The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners

Reserve Street: The Sequel

January 24, 2024 Missoula County Commissioners
Reserve Street: The Sequel
The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners
More Info
The Agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners
Reserve Street: The Sequel
Jan 24, 2024
Missoula County Commissioners

This week the Missoula County Commissioners continue their discussion with transportation planner Aaron Wilson. They discuss the concept of 15 minute cities and how creating diverse, accessible transportation choices can reduce traffic congestion. Aaron also gives updates on the safety studies and plans for accommodating growth in areas like Brooks Street in Missoula and Highway 200 in East Missoula.

Don’t miss part two of this series on planning, traffic and transportation!

Thank you to Missoula's Community Media Resource for podcast recording support!

Show Notes Transcript

This week the Missoula County Commissioners continue their discussion with transportation planner Aaron Wilson. They discuss the concept of 15 minute cities and how creating diverse, accessible transportation choices can reduce traffic congestion. Aaron also gives updates on the safety studies and plans for accommodating growth in areas like Brooks Street in Missoula and Highway 200 in East Missoula.

Don’t miss part two of this series on planning, traffic and transportation!

Thank you to Missoula's Community Media Resource for podcast recording support!

Juanita Vero: [00:00:10] Welcome back to the agenda with your Missoula County Commissioners. I'm Juanita Vero and today we're picking up where we left off last week with transportation planner Aaron Wilson. Let's jump back in. You were talking about the encouragement of development west of reserve. And there's a lot of chatter at the national level about urban planning and 15 minute cities. People get a little twitchy about that terme. Educate us.


Aaron Wilson: [00:00:33] Yeah, well, I mean, you can call it a 15 minute city. You can call it whatever you want. The idea is that 100 years ago, or whenever you'd have a neighborhood and you'd have services there, and people didn't necessarily have to drive all the way across town to get their groceries. You could walk there. You were close to your school, you could live close to your job. There was just a lot more within a neighborhood. And the way planning and and zoning and things evolved over the middle part of the century and through the 80s and probably even the 90s, there was this idea of trying to separate all the uses. So you'd have your commercial over here and your residential over in this part of town and your industrial somewhere else. And some of that is good. You know, you don't want factories next to your housing. There were good reasons to start to think about that. But what we've done is we've sort of isolated our residential from all these other services, or we've just sort of spread out in a way that you can't do that. So you have to then drive everywhere you want to go long. Yeah, a lot longer. And so then that just creates a lot of traffic. And the idea of the 15 minute city or the 15 minute neighborhood is that you can just walk or bike or...


Josh Slotnick: [00:01:31] Or drive a short way. 


Aaron Wilson: [00:01:32] Or drive a short way, exactly. Instead of driving three miles, you're driving half a mile. And then that just makes it much more efficient operation of your city. And so you're not throwing all of your vehicles onto Reserve Street. You might just you'll still go there. You still want to go to Costco, and you can't have a Costco in every neighborhood. But you can.


Josh Slotnick: [00:01:46] You can have a you could have a small grocery store. Exactly. And I dare say a bar. And you might have to yes, you can walk home and.


Juanita Vero: [00:01:53] Then so folks who are resistant to this idea of 15 minutes city, what's their position?


Josh Slotnick: [00:01:58] I'm just guessing. But I think when people hear 15 Minute City, they're saying, you're going to have to pry my cold, dead fingers from my steering wheel if you want to take my car away.


Aaron Wilson: [00:02:06] Right? Yeah. And I think... 


Josh Slotnick: [00:02:07] I was leaning into or a short drive, because when people feel like you're telling them, sorry, 82 year old person with two bad hips, you have to ride a bike, right? No, you can drive. We're just talking about having a shorter drive rather than a longer drive. And I think that piece gets strategically taken out of the equation. And this becomes another instance to talk about freedoms being taken away as opposed to options being given.


Aaron Wilson: [00:02:30]  [00:02:30]Yeah, I think it's also trying to make sure it's not about mandating what every neighborhood looks like, right. It's just thinking about neighborhoods and having those services in different ways. And every, every neighborhood or every place could be very different. And it might look very different in rural Montana than it does in the middle of context is. [00:02:46]


Josh Slotnick: [00:02:46]  [00:02:46]Yes.


