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An astute politician once said, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” As the city of Bozeman enters its annual budgeting session, our “show” looks very different from our “tell.”

The values embedded in Bozeman’s recently adopted community plan and draft climate plan point to a future with less planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, healthier air and a built environment where most can reach their daily destinations by walking, biking, busing or driving. At present many Bozemanites have no choice but to drive due to a lack of convenient transit service or safe places to walk or bike. Plus, given the fact it costs on average $8,500 to own and operate a car, individuals and families—already cost-burdened by housing prices—are placed under an additional affordability burden when they lack access to transportation options other than driving.

Bozeman’s strategic plan says to “Enhance Non‐motorized Transportation (4.5).” Our community plan says to “make transportation investment decisions that recognize active transportation modes and transit as a priority (M-1.2).” This is at odds with the city’s draft capital improvement budget, scheduled for approval by city commission at their meeting on Dec. 15. The draft budget allocates some $59 million to projects principally intended to make driving more convenient and less than $1 million to projects for walking, biking and transit.

To be clear, aligning our spending with our priorities is a matter of prioritization, not of spending more.

As one example, the city could “right size” its proposed Kagy Boulevard project. The project will expand 1.1 miles of Kagy Boulevard from two-car travel lanes to four, primarily to reduce rush-hour motorist delay. The project is expected to cost at least $15 million. While a portion of this project (sidewalks and gutters from 19th to 11th) is badly needed, the cost of the project would be significantly reduced by keeping the existing number of lanes. The extra funding could be spent on safety-related projects, such as addressing the intersection of Kagy and Sourdough, instead of adding more lanes that only save motorists a minute or two on their commute.

These savings could also be put to use for improvements like installing sidewalks along Church Street or filling in the gap in the shared use path along 19th Avenue where a cyclist—with no place to ride except the side of the road—was killed last year by a drunk driver. Funding the bicycle projects from our transportation master plan on Babcock Street and Black Avenue would put 22,000 Bozeman residents within a mile of a safe, convenient bike network connecting downtown, MSU, the county fairgrounds and the Cannery District.

Prioritizing needed improvements for walking, biking and transit is a necessary implementation step to achieve the sustainable, affordable and livable city envisioned in our plans. If we’re going to realize our goals, we must reconcile our budget to what we value.

Mark Egge is a Bozeman-based transportation planning consultant. David Kack is the director of the Western Transportation Institute and the program manager for Mobility and Public Transportation.

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