Big Housing Wins in the 2023 Montana Legislature

While headlines concerning the 2023 Montana Legislative session were dominated by efforts of the Republican supermajority to dismember Montana’s constitution and strip the rights of women and trans Montanans, there was at least one vibrantly bipartisan issue in Helena this year: implementing zoning reforms to clear obstacles to creating the housing needed for Montana to remain an affordable place to live, even at its experiences population growth. Numerous pro-housing bills passed the legislature and have been signed by the Governor with significant bipartisan support.

Sightline has written an excellent summary of the housing-related bills passed during the 2023 legislative session:

Here is a very brief synopsis of what these bills mean for Bozeman:

  • SB 245 legalized residential uses in all commercial districts. Effectively, Bozeman’s B-2 zones all just became B-2M. The bill also limits parking requirements to no more than 1 space per dwelling.
  • SB 528 legalized ADUs statewide. Bozeman already has one of the best ADU policies in the nation, so the only meaningful change is that ADUs may now be up to 1000 SF or 75% of the size of the primary dwelling.
  • SB 323 legalized duplexes in all residential zones. Effectively, Bozeman’s R-1 district just became R-2, and all of Bozeman’s R-2 districts can now have duplexes regardless of their lot size.
  • SB 382 overhauls the overall comprehensive planning process in a manner that should front load much of the planning process (more engagement up front, less yelling and screaming when a development comes forward that complies with adopted plans and zoning).
  • SB 407 eliminates design review boards.

Overall, these are all great reforms that will promote the creation of housing, and, especially, more affordable and compact types of housing. 

Implementing these bills provides a great opportunity for Bozeman to show statewide leadership in pre-housing zoning reform. Specific opportunities include:

When implementing SB 245, Bozeman should eliminate parking requirements in commercial districts entirely. (This doesn’t eliminate parking, it lets developers choose the right amount for their development; see the Cannery District for an example of what this looks like.)

When implementing SB 323, Bozeman should expand entitlements for triplex and fourplexes at the same time. R-1 now permits one additional unit due to state law. Add one additional allowable unit to R-2, R-3, and R-4. Eliminate all minimum lot sizes, recognizing that minimum lot widths and required setbacks (combined with lot coverage maximums and floor area ratio maximums) accomplish the same planning objectives.

Overall, in a legislative session dominated by vitriol and attacks on Montanans rights to a healthful environment and privacy, housing was a bright spot in an otherwise pretty awful legislative session.

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If widening Kagy ever made sense, it certainly doesn’t now

The City of Bozeman’s Capital Improvement Plan item SIF009 allocates nearly a year’s worth of transportation budget to widening Kagy, justified by doomsday forecasts of apocalyptic traffic and delay. Not only has this traffic failed to materialize—the trend is actually going the opposite direction.

From an auto-centric engineering perspective, widening Kagy may have made sense based on the information available in 2016. Based on the best available traffic data since, there’s no longer any justification for widening the roadway.

The 2007 Greater Bozeman Area Transportation Plan (page 9-3) includes a table of target capacities for roadways of various types:

Roadway Capacities Table

Volumes up to 22,500 vehicles per day are considered “ideal management conditions” for a three lane facility. Based on the trend through 2015 (see graph below), it once seemed plausible that the three-lane capacity would be eclipsed within a few years of the project completion (see forecast, below). Based on current information, however, there is no suggestion that three lanes will be inadequate any time soon (if ever). Ever since Graf Street opened, the upward trend in traffic volumes on Kagy has completely disappeared.

Kagy blvd traffic volume forecast

Moreover, transportation pundits are predicting a permanent reduction in peak hour travel demand due to flexible work schedules and work from home impacts of the pandemic. This matters since peak hour volumes typically drive traffic engineering decisions (even the busiest roads usually have ample capacity all but a few hours per day).

Zooming in on the count data, we see that not only are total volumes down since Graf Street opened, but that pandemic-era peak hour traffic volumes (relative to total daily volumes) have declined by an even greater margin:

Kagy Blvd Hourly Traffic Counts

Compared to 2018, 2021 Kagy volumes between 3 – 5 pm are only ~70 vehicles per hour lower (6%), but 5 – 6 pm (peak hour) volumes are 212 vehicles lower (14%).