Aaron Wilson: [00:02:47]  [00:02:47]And it's yeah, you're right. It's not about saying you can't drive, but making those other things much easier to do. And so the 20 or 30% of the population who is just waiting to do those maybe wants to walk but doesn't feel safe all of a sudden. You make it easy. They will. And then that preserves more ability for people to drive who just have no interest or no ability to. [00:03:05]


Josh Slotnick: [00:03:05] So I want to go back to this safety study. We're talking about a part of our valley that is primed for truly spectacular growth over the next 20 years. Talking about the Sxwtpqyen area where we got the build grant and out at the Y, we're really talking about, you know, 10,000 plus units of housing over the next 20 years, not coming on Tuesday, but over the next 20 years. How do we make sure that this safety study we're doing now and the changes that follow accommodate that level of growth over the next two decades?


Aaron Wilson: [00:03:30] That's where I think planning really comes into play. And it's it's really hard to predict how things will change, I mean, five years from now, let alone 20 years.


Josh Slotnick: [00:03:37] Well, we know there's going to be a lot more units.


Aaron Wilson: [00:03:39] We know there will be change and that there will be impacts. And so we want to be thinking about that and imagining like, what is the future look like? How do we accommodate that in a way that that makes sense. And, you know, there's a number of different ways we could do that. We could do that where everyone is driving a vehicle. If we do that, there's no way we build ourselves out of congestion. It's just going to be more congested.


Josh Slotnick: [00:03:56] But if we can make neighborhoods that have plenty of the things that people need and want close into our houses are, then even if people are driving, they're driving a short way and congestion is mitigated.


Aaron Wilson: [00:04:07] Yeah, there's that aspect. There's also creating different options for people. So some people will bike, some will walk, some might take the bus. You have all of these options. You're not forcing everyone to be on the roadway, which is sort of how we've developed for the last 50 or 100 years is saying like, if you don't drive like you're just you're very limited in where you can go or what you can do. Now we have.


Josh Slotnick: [00:04:24] Remote work, too.


Aaron Wilson: [00:04:25] Yeah. Remote work. Exactly. To what you.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:04:27] Were alluding to, Josh, just in terms of the distribution in our community of different opportunities for retail that might now be more concentrated in one area. I remember a decade or so back when the hot topic was what was Rattlesnake Gardens, today's Rattlesnake market. This was like the breath of the devil himself, you know, it's like, oh my God, the sky is going to fall. So it's it's a matter of how can we point to examples where this sort of land use pattern developed, and it actually enhanced people's ability to to live a good life in a neighborhood? I'd have to.


Josh Slotnick: [00:05:03] Say in my neighborhood, uh, the Trough and Dales Dairy provide that same level of service. People go to these places even though you can. Spend less money if you went to Costco or you went to Starbucks. And I'm not saying the Cross.


Juanita Vero: [00:05:16] Reserve street to do that. Yes.


Josh Slotnick: [00:05:17] But so the criticism is that these places will fail on economics. That price point is all people care about. And I say that's not true. People also put a value on time. And do I want to spend the time it takes to drive down Reserve Street, and the experience you have at these places that are unique, specific, endemic to a neighborhood and reflect the values and the character of the place in which they reside? Or do you risk your life, wait and traffic so you can be somewhere that reminds you of nowhere and people are happy to make those choices or.


Aaron Wilson: [00:05:47] Reminds you of?


Juanita Vero: [00:05:48] Everywhere we were, we were, we were on Reserve Street. But now let's move to a similar street. Brooks is another major roadway that connects highway 93 to Missoula. So tell us more about Connect Midtown and transform Brooks and those plans.


Aaron Wilson: [00:06:01] Yeah, so there's a lot of exciting things happening in Midtown right now. The Midtown Association just wrapped up a master planning effort for that whole part of town around Southgate Mall and the fairgrounds and Brooks Highway 93, looking at what can happen in that area, what's the future and how can it change? And a big piece of that is is Brooks.


Juanita Vero: [00:06:20] Midtown East to west.


Aaron Wilson: [00:06:21] Generally about Reserve Street to Bancroft, give or take. It sort of varies depending on who you talk to. But roughly reserve reserve to Bancroft and then I'd say 14th mount to Southwest Higgins. So it's a big area. It's a huge chunk of Missoula. And Brooks is the main street. You know, it's the defining part of Midtown or one of the defining pieces. And what we found in that master plan is that very similar to Reserve Street, Brooks serves a lot of traffic. It connects highway 93 to downtown and to I-90, but it also splits Midtown roughly in half diagonally running through it. And it can be really hard to get across. So like we talked about on reserve, you know, there's not often not a lot of places to cross. If you do, you're sort of taking your life into your own hands.


Juanita Vero: [00:07:03] I have never walked across Brook Street or pushed a bicycle or ridden a bicycle across Brook Street.


