Parking Residential MSU

A sign identifies a portion of West Harrison Street as residential parking only on April 28, 2021, across the street from Montana State University. The city recently held a meeting with residents to discuss parking around MSU.

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Bozeman is hoping a recent spate of public meetings will cool the temperature on one of the city’s top hot-button issues: parking.

The debate over parking has crescendoed in Bozeman in recent years, as increased development and population growth has put a strain on city streets and parking lots. Mayor Cyndy Andrus, the city commission liaison to the Bozeman Parking Commission, said she is often surprised by how many people show up at the parking meetings — which typically start at 7:30 a.m. — for public comment.

“There’s no lack of people who have opinions about parking,” Andrus said during a parking discussion at Tuesday night’s commission meeting.

In 2020, several commission meetings related to parking were the scene of heated debate over a proposed parking district downtown, which laid out how the city can create permitted parking for downtown neighborhoods.

Parking Residential MSU

A group of students walk past a row of cars parked along South 8th Avenue on April 28, 2021, next to Montana State University campus. The city recently held a meeting with residents to discuss parking around MSU.

COVID-19 and staffing changes interrupted parking discussions, but the city held several public meetings earlier this year to get input on residents’ parking concerns.

Mike Veselik, Bozeman’s parking program manager, said the purpose was to rebuild trust with residents, understand how the city’s growth has impacted issues residents have with parking and take a fresh look at a parking plan approved in 2016.

The city separated discussions on the residential parking areas from conversations about downtown parking. There are two residential parking permit areas in Bozeman, one near Bozeman High School and another near Montana State University.

The takeaways, Veselik said, are that residents in permitted parking areas have concerns about parking enforcement, visitor permits, what parking fees go toward and how safety factors into the city’s parking plans.

Parking Residential MSU

A car drives down a residential street near Montana State University on April 28, 2021. The city recently held a meeting with residents to discuss parking around MSU.

“Residents again emphasized the need for transparency and the need to really see, you know, where this money is going and how the money is being used,” Veselik said.

Veselik said there are no proposals on the table to expand or reduce the residential parking districts.

According to the city, people affected by downtown parking, including business owners and nearby neighbors, cited concerns about parking overflowing into nearby neighborhoods, availability of on-street parking for customers and the use of on-street parking by downtown employees.

People also urged the city to invest in alternative modes of transportation to downtown and manage both on-street and lot and garage supply more efficiently.

“(Finding) somewhere to park, in that parking isn’t your biggest worry when you’re going downtown, it should be your like 20th or 30th worry,” Veselik said. “That’s where we would like it to get to, because there would always be access.”

Parking Residential MSU

A sign designates one side of South 8th Avenue as residential parking only on April 28, 2021, across from Montana State University. The city recently held a meeting with residents to discuss parking around MSU.

Veselik said the feedback from the public meetings is playing into a broad parking plan, which includes measures on collecting data, reviewing the budgeting for the residential parking districts and the policies for on-street pricing, visitor permits in residential districts and parking requirements in the city’s development code.

The work plan also calls for exploring the option of a “circulator shuttle” that would connect downtown, midtown and the Cannery District and working on public-private partnerships for parking.

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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