking policy to free up more convenient slots for short-term visitors by having commuters park on upper garage levels. Looking ahead, Billings must plan for the day when autonomous vehicles will be in wide use, probably requiring less parking. Other ideas in the plan include a downtown shuttle, enhanced safety and aesthetics in bike and pedestrian routes, making North 27th Street and Highway 3 more pedestrian/bike friendly.
Maisie Sulser, Downtown Billings director of development, invited people who are interested in two-way streets and other downtown traffic changes to let the DBA know of their interest so they can work for this transformation.
Along with well-planned transportation infrastructure, Downtown Billings needs a cultural shift to be more welcoming to pedestrians. Pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions are all too common in Billings, especially downtown. Drivers aren’t at fault in all of these incidents, but anyone who lives or works downtown can relate close calls as they crossed intersections with a walk signal that did not stop an oncoming vehicle.
Drivers need to expect, look for and stop for pedestrians in the heart of our city. Safety messages don’t have to be expensive, they don’t have to wait for construction appropriations or engineering.
The Billings Police Department’s traffic officers and downtown patrolmen should be part of this strategic plan and its implementation. Downtown should be a safe place to run before breakfast, walk at lunch and stroll to your favorite restaurant for dinner.
The DBA titled its strategic plan “Dream Big.” Big dreams can come true one step at a time: safer two-way streets, attractive pedestrian and bicyclist amenities and welcoming motorists who stop for foot traffic at every turn.