City’s Multimodal Transportation Plan has ‘solutions without goals’

By Molly O’Reilly
Reader Contributor

Sandpoint’s Multimodal Transportation Master Plan (MTMP) will be on display at the Library April 27, 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. It is a workman-like document. Twenty years ago, it would have inspired admiration. Today, its omissions and flaws are too obvious.

Solutions without goals: Projects that expand or reshuffle vehicle lanes are “solutions” for the near, medium and long term. What are the goals? How about slowing the growth of local vehicle traffic to avoid Highway 2 being expanded to five lanes? How about making walking and bicycling so safe and attractive for all ages that many more of us shift to these healthier modes? How about expanding trails to neighboring communities? How about supporting the SPOT bus? 

Nope, you won’t find these.

Had the MTMP included connecting Ponderay to Sandpoint near and in the Highway 95 corridor, the developers of the extension property on Boyer would have been required to include a link. That’s a permanently missed opportunity.

March 13, 2013, then-Sandpoint Mayor Marcia Ogilvie sent the Idaho Transportation Department a letter with 40 conditions the city required for “the Curve,” all slowing vehicle traffic and favoring pedestrian and bicycle safety and convenience. 

The conditions included more and safer pedestrian crossings, limiting vehicle lanes at intersections, requiring sidewalks, lighting for safer pedestrian crossings, narrower roadways and lanes, designing new roadways for speed limits of 20-25 miles per hour, etc. 

Today, the city appears to have generally forgotten these conditions.

Back to the MTMP. One “solution” in Appendix A is closing the Michigan/Highway 2 intersection to pedestrian crossing and moving students to a new Ella crossing. Michigan is a very high priority for safe walking to school. Since 2008, Sandpoint has applied for and received grants for sidewalks along Michigan and the flashing beacon at the Michigan crossing.

In establishing Michigan as an important safe route to school, Washington Elementary and the Middle School were deeply involved in mapping where students walked and wanted to walk. 

Today, you can walk on sidewalk from the Middle School to Fourth Avenue, where Michigan ends. Ella has almost no sidewalk. How do city officials know that Ella is a direct, convenient route to school? If they do not, how will they work with schools to determine that? If it is a convenient, direct route for kids, will sidewalk where kids will be walking be part of the project? 

Mobility is key to livability. We need to get to work, shopping, schools, parks, services and out for fun with friends. If we spend money almost exclusively on vehicle lanes, that’s the limited mobility we receive. 

Walking and cycling is freedom for our young people. Today 10% of us commute to work by bike or on foot. Let’s invest to double that number! Let’s invest to get more kids safely to schools and parks under their own power.

Molly O’Reilly is a member of the Project 7B Steering Committee, board member of the Idaho Walk Bike Alliance, past board member of America Walks and a former member of the city of Sandpoint Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee.

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