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  Comments (2) Total Wednesday Apr. 23, 2014
 
Kalispell Survey Shows Disjointed Sidewalk Network
Following a nationwide trend, city officials are devoting attention to improving pedestrian pathways throughout the community
Courtesy City of Kalispell
Sidewalks, once disregarded as unimportant and unnecessary infrastructure, are making a comeback in communities across the U.S. That includes Kalispell, where the city council and staff are rallying resources and support for improving the disjointed network of cement walkways.

The city has begun reviewing and reshaping its growth policy, which lays out goals and guidelines for addressing new and existing development, like sidewalks, streets and land use. Part of that process is focused on improving the navigability for pedestrians and bicyclists, which city planners say would benefit both businesses and residents by providing more travel options in and around town.

A few improvements are already in the works, including a pathway from the north side of town to downtown. Next summer, crews will develop a sidewalk on the east side of U.S. 93, also called Sunset Boulevard, that extends from Three Mile Drive to Wyoming Avenue.

A sidewalk was built along U.S. 93 this summer near The Summit and Kalispell Regional Healthcare.

At a work session on Nov. 25, councilors discussed the absence of sidewalks in various locations throughout the city. Staff from the planning and building departments presented an inventory of Kalispell’s pathways and their respective conditions, painting a murky picture for several neighborhoods beyond the core area.

As the latest inventory shows, only a small percentage of streets in downtown have sidewalks considered in good condition. Extending outward, the next closest neighborhoods, which are dense residential, have sidewalks in “fair” condition, or none at all.

“We need to have good pedestrian access to our schools. We need to have access to our parks, and major retail areas and major housing areas,” Tom Jentz, Kalispell’s planning director, said. “We’re hoping to come up with a series of preferred routes that need to be updated and create links so pedestrians can use them.”

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Sidewalks were once inextricably tied to the community fabric. This is evident from touring the city’s historical neighborhoods and subdivisions. In the 1960s, developers and city leaders placed a high value on pedestrian pathways, but today many of those classic sidewalks make up the bulk of Kalispell’s infrastructure.

In the following decades, the tide of public opinion turned and fewer and fewer routes were constructed as the city grew with new neighborhoods and streets.

“There was this opinion that sidewalks are expensive and people don’t walk anyways,” Jentz said. “There was an era in our community where we didn’t require sidewalks as part of the development program.”

Walkways became fashionable again in the 1990s as Americans increasingly considered trails and sidewalks safe and essential resources in a community. The trend hit Kalispell and trail systems emerged on the outskirts of town, becoming popular recreational destinations., according to Jentz.

The reasons behind the growing support for sidewalks are various. The aging Baby Boomer generation is a large factor, as more and more residents become dependent on walkways to travel.

There’s also the segment of society that looks to sidewalks and trails for exercise. Safety is another factor, Jentz said, pointing to neighborhoods where kids are forced to walk in the streets to attend school.

“It’s something we feel is needed so we can harness opportunities when they present themselves,” said Kevin LeClair, senior planner. “And there is a lot of interest from the community.”
 
On 11-29-13, a commented....
Great, this is important. It’s crazy to walk or bike on 93 by Buffalo Golf Course with all those cars, but a lot people have to do it.
 
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