Opinion

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Closing Range

Street War Coming

Kalispell's downtown plan is an ideologically driven pile, guaranteed to explode the instant it touches reality

Well, just for giggles, I finally sampled Kalispell’s new version of “traffic calming” the other day, you know, the new and improved, two-way Third Avenue East? Nice work, contractors, but I was not “calmed” at all. I have four words for whoever chose this improvement:

Change…

It…

Back…

NOW.

So when Kalispell later released its Downtown Plan for public scrutiny, I just had to know: Is the Third East craziness just temporary insanity, or does it signal a larger, dangerous epidemic of groupthink? I downloaded the 37-page Plan, and so should you. This “Plan,” the creation of Kalispell city leaders and staff, is an ideologically driven pile, guaranteed to explode the instant it touches reality.

In general, the Downtown Plan basically wannabees Whitefish’s Central Avenue. Now, I’m cool with what happens in Whitefish staying in Whitefish. But “new” Whitefish offers nothing to ordinary Montanans anymore, not even a place to park the family pickup.

Critically, in Whitefish, U.S. 93 only touches “downtown” briefly for a couple of blocks, and with the new turn arrows giving turning northward traffic priority from Spokane to Second West, traffic flows today are honestly better than before the rebuild (and the arrows).

But Kalispell’s Downtown Plan? Why, let’s just bust down eight full blocks of Main to two lanes from four, with a landscaped center divider. Even cuter, left turns!

“No left turns […] frustrates drivers seeking local access to the downtown.” Um, ever heard of popping off three RIGHT turns? Nothing, but nothing chokes traffic flow and “frustrates drivers” worse than left turns from a through line. One screaming example is on northward Whitefish Stage at Reserve every morning, noon, and night. How about Spring Creek and US 2 West? I’m writing about that nightmare soon, too. To actually propose left turns on Main Street? Heck no, times ten thousand.

Landscaping? Hey, we just had the dividers on East Idaho recently filled in with concrete. Why? Because nothing can live there! Don’t those who prepared this plan believe in winter? Plowing downtown is already tough. Remember the center berms that lingered way too long on Main Street last winter (no left turns), as has been the case for a century at least, even since Al Gore saved us all by inventing global warming? I do.

Just imagine plowing without expensively destroying a landscaped center median, scarring fancy bulb-outs, and bending expensive machinery. Sure, city employees might not mind the overtime, but what about non-downtown merchant city taxpayers?

Sorry, but I cannot imagine anything transport-related that would create a bigger wave of economic damage to the larger Flathead County economy. Proposing to knowingly choke off – not “calm” – the free flow of traffic (same as the flow of commerce) through Kalispell, is an act of war by Kalispell’s downtown merchants against every other Flathead resident or business.

Now, not everything in this plan is delusional. Angled parking is one idea that, if judiciously applied on some streets, could provide 22 spots, versus 10 parallel spots, per block. But again, the study can’t resist declaring “angled parking is a very effective form of traffic calming that is popular among motorists and pedestrians alike.”

Well, when I get to wait, wait, wait for some stiff-necked duffer to inch, inch, inch their cherry Sunday flivver out of a right-side angle slot, I’m not calmed. Once I was backed into on my motorcycle? Not hurt, not calm, either.

Yeah, I know … build it and they will come. If the downtown Kalispell clique wants to morph into a seasonal tourist-trap clone of Whitefish, they still can do so, partially. I’ll support the city’s right to spend its own money to pretend that First West and East are “main street.” Put your dividers there, your angles, landscaping, and try not to smash it up each winter, OK? Just don’t make it my, or anyone else’s problem, and we’re good.

But the Downtown Plan’s version of 2035 Main Street? If Kalispell tries to build that, with its guaranteed year-round, county-wide negative consequences and spillover effects, oh, we’ll come, quickly, straight for those responsible.

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