A report evaluating Billings’ Complete Streets policy shows a mixed bag on crash data and health and economic benefits brought about by designing streets that can be used safely by a variety of travelers.
The intent is create streets compatible for all types of users, from motorists to pedestrians, bus passengers, bicyclists and people in wheelchairs.
The city’s Planning and Community Services Department presented its 2017 Complete Streets Progress Report Monday to the Billings City Council. The update is issued every three years or so after the council’s 2011 adoption of the streets policy.
“These measurements of performance have become more critical as competition for grant monies between cities has escalated and funding sources have decreased,” states the report, compiled over about eight months by Transportation Planner Lora Mattox.
The Complete Streets policy “can also be instrumental in attracting and maintaining a skilled and talented workforce.”
Asked by Councilman Brent Cromley Monday to identify the policy’s top three impacts, Planning and Community Services Director Wyeth Friday responded:
- As projects are being prepared, “we are now looking at different users for all of the corridors and activities in the area in addition to motorized vehicles.” Coordinating and communicating the various road uses “is going very well,” Friday said.
- The education and outreach component of Complete Streets, including the Kids in Motion program and a video on driving and pedaling cooperation created by Billings TrailNet and the city’s Public Works Department, have helped garner national recognition from publications like Outdoor and Sunset magazines.
- Designing and building roadways compatible to multiple modes of travel gives the city “a competitive edge, and that’s a key thing now when people are looking at your community from around the country,” Friday said. “You can drive around and see the improvements that have been made, and that has elevated Billings.”
Pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes were generally down following a 10-year high of 50 in 2012. About 3 percent of the population walks to work, the report states.
At 46, bicycle-motor vehicle crashes reached their peak in 2010. By 2015, the most recent year data is available, there were 28 crashes involving vehicles and bicycles. About 1 percent of Billings workers use a bicycle to reach their workplace.
About one-fourth of Yellowstone County adults exert moderate-intensity physical activity for at least 30 minutes five days a week, and about two-thirds are overweight, the report states.
The Complete Streets policy encourages residents to feel safe while walking, cycling or rolling.
“We appreciate the city’s comprehensive approach to monitoring this policy,” said Melissa Henderson of RiverStone Health, who's also a member of the Healthy by Design Coalition. “We’re having great conversation around active transportation and getting to school and work safely. … We are seeing an uptick in physical activity, and I think we will start seeing more people on our streets.”
In 2013, Billings residents spent about 52 percent of their income on housing and transportation, with 45 percent being the target of the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index. A review of the most recent data indicates that cost has gone down to 48 percent of income — 25 percent for housing, 23 percent for transportation. Whether that reduction is due to increased non-motorized infrastructure will require additional research, the report states.
Of Montana’s seven largest cities, Billings — the state’s largest city — ranks second-lowest in bicycling and walking and third-best in terms of transit ridership.
City staff consider every street project for the incorporation of Complete Street elements, but depending on such factors as limited rights-of-way and the types of user needs, not every project receives Complete street elements — or may include only certain elements.
Local funding options, such as using part of the city’s increased share of the state gas tax, now 31.5 cents per gallon, can provide the local match for securing state and federal grants the report states.
Capital improvement projects slated for the next five years, including Midland Road reconstruction scheduled for 2018 and the construction of the Inner Belt Loop, could well be augmented by local funds to include Complete Streets elements.
In all, Friday said, 29 projects completed in the five years beginning with 2013 incorporated Complete Streets design elements.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he told the council. “But we are pleased with what we are seeing and the overall effort” that the community has put into sharing the road among all types of travelers.