Council Work Session


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     5.       
Meeting Date: 02/01/2021  
Title:    Downtown Billings Traffic Study: Alternative Prioritization and Public Preference Plan
Presented by: Lora Mattox
Department: Planning & Community Services Division: Planning

RECOMMENDATION
Staff recommends the City Council review the Downtown Billings Traffic Study: Alternative Prioritization and Public Preference Plan (Preference Plan) at this Work Session as no formal action will be taken. This item will be brought to the City Council at its February 8 regular meeting for action with a staff recommendation of approval of the Preference Plan to forward to the Policy Coordinating Committee. The PCC is scheduled to take final action on the study at its February 16 meeting.
BACKGROUND (Consistency with Adopted Plans and Policies, if applicable)
The Billings Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) requested proposals from qualified firms to develop a Downtown Billings Traffic Study: Alternative Prioritization and Public Preference Plan (Preference Plan). The goal of this project was to the take the identified transportation network alternatives in the Downtown Billings Traffic Study (DBTS) completed for the City of Billings Engineering Division by Kittelson and Associates and Dowl in 2019, and execute a robust and creative public outreach process to develop an implementation and project prioritization strategy. During this work session the City Council will receive a presentation highlighting the project in anticipation of formal action at the February 8th City Council meeting where the Council will be expected to forward a recommendation to the Policy Coordinating Committee (PCC). 
 
The Preference Plan solicited public feedback and prioritization preference of the feasible transportation network alternatives vetted in the DBTS. The results of the vetted alternatives presented to the public via survey are as follows:
  • One-Way to Two-Way Conversions: North and South
    • This segment of the survey included six questions, five offering feasible options on 33rd, 34th, and 35thStreets; 26th, 29th, and 31st Streets; 30th and 32nd Streets; 25th Street; and 25th Street at the MET Transfer Center; and one offering an option for participants to comment.
    • Of the 2,167 survey answers provided to this line of questions, 65% were in favor of a conversion.
    • 116 comments were made offering feedback related to traffic flow, the need for bike lanes, parking concerns/need, and safety.
  • One-Way to Two-Way Conversion: East and West (1st Avenue N and 2nd Avenue N)
    • This segment of the survey included two questions, one asking about the conversion from one-way to two-way and one offering an option for participants to comment.
    • Of the 442 survey answers provided to this line of questions, 61% were in favor of a conversion.
    • 65 comments were made offering feedback; recurring themes included economic impact, concern over construction expense and possible congestion, and the need for bicyclist and pedestrian safety.
  • Road Diet: Montana Avenue (Division Street to 18th Street)
    • This segment of the survey included four questions, three asking about possible road diet options between30th-35th Street, 27th-30th Street, and one offering an option for participants to comment.
    • Of the 1,326 survey answers provided to this line of questioning, 60% were in favor of a conversion.
    • 94 comments were made offering feedback; recurring themes included varying opinions on the need for bike facilities and concerns over congestion, traffic speed and pedestrian safety on the east end of Montana Avenue, and loss of parking spaces.
  • Road Diet: 6th Avenue N (Main Street to North 13th Street)
    • This segment of the survey included three questions, two asking about possible road diet options between 10thStreet and main Street, and 13th Street and 10th Street, and one offering an option for participants to comment.
    • Of the 2,167 survey answers provided to this line of questioning, 66% were in favor of a conversion.
    • 61 comments were made offering feedback; recurring themes included concerns about congestion and commute time. Others emphasized the need for a connection for bicyclists between the Heights and Downtown and bike/pedestrian safety. References to the East Billings Urban Renewal District (EBURD) Master Plan, 5th Avenue N project, and the Inner Belt Loop integration were also made.
  • Road Diet: 13th Street (Between 6th Avenue North and 1st Avenue North)
    • This segment of the survey included three questions, two asking about possible road diet options between 4thAvenue N and 6th Avenue N, and 1st Avenue N, and one offering an option for participants to comment.
    • Of the 875 survey answers provided to this line of questioning, 60% were in favor of a conversion.
    • 29 comments were made offering feedback; recurring themes included the need for bicycle and pedestrian safety, traffic flow and BIRD development. Others questioned the need for bike lanes in the industrial area of town and related expense. Again, integration with the East Billings Urban Renewal District (EBURD) Master Plan and 5th Avenue N projects were recommended.
  • Seasonal Closure: Broadway Avenue
    • This segment of the survey included two questions, one asking about a seasonal closure and one offering an option for participants to comment.
    • Of the 441 survey answers provided to this line of questions, 64% were in favor of a seasonal closure.
    • 603 comments were made offering feedback; recurring themes included business access, economic vitality, and activity in downtown. Some participants expressed a desire to see a full closure, while others were concerned about the impact to traffic flow and parking spaces.
 Overall, members of the public and stakeholder groups who were engaged with the project provided passionate, thoughtful feedback. Citizens are deeply engaged in the community and downtown; hopeful that improvements will increase economic vitality and spur development; and concerned about accessibility, walkability and bike-ability.
ALTERNATIVES
City Council is not expected to take formal action on this item at the Work Session. However, Council will have the following alternatives when it takes axction on this item on February 8:
  • Recommend approval of the Downtown Billings Traffic Study: Alternative Prioritization and Public Preference Plan to the Policy Coordinating Committee; or
  • Recommend disapproval of the Downtown Billings Traffic Study: Alternative Prioritization and Public Preference Plan to the Policy Coordinating Committee. The significant community involvement and participation in the development of this Preference Plan demonstrates the communities desire to see traffic patterns altered in the downtown. By not moving forward with the Preference Plan, it would limit the ability of the City to prioritize and complete the recommended elements of the Downtown Traffic Study.
FISCAL EFFECTS
The contract for the Downtown Billings Traffic Study: Alternative Prioritization and Public Preference Plan with Dowl was budgeted at $50,000. The majority of the funding is through the MPO’s Federal PL (planning) funds. PL funds for this project required 40% local match, which was provided through the Planning Division’s approved FY21 budget.

Although this study does not provide exact costs associated with preferred alternatives, the Downtown Billings Traffic Study completed by Kittelson & Associates in 2019 provided planning level cost estimates for selected elements. Further decisions about what conversions might be done first, timing and allocations of funds, are all elements that may happen next using this Preference Plan's findings.

Attachments
Draft Preference Plan


    

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