Thursday, February 14

Envisioning Missoula, round two

A few months after mapping out some possible futures for Missoula's transportation infrastructure, some of us regular citizens returned to evaluate and prioritize the ideas that were presented. This afternoon was the second of two identical sessions, and the results seemed pretty similar to the Missoulian's report of the first session yesterday.

"They want more attached homes and multi-unit homes built over more single-family homes. They want to discourage sprawl and encourage growth in town. And they believe getting around on foot, by bike or on public transit are good options."

Perhaps because of the front page story the attendance was even better, with about 130 people participating in voting. The age range was skewed to the higher end. Even though the meeting was held in the university, there seemed to be few students.

The main line of decision-making centered around three options:

1. Business as Usual. This is a continued investment and expansion in roadways. Housing is single-family on an individual lot, and the retail is big box with extensive parking. The road system is not especially interconnected. The expectation is that we will accommodate a doubling of the Missoula population by expanding outward.

2. Satellite Town Centers. This involves intentionally identifying hubs around the Missoula valley and concentrating development there (Lolo, Frenchtown, etc.). These hubs would be connected by mass transit. Each hub should contain mixed uses, be accessible by foot, and should be relatively self contained.

3. Develop Inward. This strategy focuses on enhancing and expanding the downtown. Almost all new growth will be contained within existing developed land. The primary focus will be on making the streets multi-modal, allowing high levels of pedestrian and bicycle access. Infill will be incentivized.

The overall results of voting were something like this: Business as Usual, 5%, Satellite Town Centers, 30%, Develop Inward, 65%.

I chose "develop inward." There are many elements of the second option that I appreciate, but I wonder whether even 200,000 people in Missoula valley would be enough to sustain multiple thriving urban hubs, especially with expensive transit infrastructure needed to link them together. If Missoula were able to expand with a concentrated core for a while, it may be worth looking more carefully at satellite communities for the next round of growth. But I'm not convinced that any of these courses are 100% exclusive of the others. There may be ways to incorporate town centers in other areas, while building up downtown at the same time. This isn't always a matter of either/or economic decision-making.

From my point of view, the afternoon session was very encouraging and informative.

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