Aaron Wilson: [00:07:08] And I'm married to a business owner on Brooks, and so I spent a lot of time there and get to watch all of that activity. And it's interesting to see how things are changing and how people are using the street. And we actually just had another pedestrian fatality on Brooks just a couple of days ago. And so there's clearly a need there. And what we heard in that master planning process is the people who who live around Brooks and work there are really interested in finding ways to make that more accessible. So they want to go places, take those shorter trips, and it just feels like you can't get anywhere unless you drive. It's hard to get across even when you are driving. There's lots of issues with left turns, and then there's this idea of wanting to try to create a spine of transit service from the southwest part of Missoula into the core and into the downtown. And so the Transform Brooks project is really looking at all of that. How do we accommodate transit? How do we make it more permeable to people? How do we create a street that really fits into that master plan, while also, again, it's a federal highway. Highway 12 travels along Brook Street. It's a state Department of Transportation highway. And so very similar challenges to Reserve Street, but very different context.


Juanita Vero: [00:08:10] And help me with the timeline again.


Aaron Wilson: [00:08:12] Yeah. So we've been working on planning around Brooks for, gosh, almost ten years now. I think I first got involved in it back in 2015. We did a couple of early studies, just getting an idea of what are the challenges where we might want to go. This most recent effort is a grant that we received, a federal grant. It started about 3 or 4 months ago in earnest, and we're hoping to have this planning effort wrapped up hopefully by the end of the year or end of 2024.


Juanita Vero: [00:08:36] Oh, very similar to the reserve. Yep yep yep.


Aaron Wilson: [00:08:38] Plan. And then from there it's okay. Well, what is the project? How do we get that federal funding to actually make it a reality?


Juanita Vero: [00:08:44] And okay, back to another controversial topic parking. So folks hear about new plans for roads and streets and bike lanes and bus lanes and get concerned. What are your thoughts there? What what would you say to those folks?


Aaron Wilson: [00:08:57] We're always looking at incremental change typically. I mean, sometimes you have these big transformative projects, but often it's you know, we're not eliminating any given thing. We're not taking away all the parking. We're not trying to make it impossible for people to drive. But what we do want to do is think about those other modes, creating a more diversity of options. And when you have more diversity of options, people use those and it just makes a more efficient system. So, for example, try to think of it as you're sort of chipping away at the margins that maybe there's 10% of people who want to walk to work today, but they can't get across Brook Street. And so they don't do that and they're driving well. If you make it easy for them to walk to that destination so that that's 10% of the car trips that you've then converted to walking, not by forcing anyone to, but just making it possible for those people to do it. And that 10% reduction then opens up that capacity that they were using for their vehicle trips, for other people who may want to drive, or as Missoula grows or the Bitterroot grows and you have more traffic coming into Missoula. And so it's always kind of that marginal change of you're slowly shifting where the priority is or how people are making their decisions just based on what they want to do, not what you're trying to force them to do.


Juanita Vero: [00:09:59] But yeah, talk about snow and where snow goes. And folks who are biking or walking or in a wheelchair or so, what can be done there? Or the frustrations of drivers who are in the car? And dealing with snow.


Aaron Wilson: [00:10:11] Snow is always a challenge. Doesn't really matter how you're traveling, that you know, whether you're on a car or walking or biking. I mean, snow just makes it more difficult to get around, and a big piece of that is just our ability to maintain, be able to plow snow from the streets, having sidewalks shoveled. We have permanent counters on a lot of our trails, and the ones that get plowed continue to see a fair amount of bike and pedestrian traffic all winter. You know, in the hundreds of cyclists a day on some of our primary commuter trails. But those get plowed early in the day. They're clear of snow. It's easy to get through sharing an anecdote, particularly on Brook Street. I remember if I was driving or walking, but going downtown from Brook Street and seeing an individual who I would regularly see walking up Brook Street who had a walker and he was walking in the sidewalk, but was stuck at an intersection because neither of the curb ramps were plowed. And so there was a big burm of snow from the snow plows, and he was just standing there. So if you imagine that someone who normally takes the bus, it looks like maybe he has a disability where he can't drive. He was obviously trying to get somewhere and couldn't because he was stuck. You know, people will walk and people will bike in the winter, maybe not as at higher levels, but if you have good, well maintained, safe, accessible facilities that people will. And so I think that's really important to consider that not everyone can drive. And snow is an issue for all of us. And we need to really think about how we're managing that across all of our different options.


Juanita Vero: [00:11:26] Yeah, thanks for that. Oh, so here's another one that involves a bunch of jurisdictions. Highway 200.