It’s clear in the data that improving our road network elsewhere coupled with reduced peak hour traffic from COVID-19 has eliminated any suggestion of need to widen Kagy to four lanes. When Opportunity Way connects to 19th it’s likely that volumes on Kagy may decline further.
Nothing about current traffic volumes or trends suggest any sort of urgency for completing this project. Widening Kagy will make our system worse for pedestrians and cyclists crossing Kagy to reach campus. Based on current traffic counts, it’s not clear that widening Kagy would even benefit motorists.

At its CIP meeting on Tuesday, City Commission should send Kagy for another round of design (and to move it to the unscheduled column). In its place, the city should move forward design and construction of SIF157 and SIF158 (College Street reconstruction, to include sidewalks and bike lanes) and to send Church Street (SIF165) for preliminary design. These projects will move the needle in support of Bozeman’s goals for providing an effective transportation network for users of all modes. 

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Yes In My Backyard Act

U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i) introduced the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) Act to shed light on discriminatory land use policies and encourage localities to cut burdensome regulations. Instead of adopting inclusive land use policies that allow citizens of all income levels, backgrounds, and identities to live, work, and flourish in Bozeman, the city has erected paper walls of regulations that negatively affect and sometimes discriminate against low- and middle-income city residents. The YIMBY Act would require Bozeman and other cities receiving federal funding for housing to go on the record with why they are not adopting specific pro-affordability and anti-discriminatory housing policies.

Let’s see how Bozeman stacks up against the specific policies identified in the YIMBY Act:

(A) Enacting high-density single-family and multifamily zoning


The good news is that Bozeman has several good zoning designations for high density (R-5, B-2M, B3, etc.). The bad news is that these zoning areas apply to less than 5% of Bozeman’s total area. Elsewhere in the city, due to lot size minimums, off-street parking requirements, parks requirements, and other restrictions it is difficult to achieve densities higher than 8 units per acre net in Bozeman. The Bridger View Subdivision is a fantastic exception to this rule (achieving a net density nearly twice that of other comparable subdivisions)—but this achievement was only possible with 18 departures from existing code.

(B) Expanding by-right multifamily zoned areas


Although most newly annexed areas are zoned for multifamily, the City of Bozeman has never initiated action to expand multifamily zoning in existing areas. (In a few instances, specific areas have been upzoned at the request of a developer).

(C) Allowing duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes in areas zoned primarily for single-family residential homes


38% of Bozeman’s existing residential land is set aside as the exclusive domain of single-family homes. Due to lot size minimums and other density restrictions in reality this number is closer to 50%. No duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes allowed (except those those created prior to Bozeman’s modern zoning laws).

(D) Allowing manufactured homes in areas zoned primarily for single-family residential homes


Manufactured homes on permanent foundations are allowed in all residential areas.

(E) Allowing multifamily development in retail, office, and light manufacturing zones


Commercial and manufacturing zones currently allow multifamily development on upper floors.

(F) Allowing single-room occupancy development wherever multifamily housing is allowed


Although Bozeman allows single-room occupancy units under its “community residential facilities” definition, this designation is tied to off-street parking minimums, parkland dedication requirements, and lot size minimums that substantially limit the feasibility of single-room occupancy development.

(G) Reducing minimum lot size


In 2019 Bozeman reduced its minimum lot sizes from very large (5000 SF) to merely large (4000 SF) for (literally) 99% of residential areas. (Houston’s minimum, for context, is 1400 SF.) Lot size minimums are also enforced by other indirect minimums, including width minimums, large required setbacks, lot area coverage maximums, floor area ratio maximums, and off-street parking requirements. The research is clear: minimum lot sizes force people to buy more land than they want and drive up housing costs.

(H) Ensuring historic preservation requirements and other land use policies or requirements are coordinated to encourage creation of housing in historic buildings and historic districts


Bozeman’s NCOD is a significant barrier to the creation of housing in Bozeman’s historic district.

(I) Increasing the allowable floor area ratio in multifamily housing areas


Bozeman’s floor area ratios are higher in areas zoned for multifamily housing, but are pegged to zoning district not housing type.

(J) Creating transit-oriented development zones


To date, Bozeman has not engaged in transit planning as part of its transportation system or land use planning. Bozeman should identify future high-frequency transit corridors and then upzone along these corridors.

(K) Streamlining or shortening permitting processes and timelines, including through one-stop and parallel-process permitting


Bozeman’s permitting is notoriously slow. Best case scenario it takes eight weeks in Bozeman to obtain the same building permit that Belgrade issues in one week. In practice, subdivision and building permits can be mired in review for years. Parallel-process permitting could dramatically reduce permitting timelines.

