Urban planning for old age

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A solid piece here from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, looking at how the layout of urban places affects the opportunity seniors have to move around comfortably once they get to a point where they're no longer able to drive.

It might be because I'm a comparative whippersnapper, but this isn't something I've thought or written about a ton when it comes to looking at Bozeman's growth. We do, of course, have some parts of the city that are fairly walkable (e.g. downtown and its surroundings) and parts (like much of the west side) that aren't nearly as accessible without a vehicle.

Take a look at the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

City streets that seem perfectly normal to younger, able-bodied users may look very different to seniors, as Finlay discovered on her mobile interviews. On a short walk in her neighborhood, one woman with limited mobility knew just where to find some waist-high retaining walls where she could rest for a minute.


In wintertime, with snow, ice, unshoveled sidewalks or impassable berms left behind by plows, many seniors venture out much less often, making Minnesota winters seem extra long and isolating to them. 

And this:

A 63-year-old woman who lives downtown told Finlay, “It’s kind of a joke in my building that we will each die on Washington Avenue, getting hit by a car.”

“The reality is that many people ... aren’t able to function at a level that’s required by the built environment,” according to Finlay. “We design Peter Pan neighborhoods, imagining that we never grow old.”

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What if Bozeman hadn't grown?

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A thought-provoking read here in Bozeman Magazine, as mid-time Bozeman resident Seth Ward ponders where we'd be if we hadn't grown in the 20 years since he moved to town:

What if, as we seem to wish, the door to Bozeman really did close behind us? What if, right after you and I moved here, that Brad Pitt fishing movie had flopped? If Montana fell out of favor with lifestyle magazine writers? What if the growth stopped?

I won't spoil the whole thing, but he makes what seem like some good points about where we'd be in terms of economic opportunity:

Even without the population change of the past 20 years, outside pressures are there. The forces that took away railroad jobs, that moved the livestock auction, closed the theaters, and reduced the summer snowpack were all still in play during our time here. But in this Bozeman, there are fewer options to fall back on. With no growth there are fewer construction jobs for our neighbor to work while he gets his business off the ground.

Read it: I didn’t move here 20 years ago to live in a big city

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Most Bozeman workers live outside city limits, per Census Bureau

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A supplement here to my story from last weekend on a who-should-pay tussle between the City of Bozeman and Gallatin County over the cost of expanding west Bozeman’s road network — it turns out the U.S. Census Bureau keeps data estimating how many of the city's workers are commuting in from out-of-town.

For 2014, the most recent data available, census statisticians estimate that:

  • 16,600 workers, 61 percent of Bozeman’s workforce, live outside city limits and commute in
  • 10,700 workers, or 39 percent of Bozeman workers, both live and work inside the city
  • 7,600 workers live in the city but have jobs outside it

Additionally, the fraction of the city’s workforce that's commuting appears to have been relatively consistent over time — data from a decade earlier, 2004, records a near-identical 60-40 split for commuters versus resident workers.

All this matters because city property owners (and by extension their tenants) are seeing heftier tax bills for street projects as the city tries to keep up with growth and catch up on maintenance it's neglected in the past.

County landowners, though — including the residents of unincorporated inholdings surrounded by the city — aren’t subject to those increases. That makes a certain amount of sense given that they didn’t get to vote for the city commissioners who are going all-in on infrastructure investment, but it also means they’re to some extent getting a free ride when they motor into town on city streets.

City commissioners have talked about alternative tax schemes like gas and sales taxes that could spread some of the cost for road projects from city dwellers alone to county residents and tourists. But the city can’t implement much other than property-based taxes, even with the approval of its voters, without being given more leeway by the Montana Legislature.

Some other points worth noting here, too (and please chime in in the comments if there are things I’ve missed):

Some big local employers, like the Oracle campus (formerly RightNow Technologies) off Stucky Road, aren’t inside city limits. That means their workforce isn't included in the census number for Bozeman workers — and also that they aren’t paying city property taxes for their buildings.

