Downtown group asks city to convert one-ways to two-way traffic
The Downtown Development Partnership is renewing the effort to convert the downtown one-ways to two-way traffic.
Scott Reasoner, a downtown business owner, sent an email in August to the Business Improvement District asking about their appetite to revisit that discussion in an effort to make more space for pedestrians and outdoor dining.
Joan Redeen, community manager for the BID, brought the request to the Downtown Development Partnership during their Sept. 23 meeting.
The DDP members said they wanted to make it a priority to pursue converting 1st and 2nd Avenues South, which are city owned roadways, into two way traffic.
Brett Doney, DDP member and Great Falls Development Authority director, said that those routes could be turned into one lane each way with possible bump-outs and lanes for bikes and pedestrians.
He suggested looking at 5th and 6th Streets next.
The DDP members said that 5th and 6th Streets are owned by the Montana Department of Transportation and that the agency has not been supportive of converting the one-ways.
But, 5th and 6th Streets are owned and maintained by the city, according to Andrew Finch, the city’s transportation planned.
The group decided to meet with city staff first to discuss the options and then determine next steps.
The group said it’s unlikely that 1st and 2nd Avenues North would be converted and those are owned by MDT.
City Planning Director Craig Raymond told The Electric that he was asked by Redeen and another downtown business owner about converting one-ways and said at this point, the city has not said no, but his department is swamped with other priorities as directed by City Commissioners, city boards, development applications requests from DDP member groups.
Redeen said the Montana Department of Transportation did a survey in 2013 in which most businesses said they wanted the one-way routes. She said she questioned those results.
A 2007 survey conducted by the city found that “residents, business owners/operators and property owners on
the subject streets are generally satisfied with the one-way streets. They feel some physical improvements to the roadways and to the adjoining properties could improve conditions, but converting the one-ways would be more of a detriment than an asset,” according to a city document.
At the time, city staff concluded that the “public comments, Neighborhood Council feedback, investigation into costs and the results of the opinion survey, all demonstrate there is little support for the conversion. Based on the above findings, staff recommends that all current efforts to convert the subject one-way streets and avenues to two-ways be suspended,” according to the city document.
Doney said “the world has changed,” and that the DDP should make one-way conversions a lead issue.
Redeen said that local management at the MDT office has changed and that it’s “a great time to try and pursue this.”
Multiple city planning documents, including the Downtown Master Plan and the Downtown Access, Circulation,
and Streetscape Plan, include mention of converting the one-ways. The 2011 downtown plan includes a recommendation to reduce or eliminate the one-ways. The 2013 downtown access plan recommends no changes to the current one-way operations.
The 2013 downtown access plan studied a number of options for the one-ways to either convert them, add bike lanes, angled or more parking in a variety of configurations.
The study team also did some cost estimates for some of those options.
The option to “convert to two-way flow on 1st and 2nd Avenues S. with two, single-direction bike lanes on either 1st or 2nd Avenue (one street only). Assume all signals will have total replacement for two-way configuration, consistent with current ADA requirements. The cost to apply this treatment on a per block (with one intersection) is estimated at $222,600. The cost to apply this treatment on 1st and 2nd Avenues S. between Park Drive and 9th Street is estimated at $1,972,800,” according to the plan.
The 2013 Growth Policy and 2018 update to the Long Range Transportation Plan do not mention one-way streets but do recommend increasing bike and pedestrian pathways.
Gary Hackett, a downtown business owner, said that the group should press with 1st and 2nd Avenue South and expected it to be expensive, but if it’s successful, then discuss 5th and 6th Streets.
According to a 2007 discussion paper on the possibility of converting the city-owned one-ways to two way traffic, the one-way couplets were established after World War II in Great Falls and nationwide in response to increased traffic congestion and the increased in the number and frequency of accidents.
The document was prompted by a 2007 letter from the BID requesting that the city converting their one-ways to two-way traffic because the retail and commercial traffic had left the downtown in favor of Holiday Village Mall and other shopping centers.
“Like the rest of the nation after WWII, Great Falls experienced an increased dependence on the personal automobile, the discontinuance of its trolley system, and the addition of outlying residential subdivisions. During this time, subdivisions and development in the Riverview and Eastside areas expanded rapidly, but the core of Great Falls, its downtown, remained as the commercial hub of the city. Services, shopping, offices and local government were concentrated in downtown, and traffic congestion and safety became a real issue in the community. In response,
a system of one-way “couplets” (pairs of adjacent one-way streets, leading in opposite directions) was established to increase vehicular flow and improve safety,” according to the 2007 document. “By 1970, the city was expanding outward and the downtown was seeing a need for more efficient circulation patterns and better connection to outlying districts such as 10th Avenue South. That year, the city considered instituting a grid of one-way streets downtown, along with reversing the direction of the existing one-ways. However, this system was never put into place. By the 1980s, the city’s shopping and services had become largely decentralized by relocating and spreading to arterials away from downtown Great Falls, resulting in automobile-oriented commercial strips and malls. This shift resulted in a gradual change in land-use types downtown to those that generate less traffic – the office and specialty retail we
see today. Over time, this has decreased traffic on some of the downtown couplets. This reduction in traffic, as well as new studies on the effect one-way streets have on adjoining land uses, has raised the question of whether the couplets are still needed and/or still serving their intended purpose.”