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Snow Sidewalks

Taylor Jacques walks on a sidewalk covered in snow and ice in the University District of Missoula recently. 

By 2045, Missoula city planners aim to triple the share of Missoulians who commute to work on foot. To build the sidewalks they need, Aaron Wilson said Tuesday, the city will have to spend wisely.

Presenting the draft Pedestrian Facilities Management Plan Tuesday afternoon, Wilson, the city’s transportation planning manager, said that new sidewalks cost about $700,000 per mile, roughly on par with what the city invests this year.

“We have about 230 miles of missing sidewalk” in the city, he told the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board. “Even if you assume we’re only going to construct half of that, you’re still looking at potentially 100 years of investment just to build out the missing sidewalk network.”

“There’s a ton of need out there, and it’s going to be more expensive, and we really need to think about being more efficient in how we invest that money,” he continued.

The Pedestrian Facilities Management Plan aims to better guide that investment by changing how the city prioritizes pedestrian projects. Currently, Wilson explained, core areas, like downtown and the University District, and key arteries get favored for investment.

This plan, prepared by city employees and volunteers over the past year and a half, instead scores census blocks on both certain demographic factors —low-income, moderate-income and no-car households, obesity, persons with disabilities and senior citizens — and some physical ones, such as density and proximity to schools and parks. A priority needs score combines the two, giving more weight to the demographic factors.

Using this method, the Pedestrian Facilities Management Plan identifies Franklin-to-the-Fort, Northside, Westside and downtown as the highest priorities for future investment.

Wilson noted that in more rural areas, like the Orchard Homes and Target Range neighborhoods, less-costly approaches, like setting aside the road shoulder, might be more appropriate.

The plan also scores intersections for their need of improvements to help those with disabilities. Intersections along Reserve Street, Brooks Street and other key thoroughfares tended to score higher.

“This is a little bit of a different approach, looking at neighborhoods that have a deficiency of infrastructure,” Wilson said. If it’s adopted, he predicted that “this plan will be one element of how the city identifies projects.” But he made clear that “it’s really up to City Council and the administration to make those decisions.”

Missoula’s Metropolitan Planning Organization is accepting written public comments on the plan through Jan. 11, and at a public meeting on Jan. 15. Public comments were also taken at Jan. 3 meeting. For more information, and to review the draft plan, visit missoulampo.com/participate.

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