Many of Bozeman’s major arterials — Huffine, Main, North 19th, North 7th and Rouse — are actually maintained by the Montana Department of Transportation, so inbound commuters heading to downtown don’t necessarily spend most of their trip on roads exclusively paid for by city taxpayers. Workers and students heading toward employment hubs like Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital or the Montana State University campus do drive at least partly on city-maintained streets, however.

UPDATE: Facebook commenter Paul Sanderson asked a good question about how typical this split is for Montana cities, so I figured I'd add in some commuting flow diagrams courtesy of the census bureau for a few other places.

Note that the arrow at left in these diagrams represents inbound commuters, the arrow at right represents outbound folks who live in the city and work outside it, and the circular arrow represents workers who both live and work inside the city limits drawn in orange.




And for good measure — Boulder, Colorado

In a nutshell, it looks like Billings (which is roughly twice the size of Bozeman) actually has more resident workers than inbound commuters. Boulder, however, with its infamously inaccessible housing market, sees more than three times as many inbound commuters as residents who work inside its city limits.

Missoula has closer to an even split and Helena, with its sprawling valley, sees roughly twice as many inbound commuters as resident workers.

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Who owns Bozeman’s public parking?

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So the folks at the Save Bozeman Facebook Page have had a reasonably intense discussion over the big story I published Sunday on how parking demand is shaping development in downtown Bozeman.

Several of the points they bring up in their comments seem worth sharing here (you can check out the thread here if you want to see what I’m quoting in context). Note that I’ve cleaned up some minor grammar errors, and deliberately avoided sections where commenters get a bit rude with each other.

In essence, the Save Bozeman page admins argued that the city’s current development policies, which provide some relaxations from its typical parking construction standards in an effort to encourage denser development in the downtown area, amount to giving developers permission to “take” on-street parking from residents. Not everyone involved in the discussion agreed, though.

Save Bozeman Page:

It's a "Taking" if there isn't adequate advance planning and research to understand the cumulative effects of development — to ensure that the needs of the citizens are considered seriously, not disregarded or minimized.

William Gartland:

Street parking belongs to the public at large. It's unfortunate if you're a homeowner downtown and don't/won't use off-street parking as your primary option. Why should homeowners be more entitled to street parking than apartment residents, students, etc.? Permit parking (in residential areas) is a method which is successful in many small cities like Bozeman. Opponents cry foul at the idea of having to pay for a permit for parking, even though such a system would get the end result they desire.

Eric Dobson:

I'm as concerned about the impact of large developments as anyone, but no one is "taking" anyone's parking. As much as people may feel like they own the street parking in front of their house, they don't. It's PUBLIC parking.

So by all means debate how public parking should work and how many spaces should exist and what the requirements for developers should be. These are serious concerns. But the false sense of entitlement that current public parking is somehow owned by individuals is ridiculous and unhelpful.

Jay Sinnot:

We need to start thinking of parking as a part of the cost of automobile transportation. Tighter parking will encourage mass transit, cycling, walking, which is a bright side to the inconvenience of parking spaces being fully utilized.

Frodo Dowdin:

Jay, a nice thought if you live in a high population area with mass transit. Everyone who lives in Bozeman is here to hike, bike, climb, ski, fish, hunt in the mountains. That all requires one or more cars.

Eric Dobson:

Personally I'd prefer to under-build parking, as car sharing and autonomous vehicles are going to cut the need for parking WAY down over the next twenty years. But I understand the short-term pain that brings, and don't expect it to be a popular vision. I'd like to see a corresponding increase in commitment to the bus system and a true bicycling infrastructure.

Save Bozeman admin:

Car sharing and autonomous vehicles are pie in the sky. The neighborhoods are paying the price for the city's inability to deal with growth. Until the city AND COUNTY adopt a unified strategy for dealing with sprawl/growth, any contention that infill (and all of its requisite problems) will result in less sprawl is a pure fantasy.

