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Make sure transportation plan prioritizes actually reducing congestion

| August 25, 2021 1:00 AM

Within the next few months, the Whitefish City Council should see the first draft of the new Whitefish Transportation Plan that will guide development in and around the city for the next 20 years. This plan will be long-term and all-encompassing, affecting everything from new roads and bridges, to bike paths and sidewalks, to public transportation options.

The City Council has hired KLJ Engineering to construct this proposal. This is the same consultant used by the Kalispell City Council to craft their Move 2040 Kalispell Area Transportation Plan.

While the draft presented to the Kalispell City Council, which had a public hearing on Aug. 16, provides vital data about growth in and around Kalispell, the current plan primarily relies on increasing capacity of existing roads and does not prioritize alternative forms of transportation as a way to improve automobile congestion. Most disappointing, and surprising, is that the recommendations of the new transportation plan undermine and devalue years of work the City of Kalispell has done to plan for the revitalization of its downtown.

In late 2017 Kalispell adopted, after much public input and excitement, a downtown plan that included goals to reduce lanes in the core of downtown and increase sidewalks and landscaping. Now Kalispell is being presented a draft of the transportation plan by KJL that, to put it bluntly, is unacceptable as it fails to prioritize the changes the downtown plan calls for.

Whitefish continues to make great strides in revitalizing its downtown and has adopted a visionary downtown master plan to guide and invite future growth in the downtown. Whitefish has also adopted a climate action plan that clearly sets forth priorities for reducing emissions, reducing VMT (vehicle miles traveled), and promoting alternative transportation solutions like pedestrian, bike, and transit-friendly infrastructure. It is imperative that the public let the City Council and the city’s consultant, KLJ Engineering, know right now that the Whitefish transportation plan needs to put the city’s vision for its downtown first along with its clear goals to address climate change through reduced emissions.

Again disappointingly, the plan presented to Kalispell is almost single-minded in its quest to increase road capacity for vehicles and makes little note of increasing access to other modes of transportation. A report published by Transportation for America explains that adding capacity to roadways has not been shown to prevent congestion and actually increased congestion-related

travel delays in many cities across the country. A study of Boise, Idaho, conducted between 1993 and 2017 demonstrated this phenomenon. During the study period, Boise’s population grew by 117 percent while lane-miles in and around the city grew by 141 percent. Counter to policymakers’ desires, congestion, measured by delay times, grew by 446 percent. This report makes it clear that the best way to improve road conditions for all users is to incorporate bike lanes, sidewalks, and public transportation into infrastructure plans.

We encourage residents of Whitefish to contact the City Council now and tell them to direct KLJ Engineering to prioritize the vision the City of Whitefish has for its downtown when developing its transportation plan. Additionally, residents should ask that improving pedestrian infrastructure, such as sidewalks and bike paths, or expanding access to public transportation, be given meaningful consideration when developing a Whitefish transportation plan.

Contact Whitefish City Council at mhowke@cityofwhitefish.org

Ruben Castren is the advocacy and outreach director for Citizens for a Better Flathead.