Aaron Wilson: [00:11:32] Yeah, yeah, that's another one we've been working on for quite some time now. East Missoula is an interesting place. It kind of grew up around the mills and the timber industry, and I think folks who lived there were either working on the railroad or working at the mills in Bonner. And so it was sort of more of a contained community and maybe a little bit more separate from Missoula. Things have changed a lot now, and we're seeing a lot more housing and development happening out there, and the roadways just not built for it. So, you know, you go out into East Missoula on that. What would normally be a main street. There's no sidewalks, there's no curbs, there's no real intersection delineation. It's just sort of a big wild open, almost like the wild West of transportation. And so we've started planning and trying to think about what could that look like, how do we see East Missoula growing? What would make that better? Thinking about Marshall Mountain, how are people going to get out there and the traffic that we're going to see potentially. And so we put together a plan to both build out that main street, adding in sidewalks and street trees and turn lanes and defining those intersections to make them safer lighting. We have actually heard a lot of stories of people who sent their kids to school, and they caught the school bus on highway 200. They wouldn't let their kids walk out to the bus stop. They would drive them there, even if it was 3 or 4 blocks, because they didn't want them standing on the side of the road with no light and no place to be. And so this would fix all that it would be adding in that infrastructure and really making it more of an urban street.


Juanita Vero: [00:12:50] In doing that, does that impact some of the side streets or specifically Speedway? Because I've heard folks concerned about what the future of speedway is, or what speedway could turn into with the improvements to highway 200. So yeah, founded or not or.


Aaron Wilson: [00:13:03] Yeah, I think with all the development happening out there, we want to think about those intersections. Speedway is another challenging one, I think because we start to build out and develop that infrastructure, we'll be thinking about how are people both getting onto and off of highway 200. So that's adding in those turn lanes. And maybe it's putting in a roundabout at an intersection so that people can get in and out of the neighborhood.


Juanita Vero: [00:13:21] Watch out. Yeah.


Aaron Wilson: [00:13:22] So all right. Or maybe it's a traffic signal. You know, there's a lot of different ways we can do that. So as that project moves forward, when we start looking at those, hopefully we'll we'll hear in the next month whether we get the funding to actually start building that out. We wrote a grant for about $30 million. Should be really exciting, but we're seeing a lot of growth. I mean, you see all the departments and things that are going up there and, you know, people, I think wanting to do more in development and get some of those neighborhood services. And when you talk about the 15 minute neighborhood, you know, you need better infrastructure to have a neighborhood market or a restaurant or coffee shops. And so this would help build out the core infrastructure you need to then support those other things.


Juanita Vero: [00:13:58] And we got a listener question here. What are plans to add another road providing access to the Ranch Club neighborhood?


Aaron Wilson: [00:14:03] Gosh, that's a that's a good question. With all the development that's happening out in the Sx͏ʷtpqyen area. And with that master plan and kind of west of Reserve Street and off Mullan Road, I think the hope is that as those developments happen, you get better connectivity and so that you won't have just sort of one way in, one way out, that's a very kind of isolated location. And so I think that requires just looking at what are the opportunities for getting better connections in there.


Juanita Vero: [00:14:26] And so what do you think that could be.


Aaron Wilson: [00:14:28] This is where a lot of those kind of older the developments from the late 90s, early 2000, I don't know what that looks like exactly. I mean, I think that's something we would want to talk with Shane at County Public Works and what we're able to build. Yeah, I think asking Shane that question, and obviously we would work and try to coordinate efforts on funding or other projects. But for those like really specific locations, it's often hard to say what the improvement would be. Folks, even.


Juanita Vero: [00:14:51] In 2024, get concerned about roundabouts. Me personally, I'm a fan of roundabouts, but how do people feel about them now?


Aaron Wilson: [00:14:59] It's funny, I think the most common thing I hear is exactly what you said, that people are generally okay with roundabouts, but they don't think that other people can handle it. I have yet to talk to the person who can't figure out the. Roundabout, so I'm not sure who those people are, but I have generally everyone is says that. Yeah, I think roundabouts are fine, but people don't know how to use them is the most common thing I hear. What we find is that they're safer. You know, we see a lot fewer crashes. We haven't had a fatality at a roundabout, I think, in the state of Montana ever, or maybe even in the country. Surprisingly, they actually operate traffic much more efficiently. So if you think about signals, you know, work well when you're at your peak traffic. So the busiest time of day. But if you think about everyone's gone up to a signal at 9:00 at night and you sit there for a minute waiting and there's no traffic, whereas at a roundabout you just go in and you go around and you're on your way. And so they're much more efficient for those 23 hours of the day that you don't have a lot of traffic. And maybe they're a little bit slower at that one hour at peak after work travel time. So I think, you know, they're a really great tool. They don't work everywhere. They take up more space than a traditional signal. They're not always the exact right solution.


