Guest Column

We Need a Plan That Puts Main Street First

The Move 2040 Kalispell Area Transportation Plan is not the best path forward

By Ruben Castren

Are you frustrated with growing traffic congestion in and around Kalispell? Do you support downtown Kalispell becoming more walkable, attractive, and lively, rather than a thoroughfare for traffic?  Do you have concerns for your family’s safety as they walk or bike to school or around town? Then it’s time to speak up. The Kalispell City Council recently held a public hearing to take comment on the Move 2040 Kalispell Area Transportation Plan. Created by a consultant, this plan will serve as the 20-year blueprint for transportation investment and policy. While the plan provides vital data about growth in and around Kalispell, the current draft primarily relies on increasing the capacity of existing roads and does not utilize alternative forms of transportation as a way to decrease automobile congestion. Most disappointing 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 downtown. 

Less than five years ago, after extensive public input and excitement, Kalispell City Council laid out its vision for what it wanted downtown to look like and what policies should guide growth. This vision is outlined in the 2017 Kalispell Downtown Plan and the 2018 Downtown Kalispell Urban Renewal Plan. These guiding documents paint a hopeful picture of what Kalispell could look like in the future. The Downtown Plan was the more comprehensive of the two documents and proclaimed that by 2035 Kalispell will be, “A pedestrian-friendly environment that encourages visitors and residents to utilize downtown business [and] a bike-friendly environment with safe routes for bikes and available bike racks to encourage bicyclists to stay downtown.” Although the Urban Renewal Plan was primarily adopted to provide a funding mechanism for the Downtown Plan, it still made special note of the city’s transportation network. “There is currently a 90-foot wide sea of asphalt and concrete providing little in the way of culture, charm, or aesthetics, placing emphasis upon vehicles and detracting from the perspective or experience of the pedestrian … The traffic generally discourages walking in the area of the city where walking should be encouraged.” Both the Downtown Plan and the Urban Renewal Plan note the importance of scaling back automobile traffic downtown in favor of pedestrians and bikes and emphasize the economic need to foster culture and charm as a way to promote commerce at the city’s center. 

Although it is clear that the streets and highways around town need to be updated, expanded, and remodeled, the Move 2040 Plan is not the best path forward. None of the 15 recommended proposals (Chapter 6) in this plan fulfill the vision for Downtown Kalispell laid out in the Downtown Plan and Urban Renewal Plan. In fact, the Move 2040 Plan essentially tells the City Council that the only solution to address increased growth and development is to abandon its vision for a Kalispell Renaissance and allow a significant increase in traffic through downtown (Chapter 7). This is a plan driven by a response to increased use of roadways by automobiles. Rather than be driven by a problem, the transportation plan for Kalispell should be led by a vision. 

If the City Council proceeds with the recommendations in the Move 2040 Plan, the epicenter of Kalispell’s transportation – Main Street – will only continue to increase in congestion and noise and will not serve our local business interests or the community’s vision for a vibrant downtown. It is therefore critical that the City Council direct the creator of the transportation plan to model additional options that support the Downtown Plan and Urban Renewal Plan. We encourage you to contact the City Council and tell them to reevaluate the goals of the Move 2040 Kalispell Area Transportation Plan and to prioritize supporting the revitalization of downtown. 

(Note: Whitefish and Columbia Falls are also in the process of updating their Transportation Plans using the same consultant as Kalispell is. Residents of these cities need to speak up now to ensure their new transportation plan supports the vision they have for their downtowns.) 

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

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