Note that my understanding talking to the folks behind the Save Bozeman page, founded by neighbors concerned about the Black-Olive proposal, is that there are several people who comment on its threads in an admin capacity.

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Bozeman's streets department now has a... snow plow jingle

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It's no news that Bozeman's streets department wages an annual war against Mother Nature, trying to keep the city's roadways clear of snow and ice.

But what's new to me at least is this jingle-style public service announcement, spotted by our keen-eyed web editor on the city's YouTube channel this morning:

Also, if you're more a connoisseur of traditional local government PSAs, here's an older city offering:

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Bozeman’s walkability, visualized

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While researching a story, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently thinking about walkability — the notion that ideal neighborhoods have not only sidewalks and bike lanes that make it convenient to get around without a car, but also an adequate supply of destinations within walking or biking distance of housing.

As part of that, I’ve pulled together an interactive map, providing a way to check out how far particular spots in Bozeman are from potential destinations:

I’d love to hear other interpretations, but what I see in the data here is that folks in Bozeman’s northwest quadrant — where most of our newer, comparatively affordable housing is being built — tend to be left out in the cold from a walkability standpoint. There are plenty of parks in that part of town, but other than La Tinga and Red Chair there simply aren’t neighborhood cafes or coffee shops beyond the strip-style development along Huffine and 19th.

South Bozeman, in comparison (at least until you get down South 3rd), has a handful of well-established commercial nodes, meaning most residents are within a 10-minute walk of neighborhood establishments. And that’s a part of town that’s also conveniently located to the dining and entertainment options in downtown.

A couple caveats: This presentation, of course, downplays the impact of infrastructure like sidewalks and bike lanes (particularly given Northwest Bozeman’s somewhat piecemeal street grid). Because I’ve used city business license data to develop the list of establishments mapped here, it also omits anything outside city limits.

Have thoughts on any or all of that? Like I mentioned above, I’m working on a full-fledged story focused on this stuff, and am looking for people to interview. I’m at 582-2628 or edietrich@dailychronicle.com if you’re game (or, I suppose, feel free to weigh in in the comments below).

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Does Bozeman need to chill on parking requirements?

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This video from the City of Ottawa lays out the case its urban planners are making for relaxing parking requirements — the number of new spaces developers are required to include in building projects.

Except for the Canada bit (and perhaps the reference to light rail at 1:03), the points here could also be very well applied to Bozeman. In fact, similar ones have been cited over the last year as city government has acted to up-zone the North 7th corridor, or Midtown.

At the same time, though, parking overflow represents a major concern articulated by residents near the current crop of proposed mid-rise residential projects (e.g. Andy Holloran's Olive/Black project). When residential projects don't include enough parking for two-plus cars per household, opponents worry that it means spillover into the on-street parking where residents already compete with customers at downtown businesses.

All of which makes a tricky balance from a planning standpoint. On the one hand, it's easy to argue we're a very different sort of place than a large Canadian city. On the other, when it comes to the choice between building up, sprawling out or accepting Boulder-style housing prices, seeing Bozeman shift toward an urban-style, less car-centric future starts to seem more reasonable.

One last point: See that graph at 0:35, which tallies Ottawa's restaurant parking requirements at 23 stalls for a 250 square meter (2,700 square foot) restaurant — and argues that's burdensome enough to hinder entrepreneurship.

As I read the parking section of Bozeman's municipal code, the comparable requirement is 1 space per 50 square feet of restaurant serving area, which translates into a 54-parking-stall requirement for that 2,700 square-foot establishment (though I believe downtown restaurants do get some slack on that front).

Hat tip to City Lab, which has a post on this video with a bit more background on Ottawa's parking situation here.

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Could Uber be the future of public transit in Bozeman?

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This longform feature from The Verge and writer Spencer Woodman, looking at a pilot program in Altamonte Springs, Florida, raises some interesting questions that could apply to Bozeman's mass transit future.