Aaron Wilson: [00:16:01] But I think in a lot of places they they're safer, they work more efficient. And frankly, most people know how to use them. I think despite everyone's had a bad experience at a roundabout. But if you think about signals like how often do you go to a signal and a left turn person goes late or someone blows through the red light, or, you know, it happens at signals too, we just are more familiar with them. So yeah, traffic, those traffic circles and neighborhoods are actually just traffic calming. They're not actually a roundabout. And so you would still yield to the right. So those function the same way. You know, the idea with those is that people are slowing enough that you actually reduce a lot of conflicts, because even if people don't really know, they're not going through the intersection at 30 miles an hour and t-boning somebody. So a little bit of confusion from a safety perspective is often a good thing, because people slow down and then they have to think about it. Whereas an uncontrolled intersection, they're just like, I'm going to go straight through and I'm not paying attention. And and all of a sudden you throw this thing in there that they're not expecting, and then they have to navigate it and they tend to slow down. And there's a lot of good evidence that that sort of forces people to think through and navigate that more safely.


Juanita Vero: [00:16:59] I'm just trying to tie up some loose ends here. How can how can folks get involved?


Aaron Wilson: [00:17:03] Oh, anyways, I think a good way to get involved. We're we're actually just starting our long range transportation plan update and we'll have which looks regionally at all of these different projects and how they relate and asking people what their experiences and issues are with transportation. So we'll have a website for that. People can stay either through the the county voice that the and Missoula.


Juanita Vero: [00:17:25] County voice, Missoula.


Aaron Wilson: [00:17:26] County voice and engage Missoula is sort of the city's side of that, and there's often a lot of overlap between those two for these kinds of projects that are both.


Juanita Vero: [00:17:33] It will be the keywords folks should Google transportation.


Aaron Wilson: [00:17:36] Is always a good one or Missoula MPO we have a website Missoula, that is a great place to just sort of get updates on all these projects. But, you know, we try to have in-person events, we have opportunities for online commenting, we'll do some virtual events. And so however people want to get involved. And that's why I say whatever way you want to get involved is great because everyone has different preferences, and all of those are effective at the end of the day.


Juanita Vero: [00:18:01] Yes. Have we missed anything.


Aaron Wilson: [00:18:03] We covered just this idea of we don't want to force people to not drive. That's not our goal, but it's to make it easier for people to make choices that might be different than driving. So it's sort of a more positive reinforcement than just don't drive. And then the land use connection. So I think, yeah, we've covered that's a good. Yeah.


Juanita Vero: [00:18:19] So before we close, um, can you share with us a good book or a source of inspiration?


Aaron Wilson: [00:18:24] Yes. A good book that came out came out recently called Paved Paradise. It's about how parking is essentially shaped our world for the last 50 or 100 years. It's a really fascinating read. It's sort of one take on how we've grown and developed and the way our world works, but it's really interesting. Who wrote it? Henry Grabar yeah, talking about parking and how it shapes everything. And in our world, really, from housing to open space, things like climate, everything in between. So really fascinating read and helps people understand how that decision making that we we prioritize this place for us essentially just to store a vehicle. And it controls so many things in our lives. It's really fascinating. And there's some interesting snippets in there, like, for example, that this came out of other studies, but cars are parked about 95% of the time. So we spent all this money and all this time for a thing that just sits parked for 95% of the time. And it's fascinating to think about, you know, there are benefits to that. It's not necessarily a good or bad, but there are some values there. And I think it's an interesting perspective for people to be aware of how those decisions shape our lives.


Juanita Vero: [00:19:29] Oh, well, thank you so much for joining us.


Aaron Wilson: [00:19:31] Yeah. Thank you for having me.


Josh Slotnick: [00:19:32] Thanks for listening to the agenda. If you enjoy these conversations, it would mean a lot if you rate and review the show on whichever podcast app you use.


Juanita Vero: [00:19:40] And if you know a friend who would like to keep up with what's happening in local government, be sure to recommend this podcast to them.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:19:46] The agenda with the Missoula County Commissioners is made possible with support from Missoula Community Access Television, better known as mCAT, and our staff in the Missoula County Communications Division.


Josh Slotnick: [00:19:58] If you have a question or a topic you'd like us to discuss on a future episode, email it to


Juanita Vero: [00:20:06] To find out other ways to stay up to date with what's happening in Missoula County, go to.


Dave Strohmaier: [00:20:13] Thanks for listening.