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Traffic calming project set for Ousel Falls Road

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Some pedestrians use a friendly but dangerous cross-by-wave system in Town Center, especially in the winter when crosswalks are invisible. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

BSCO and MSU’s Western Transportation Institute will install fixtures and street art in May for pedestrian and cyclist safety 

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

A traffic calming project to reduce speeds and increase sidewalk visibility will affect drivers on Ousel Falls Road later this spring. 

The Big Sky Community Organization and Western Transportation Institute partnered officially in January 2022, and received Resort Tax funding to install interim “pop-up” fixtures on Ousel Falls Road as early as May 2023. The project aims to slow vehicles and reduce total traffic volume, and will include street art as a “place-making” component, according to WTI researcher Matt Madsen. A community meeting will be held at BASE on Thursday, March 23 at 5:30 p.m. to present the plan and collect feedback from residents and commuters.  

“As a community member, I would advise all community members that drive on Ousel Falls Road to come,” said Ashley Wilson, BSCO controller. “Matt and his team [will present] what installations are going to be in place… It’s giving the community a chance to have input on these traffic installations that are going to affect their daily drives, [whether] they go up to the [Yellowstone or Spanish Peaks clubs] or around Town Center.” 

Wilson said that former BSCO Parks and Trails Director Adam Johnson kickstarted the project. BSCO began looking at pedestrian and cycling safety in Town Center, as Ousel Falls Road has grown increasingly busy in the past decade due to industrial traffic. Wilson has seen near-misses, especially during Music in the Mountains concerts and farmers markets—traffic doesn’t slow down for those events, she said.  

Vehicle congestion on Ousel Falls Road just after 5 p.m. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

In tandem with the Big Sky Transportation District’s goal to reduce personal vehicles, Wilson said BSCO saw the need to improve safety and connectivity for cyclists and pedestrians.  

The Western Transportation Institute is an outreach center at Montana State University, said Madsen, who focuses on mobility and public transit, bicycle and pedestrian connectivity and transportation demand management. 

Madsen met with BSCO, Lone Mountain Land Company and other community partners in the past year. His working group conducted a “walk audit” in September, and using all the data, “[looked] at the main crossing areas on Ousel Falls Road to identify some spots to install some traffic calming and slow [vehicle] speeds, increase visibility for pedestrians, and do some place-making.” 

Interim-style projects are affordable and allow WTI to test the impact before there’s actual road reconstruction, Madsen said. If the fixtures are successful, they will re-install interim fixtures every year until a road goes through its regular reconstruction process.  

Madsen also met with Big Sky Arts Council to ensure the street art component fits with the community. In past projects, Madsen has leaned on neighbors adjacent to a street art installment to inspire representative art.  

Street art took the form of polka dots near Peets Hill in Bozeman. COURTESY OF MATT MADSEN

“As long as it’s not political or controversial, we work with them to support that process,” Madsen said. He added that some combination of local artists, high school students and art-loving community members might complete Big Sky’s place-making street art.  

After installing traffic calming components, WTI will measure the impact on vehicle volume, speed and driver yielding rates. The working group will also conduct surveys to gauge community feedback and input on the efforts. A final report will be released in early summer 2023, including further recommendations for connectivity in Big Sky beyond Ousel Falls Road.  

Madsen said the March 23 meeting is intended to provide transparency before moving forward. 

“We’ll present the ideas for traffic calming, get input from community members, businesses, and start the next steps of the process: materials procurement, encroachment permit, submittal.  

“Community engagement with these projects is very important, especially because [traffic calming will] be in areas that are high-traffic, so people should be aware [of] what’s going on, and the reasons behind it,” he added. 

“If a community member wants to give input, has an opinion, we’d love to hear it,” Wilson said. 

Madsen said that although certain goals parallel the TIGER grant work on Montana Highway 64 which will continue this summer, the traffic calming project is not related in leadership, purpose or funding. 

Wilson thanked Resort Tax “for supporting a safer Big Sky by funding this project.”  

The project received $16,320 in fiscal year 2023.   

A pedestrian runs across the road during peak traffic in Town Center. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

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