A team of consultants charged with planning the next half-century of growth in downtown Missoula unveiled a draft of their plan on Tuesday, one that looks to parking and transportation and pushes the city’s core toward a vibrant future.
Jason King of Dover, Kohl & Partners dared the community to think outside the box as it envisions the coming decades, starting with the next 10 years as it pertains to transportation and the city’s streets.
“We’re really concerned in this plan with the spaces between the buildings – the public spaces and shared streets,” said King. “These shared streets attempt to blur the line and are designed with one coherent design aesthetic, and they’re designed in a way where every once in a while, you can throw a party on the weekend and it feels like a festival space.”
King and company will unveil their plan in its entirety on Wednesday night at the Wilma. On Tuesday, he kept his presentation to the Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee focused on transportation issues.
Parking loomed large among them. While the future of the automobile in its current form remains uncertain, parking is needed now, and providing it will take planning and money. Areas of the Hip Strip, the Depot and East Spruce Street have been identified as likely targets for a future garage.
“You’re got parking garages, but it feels like it’s not sufficient,” King said. “We’re searching throughout that Depot area for a potential spot for a garage. Not a garage that looks like a garage, but one that’s behind cafes, leasable retail and hidden.”
The consultants, led by public input and an open design studio, are also looking to the future of Front and Main streets, which are expected to be converted to two-way traffic in coming years.
The evolution of transit and public expectations present opportunities for repurposing downtown streets. The plan detailed on Tuesday makes pedestrian and cycle traffic a priority and gives way to more festivals and public art.
The plan also explores a lane reduction on Higgins Avenue.
“We’re bringing to you a couple different concepts,” he said. “The ideal situation, of course, is the protected parking and the cycle track along Higgins. But why stop there?”
As did the old Downtown Master Plan, the draft of the new document revives the concept of a street car running along South Higgins and branching out to various hot spots.
King said Missoula’s current and projected growth, including that in the downtown district, suggests that a streetcar could be sustained and viable, and it could help alleviate traffic in the heart of the city.
The cities of Tuscon and El Paso implemented similar projects with success, he said.
“They’ve both got new streetcar systems they’re very proud of, and it’s going great,” he said. “They just made it a city priority. You have as good a shot as any community I’ve ever worked in. We see an opportunity to do a lot of things here that great cities are doing.”
The plan in its entirety will look at a broad range of concepts, from infill to housing, retail and office. King anticipates a final version near fall.
“We’re ultimately working toward plan adoption in the fall,” he said. “It’ll probably take a few drafts to get a plan everyone can agree to.”