(L) Eliminating or reducing off-street parking requirements


Bozeman’s off-street parking minimums are very high and one of the most commonly cited barriers to development in the city. Parking minimums force people to own more parking than they want, increase housing prices, and encourage driving over other modes.

(M) Ensuring impact and utility investment fees accurately reflect required infrastructure needs and related impacts on housing affordability are otherwise mitigated


By law, Bozeman cannot charge impact fees in excess of needed infrastructure. The City also gives breaks to lower fees for infill projects.

(N) Allowing prefabricated construction


Prefabricated housing is allowed so long as prefabricated housing meets certain standards of looking like other housing.

(O) Reducing or eliminating minimum unit square footage requirements


Bozeman’s minimum unit square footage is based on the International Building Code. Current limits are 120 SF. (However, reductions in lot size minimums would be necessary to make small units actually viable to construct and bring to market.)

(P) Allowing the conversion of office units to apartments


Office in Residential Office zones can be converted to apartments. In other commercial areas where offices are permitted residential units are typically limited only to upper stories.

(Q) Allowing the subdivision of single-family homes into duplexes


Subdivision of single-family homes into duplexes is explicitly prohibited in R-S and R-1 zones. In practice, off-street parking requirments and lot size minimums prohibit subdivision where otherwise allowed by zoning.

(R) Allowing accessory dwelling units, including detached accessory dwelling units, on all lots with single-family homes


Bozeman currently allows ADUs by right in all residential zones but stops well short of progressive ADU policies implemented in other cities such as on-demand permitting of pre-approved plan sets or allowing two ADUs per parcel. Bozeman’s otherwise reasonable ADU policies suffer from poison pill requirements such as lot size, lot width, and paved off-street parking minimums for ADUs.

(S) Establishing density bonuses


Bozeman does offer density bonuses—but to the best of my knowledge no developer has ever voluntarily used Bozeman’s density bonuses. Density bonuses that never get used on account of being too watered down or difficult to exercise are worse than no density bonuses at all.

(T) Eliminating or relaxing residential property height limitations


Bozeman relaxed and streamlined its height limitations in May of 2021.

(U) Using property tax abatements to enable higher density and mixed-income communities


Bozeman does not currently use tax abatements to enable higher density and mixed-income communities. It’s unclear if state law would allow the city to do so.

(V) Donating vacant land for affordable housing development

The Bridger View subdivision is a great example of how effective this strategy can be (though donated by the Trust for Public Land, rather than the City of Bozeman). Bozeman should allow underutilized parkland to be converted to housing (that meets requirements for Affordability). Gallatin County should strongly consider relocating the fairgrounds and converting the existing site into a community land for permanently affordable housing.

The Final Word

The bad news is that Bozeman’s housing policy is littered with discriminatory and anti-development policies. The good news is that this recognition is a call to action (not a cause for despair). All of these policies are within our power to change. Many of these policies may be specifically called out in Bozeman’s pending consultant-led code audit. If we need a little help rewriting our code to be more equitable and pro-housing, the Biden administration is advancing a $300 million annual grant funding program to help cities and town like Bozeman remove zoning barriers to the construction of affordable housing.

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Can’t do Infill – Lot Width Minimums

I’m highly interested in building some sort of infill project in the northeast neighborhood. My primary intention is add additional units of housing (in part to offset my own guilt about being “part of the problem”). I also just think it would be neat to build something add something to the neighborhood and community.

The only problem is: Bozeman’s code makes infill development all but impossible. I’ve investigated a half dozen opportunities in the past year, and each time there’s some “gotcha” in the development code that ruins otherwise great infill opportunities. I thought maybe I’d document some of these, so if/when Bozeman decides to get serious about supporting infill, I can provide some reasoned suggestions with examples.

A 21,000 SF property on Church Avenue just went on the market. That’s a half-acre of land, listed just below $1m. It’s zoned R2, so right off the bat we’re thinking a theoretical maximum density of three 7000 SF lots, each with a duplex and ADU. Housing units before: 1. Housing units after: 9. Sweet!

Only, there’s a little problem: the lot is only 118 feet wide.

Why is that a problem? Although many of the existing lots on Church Street are only 30′ wide, the City of Bozeman (in an apparent effort to limit infill and keep housing prices sky-high) requires a minimum width of 40′ (when a lot has alley access; 50′ otherwise).