The pitch is that city-subsidized services from Uber and similar companies can address the challenges public transit faces in low-density communities (like, say, much of the development on Bozeman's outskirts) better than publicly-operated buses: 

These companies are arriving at an opportune time for cities, many of which are struggling just to fund existing transit service, much less expand it to meet the needs of growing numbers of urban commuters. Both Uber and Lyft tell The Verge that the past year has seen a surge in public officials interested in giving the companies taxpayer dollars for public transit contracts. For the companies, it’s an appealing new way to establish themselves as vital infrastructure, especially in low-density communities like Altamonte where running traditional mass transit can be expensive.

In order to be self-supporting financially, public transit programs tend to require a critical mass of potential passengers — something that's a challenge in rural areas where bus routes have to contend with a comparatively small number of users and far-flung destinations. (Bozeman's free Streamline bus system addresses this in part by using federal funding to cover some of its operating expenses.)

Given that, it doesn't seem out of the question to imagine an Uber-style on-demand service supplementing or replacing traditional public transit programs.

As Woodman reports, though, the potential privatization of mass transit begs questions about whether community members who aren't necessarily the easiest-to-serve customers could be left out:

More than half a dozen residents I spoke with in Altamonte had been shut out of the city’s new transit system for various reasons — some lacked credit cards or smartphones, while others were disabled and would have difficulty getting in a regular car. Unlike taxis, Uber isn’t required to provide services for disabled passengers.

At a bus station near the freight area of the Altamonte Mall, I spoke with a homeless man who has no credit card or smartphone, a wheelchair-bound woman waiting for the bus, and a man with a severely cracked Motorola LG onto which he’d downloaded an Uber app that could not get past its undulating loading page.

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Why affordable housing is hard

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In a nutshell: Because construction is expensive, and lower-income Americans generally can't afford rents high enough to make new development projects pencil out.

The Urban Institute, a left-leaning think tank, has published a study (and accompanying interactive web app) trying to get at why, based on data sourced from the Denver metro area. The gist of their findings:

It turns out building affordable housing is not particularly affordable. In fact, there is a huge gap between what these buildings cost to construct and maintain and the rents most people can pay. Without the help of too-scarce government subsidies for creating, preserving, and operating affordable apartments, building these homes is often impossible.

Note that this is focused specifically on lower-income housing, federal government speak for what's affordable to households making 30 percent of median income (about $22,000 a year for a four-person family in Bozeman). Federal guidelines also typically count housing costs as affordable if they total no more than 30 percent of income (in Bozeman: $550 a month).

In the same vein as the study, most of Bozeman's recent affordable housing projects, like HRDC's Stoneridge Apartments and Homeword's Larkspur Commons project, do seem to have relied on federal tax credits for a portion of their financing.

The city of Bozeman's current affordable housing program, aimed at modest-income families and the for-sale market, also makes heavy use of incentives on the basis that they're necessary to keep lower-priced homes within reach for private, for-profit development efforts.

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Any guesses what year we ran this headline?

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As a youngish reporter on the city beat, it's always a bit discouraging to look through the Chronicle's back archives — since you inevitably realize half the stories you write have been done, more or less, by somebody else back in the day. 

But anyway — check out this time warp City Editor Michael Becker dug out of an clipping folder this afternoon. Any guesses on the year?

A couple hints: 

1: The pictured man is longtime business owner Chris Pope, who's quoted citing concerns about national franchises like "Eddie Bauer, Lord and Taylors and the Disneys of the world" edging in on local retailers' turf.

2: No references to food trucks or high-end restaurants, the focus of current grumbling about downtown becoming too "touristy."

3: Well, here's the full article (see the time stamp next to the reporter's byline):

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This blog is managed by Chronicle City Reporter Eric Dietrich. He covers growth, city government and community welfare in Bozeman — and does his best journalism when guided by advice and questions from others who call the Gallatin Valley home.

Help Eric cover our community, and reach out to him in the comments section here, through Twitter via @eidietrich, by phone at 406-582-2628 or by email at edietrich@dailychronicle.com.

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