By Martin Kidston
J.J. Folsom spent much of this week drawing on paper with red and black pens. His artwork designated pedestrian crosswalks, traffic calming devices, bus pullouts and new urban infill projects.
Folsom, a planner and vice president of Progressive Urban Management Associates in Denver, joined Community Builders and the Missoula Midtown Association in a two-day workshop aimed at mapping out the future of the Brooks Street corridor.
The effort invited residents and business owners with an interest in the corridor to share their vision for what’s expected to begin the slow redevelopment of the disjointed Midtown district.
“The biggest issues we’ve heard are connectivity issues,” said Folsom. “Crossing Brooks is very challenging for bicyclists and pedestrians. There’s several schools in the neighborhood, but kids may live on one side of Brooks and attend school on the opposite side, so walking or biking to class is a difficult task.”
Throughout much of the workshop, Brooks Street emerged more as an impairment than a neighborhood benefit.
With crossing difficult, the busy street prevents many pedestrians and cyclists from accessing the Bitterroot Branch Trail. Given the district’s lack of connectivity, it also has prompted Mountain Line to wait before launching a new Bolt! route up and down the corridor.
“That’s really what it’s coming down to is walkability,” said Folsom. “Mountain Line wants to increase their transit service to 15-minute headway. In order to do that, you need a walkable corridor so people can get to those transit stops safely.”
Workshop participants envisioned a wide variety of changes along the corridor, including mid-rise housing, more amenities, restaurants and better connectivity. Traffic and parking also emerged as concerns – not surprising, Folsom said, given the district’s 2,000 businesses and 17,000 jobs.
Work taking place at Southgate Mall may be the first major change coming to district. A new movie theater is currently under construction, and a new east-west connector street is planned across the property linking Brooks with South Reserve Street.
Future plans for the mall property also include housing, restaurants with outdoor seating, a market and other amenities. The future town center, or nodes, may be the first of others to come.
“With the Southgate Mall development, the new theater and outdoor restaurants, that’s a very catalytic project,” Folsom said. “People are going to see how that comes together, and it will help people visualize coming to a restaurant and sitting outside on Brooks.”
The Missoula Redevelopment Agency also has plans to improve connectivity in the district, starting with Brooks Street itself. One plan places new traffic lights at more intersections, along with raised medians and crossings for pedestrians.
Folsom believes a community effort coupled with public-private partnerships will help transform Midtown over the course of several years.
“It takes a lot of time,” he said. “MRA needs to be involved somehow, whether through incentives or different types of zoning and regulatory incentives. The city has to be involved. It’ll take a public-private partnership in order to make a lot of this happen.”
Folsom’s organization also helped the city craft a plan for the Russell Street corridor and Highway 200 through East Missoula. Once home, he’ll begin sorting the feedback and crafting recommendations.
“We’ll go back to our office in Denver over the next couple months and sift through the survey results and generate a report of recommendations,” he said. “Ideally, they’ll implement it. The last thing we want to see is another plan sit on the shelf.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at email@example.com