Note, the lot width minimum is in addition to other lot geometry requirements:

  • Lot size minimums
  • Setback requirements (15′ up front, 20′ out back, 5′ on each side),
  • Lot-area coverage maximums
  • Floor area ratio maximums
  • Off-street parking minimums

These multitudinous requirements all effectively do the same thing in different ways: impose a minimum on the size of a lot.

And, thanks to the City of Bozeman’s “white glove” approach to variances, a subdivision plan with two 40′ lots and one 38′ lot would never fly (the 38′ lot would be a “self-imposed hardship and therefore ineligible for any sort of exception to the rules”).

Assuming building costs of 2.5x land costs, a $1m lot implies $2.5m in improvements. That could be one $3.5m single family house on one lot, two $1.75m single family houses, or a maximum of two duplexes and two ADUs with an average cost of $583k. Without the lot width minimum, we could get nine units at an average cost of $388k per unit. While $400k isn’t cheap, it’s within reach of many Bozeman middle class families, in a way that $600k just isn’t.

If we’re going to have lot size minimums and setbacks, we don’t need lot width minimums. Having both subjects potential infill to double jeopardy. In this situation, with a half acre of available land, minimum lot widths mean that the smallest possible subdivision of this lot is two 10,500 SF lots. If we’re going to have affordable housing and compact neighborhoods, we’re going to need to allow small lots!

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New Bicycle Crossing at Peach and Rouse Completely Unacceptable

The Montana Department of Transportation has recently reconstructed the Rouse Avenue corridor. At the intersection of Peach Street and Rouse, MDT has taken away the existing bike lanes on Peach Street to install two additional vehicle lanes.

Strava’s Global Heatmap shows that Peach Street is the most significant E-W corridor for cyclists anywhere East of 19th Avenue. This is an essential connection for cyclists to access the businesses located in the Northeast Neighborhood and connection to our regional trail system, including the path to the M.

This situation is dangerous for cyclists and completely unacceptable.

Any intersection that requires cyclists to ride in mixed traffic fails to meet a standard of “appropriate for all ages and abilities” and fails to support Bozeman’s goal of improving multimodal accessibility.

Given the importance of this corridor, the City of Bozeman should not only fix this intersection, but should improve the safety and comfort of Peach Street for cyclists by removing the seldom-used parking on the north curb of Peach Street and installing proper buffered or separated bike lanes from 7th to Rouse.


This intersection must be fixed to provide safe passage for cyclists on Peach Street to cross Rouse Avenue. Removing car storage for a half-dozen vehicles to improve the safety and comfort of a heavily used bicycle corridor at the same time just makes sense.

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Summer Reading List

Interested in some light summer reading? Consider picking up a copy of Bozeman’s Unified Development Code! Carve out some time, though—it’s longer than Kafka’s The Trial and The Castle combined. Critics are calling Bozeman’s little book of rules:

“A haunting chronicle of stifling and inhuman bureaucracy—Kafkaesque in the fullest sense.”

“Essential reading for affordability advocates.”


Contained within is the secret to understanding why it’s so hard to build anything in Bozeman, why generic “Anywhere USA” buildings are easier to build than anything with character, and a big part of why housing in Bozeman is suddenly astonishingly expensive.

List of popular books by reading length(Reading list adapted from

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Is Bozeman serious about affordability and sustainability—or not?

Bozeman will never achieve its climate or affordability goals without updating its zoning code to allow small lots, small floor plans, and more shared walls.

Bozeman’s development code bans small lots. A ban on small lots is, effectively, a ban on affordable, sustainable and desirable missing middle housing.

The current Bridger View subdivision being developed by HRDC is a case in point. Bridger View will provide 62 new units of housing on 8 acres of land, mostly in the form of single-family houses. Half of these units will be affordable “missing middle” houses. To accomplish this miracle of affordability and compactness the lots sizes within Bridger View (averaging 2500 SF) will be approximately half the size of a typical single-family lot in Bozeman (5000 SF+) and floor plans will be substantially smaller (800 – 1500 SF) than typical new construction. The result will be the most affordable and sustainable neighborhood built in Bozeman in living memory.

Artist's Rendering of the Bridger View Subdivision

Bridger View is only able to accomplish this by using a special provision in the City development code called a “Planned Unit Development” which allows relaxations in code requirements in exchange for better design. To become a reality, Bridger View requires waiver of nineteen sections of our zoning code, including at least four prohibiting small lots:

  1. Minimum lot size. The minimum lot size in Bozeman is 4000 SF. (Table 38.320.030.)
  2. Minimum lot width. All new lots must be 50’ wide (unless accessed by an alley, then 40’). (Table 38.320.030.B)
  3. Setbacks. Setbacks are the minimum distance between the lot line and the building. Per code, all lots must have a 15’ front setback, 5’ side setbacks, and a 20’ rear setback. The “required space for setbacks” formula is “Empty Space for Setbacks = 350 + 10L + 35W” where L is the length of the building envelope and W is its width. To build a 100 SF shack you would need an 800 SF lot. That works out to 100 SF of space for you and 700 SF for the planning department (Table 38.320.030.C). Of course, even without the 4000 SF lot size minimum, an 800 SF lot is impossible, since lots must be at least 50’ wide and have 20’ of empty space at their rear—1000 SF of empty space for the rear setback alone.
  4. Lot coverage. In addition to required setbacks, and a minimum lot size, city code also places a strict maximum on how much of the lot your house can cover. (Table 38.320.030.C) This is separate from the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) maximum that prescribes how many square feet of interior space you can have.

It’s not just the lot size minimums. The ban on small lots is also codified in our lot width minimums, required setbacks, lot coverage maximums, FAR maximums, block frontage requirements, street access requirements, off-street parking requirements, utility easements, and elsewhere. All of these different regulations do the exact same thing: they effectively prohibit small lots. This is redundant and counterproductive to the city’s affordability and sustainability goals.

We live in a city with an affordability crisis that bans small lots. Because land is expensive, a ban on small lots is effectively a ban on small houses (like many of those built in Bozeman in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s). Consistent with national trends, our average house size in ballooning, even as fewer existing Bozemanites are able to afford housing.

What justifies Bozeman’s ban on small lots? Why do we ban small lots but not large lots? Why do we prescribe lot sizes at all?

We live in a city that pays lip service to “sustainability” and yet over half of residential areas are zoned in a way that prohibits multiunit development or duplex conversions. Low density development fuels sprawl increasing our reliance of cars. Single-family detached houses are far less energy efficient than housing units that share walls. Obviously, many people prefer to live in a detached house that does not share walls, but why explicitly prohibit the occasional duplex or triplex across vast swaths of town?

In her book “The Five-Ton Life” (a profile of American communities that produce less than half of Bozeman’s per-capita greenhouse gas emissions) Susan Subak demonstrates conclusively that greenwashing with LED lights and solar panels does far less to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than reducing building sizes and sharing walls. Subak writes that tools such as

“technical improvements in building design and renewable energy … can be helpful, but they give incomplete guidance on the essential importance of smaller floor plans and lot sizes in general. More broadly, city and community governments have a role to play in expanding opportunities for smaller living spaces by changing zoning laws to allow for more compact development, multi-unit construction and single-house to multi-unit conversions.”

It’s time for city leaders to take tangible action:

  1. Eliminate lot size minimums (acknowledging that other code provisions such as setbacks and utility easements will ensure that lots remain adequately large).
  2. Reduce required front setbacks to 10’ and required rear setbacks to 5’.
  3. Waive lot coverage maximums for floorplans of up to 1500 SF.
  4. Modify our zoning code (based on the recent examples from Oregon and Minneapolis) to allow duplexes or triplexes in every neighborhood.

Are we serious about affordability and sustainability—or not? What could we possibly lose by allowing smaller lots and smaller houses?

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Running for Bozeman City Commission!

After years of screed-ing here about Bozeman growth, development and politics, I’m excited to announce that I’m finally taking the plunge and stepping up to try to take a more active role in defining Bozeman’s growth trajectory. As of last week, I am officially a candidate for Bozeman City Commission in this November’s election.

There’s a long list of things I hope to accomplish as a member of Bozeman’s City Commission, but two, in particular, that are motivating me to run:

1. I’d like to see Bozeman become the premier biking city in the Rocky Mountain West. The car-based development pattern adopted by many American cities has led to communities millions are condemned to spend a significant portion of their waking hours stuck in traffic congestion. Almost every other day someone in Montana dies while driving. Transportation is now the #1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Biking, on the other hand, promotes a healthy and active population and creates a more pleasant, livable city. I want Bozeman to be a city where anyone wanting to ride their bike to work or an event feels safe doing so (which benefits drivers, as well, who encounter less traffic congestion).

2. Bozeman has an extremely scary affordable housing crisis unfolding. It takes roughly twice as much income ($103,000 per year, now) to afford a median-priced home now as it did just seven years ago. If this trend continues, it will hollow the Bozeman community out, from the outside in. I love Bozeman because of the passionate, down-to-earth community of people who live here. A crisis is emerging where young people who are passionate about things in life other than the pursuit of money are no longer able to afford to make a life here. On our current trajectory, Bozeman is on track to become another Boulder: those without a trust fund (or proceeds from selling a home in an expensive coastal city) need not apply.

More broadly, I want to see Bozeman take action on climate change (we have to act locally, especially given the abdication of responsibility at the national level), conserve open space (especially by avoiding sprawl), improve our water quality, become a more diverse and inclusive city, figure out a fairer tax system (our current system of 100% property taxes for all things is extremely regressive), develop better transit, and many more items besides.

If elected, I think I have both the policy-wonk chops and the hard-learned leadership skills necessary to be an effective advocate and decision maker to move Bozeman in this direction.

But to get there, first I have to get elected. I’m excited, nervous, but hopeful. It’s a wide-open field and I believe that I can win.

If you’re interested, check out my campaign website:

If you’re excited for me, consider making a campaign donation. Montana has some of the most progressive campaign finance laws in the United States, meaning my ability to get my message out this fall is going to be entirely dependent on attracting a large number of individual donations. Thanks!

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Snowmageddon 2019

Just a quick note: February just wrapped up as the snowiest February on record in Bozeman’s history—and it’s still snowing. I want this ALWAYS to be my life.

"Urban touring" through the marshes on the east side of Downtown

If I had a nickel for every car I’ve helped push out of a snow bank in the last three days, I’d be well on the way to buying myself a pint of beer at the Bacchus (which is open again). If I had a nickel for every neighbor helping, I’d be well on my way to buying a round.

I’m heartened and delighted by the community comradery.

For example: ten minutes ago, a two-wheel-drive truck somehow found itself embedded into the snow bank opposite my house. By the time I could pull on a jacket and slip my boots on, I was the fourth person to arrive. We each put a shoulder into the hood of the truck and pushed the truck right out. And, then, before the driver could quite roll her window down and say thank you, the helpers were dispersed—on with our days.

The snow this past week has imposed a lot of challenges and hardships on the community, and I just feel affirmed and a sense of belonging by the many ways I’ve seen the folks here respond. There’s a notable absence of abandoned vehicles, not for lack of getting stuck—but for the swift arrival of others to help push. I so appreciate the way that, even as our streets have become treacherous, they’ve also become more safe thanks to so many courteous drivers, yielding, waving, and driving carefully on our two-way streets that have become one-way streets.

And, delighted by how many big smiles I saw on Peets Hill yesterday, while in the midst of a ski tour from my back door…

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Making Bozeman a Better Place to Bike and Walk

An Open Letter to Bozeman City Commission

Re: Making Bozeman a Better Place to Bike and Walk

6 January 2019

Madame Mayor, Mr. Deputy Mayor, and Commissioners:

Bozeman’s Strategic Plan rightly calls for increased participation in active transportation. Active transportation makes our community healthier by improving physical health and air quality and improves the livability of our city by fostering a sense of place and safety and by reducing traffic congestion.

Having a goal is a great start, but if the city truly desires a future in which more Bozeman residents choose to walk or bike, this worthwhile goal must be met with tangible actions.

In this letter, I identify three simple steps that the City of Bozeman can take in 2019 to increase future participation in active transportation. These are:

  1. Enforce Existing Code to Keep Sidewalks Clear for Walking
  2. Fix Bozeman’s Bad Bike Laws
  3. Create a Bozeman Bicycle Plan

The way to increase participation in walking and biking is simple: if you make walking and biking safe and useful, more people will walk and bike.

Keeping Bozeman’s sidewalks clear is an obvious place to start. Clear, open sidewalks invite walking. Sidewalks caked with snow and ice or overgrown by bushes discourage all but the sure-footed and limber.

Bozeman ordinance Chapter 34 Article 6 requires that landowners clear new snow from their sidewalks within twenty-four hours of snowfall. Unfortunately, enforcement of this ordinance (like many of Bozeman’s ordinances) is complaint-driven. Most people who I’m acquainted with here in Bozeman would sooner shovel their neighbor’s walk than report a neighbor to code compliance. A system that relies on “turning each other in” makes code enforcement fodder for petty squabbles between neighbors, not a tool for achieving code compliance. We need, instead, a proactive, impartial, and fair system that helps neighbors comply with city code and ensures that our sidewalks are clear and walkable even when a house sits vacant or an occupant chooses not to shovel.

The snow removal ordinance allows the city to hire private contractors for snow removal and to recover not only the cost of clearing the sidewalks but also administrative costs (and if necessary to collect unpaid snow removal bills through property taxes). It’s a good ordinance; Bozeman’s would-be winter walkers deserve to see it enforced. I suggest that the City Manager make this a priority for the city’s next Public Works director. The city should also consider its own role in clearing sidewalks; e.g. the City of Syracuse recently committed itself to actively clearing 20 miles of priority sidewalks in the winter months.

Sidewalks matter in the summer months, as well. A sidewalk becomes difficult to pass if overgrown with trees and bushes. Here, too, city code (Chapter 16, Article 4) requires property owners to keep their sidewalks clear, but a survey of just a few blocks surrounding City Hall reveals that this ordinance also lacks consistent enforcement and compliance. I’d suggest unifying the nuisance vegetation ordinance with the snow removal ordinance to remove the legal penalties (currently, it’s a misdemeanor to have overgrown bushes) and empower the city to use the same contracting and cost recovery mechanisms as our snow removal ordinance.

Second, Bozeman’s existing bike laws make biking less safe and should be rewritten. Currently, Bozeman Municipal Code Chapter 36 Article 10 forbids any adult from riding a bike on a city sidewalk under any circumstances. This seems like a “solution in search of a problem.” Most cyclists naturally prefer the street, but less confident cyclists may prefer the safety and slower speed of the sidewalk. Even for confident cyclists, most cycling trips begin or end on a sidewalk.

To any who would suggest that there’s a legitimate safety justification for this law, I say: balderdash. More deaths occur annually by people pulling vending machines onto themselves than by cyclists colliding with pedestrians. Meanwhile, two bicyclists are killed every day in America by cars on the street. The difference between being struck by a bicycle at 10 mph versus a car at 25 mph is analogous to the difference between falling from counter-height versus falling from a fourth story window.

The only saving grace for this otherwise unconscionable ordinance is that few people choose compliance over their own safety—but therein lies the point: Bozeman cyclists shouldn’t have to choose between complying with city code or maximizing their safety. Dare I say it, our city’s code should promote the safety and welfare of bicyclists and pedestrians.

If in search of a neat legislative solution: just update the existing code to describe “e-bikes” (electronically assisted bicycles) instead of bicycles. This frees cyclists of this unnecessary and dangerous ordinance, and may create a good ordinance in the process.

Prior to 2009, the MSU-Bozeman campus held a similar ban, prohibiting students from riding their bikes on the main pedestrian mall. In 2009 ASMSU President Shane Colvin led an initiative to eliminate the ban. In the decade since, MSU has seen a significant increase in bicycle use with no apparent downside.

If the city wanted to go a step further and create laws favorable to cyclists, it could consider lobbying the State Legislature to allow cities to adopt “Idaho bike laws,” allowing cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs (many cyclists do this already: codifying this practice into law would improve safety by normalizing expectations).

Finally, the city absolutely must begin to get its bike infrastructure right. The city’s current bicycle infrastructure plan follows its “Complete Streets” policy where cyclists and pedestrians get a slice of every upgraded arterial or collector street. This policy amounts to building bike lanes on the sides of busy roads. Unfortunately, if the goal is to increase participation in bicycling, bike lanes generally don’t work.

The formula for increasing biking in Bozeman is simple: build a useful, low-stress network of year-around bicycle facilities. Bozeman’s current approach could be characterized as building a disjointed collection of winter snow storage facilities that double in summer as high-stress cycling facilities. Low-stress facilities include: mixed-use paths, separated bike lanes, and bicycle boulevards. Our current policy of installing bicycle facilities on arterials and collectors is precisely upside down: low-stress facilities are created by separating bicyclists from traffic—not by funneling cyclists onto the very streets designed to carry maximum traffic.

Toward this end, Bozeman truly needs a bicycle plan. Bozeman’s spending on asphalt for bike lanes is disproportionate to our spending on planning good bike infrastructure. Our current return on investment is quite small. To get good value of its money, Bozeman needs a plan that will lead to a future in which the city provides a useful network of low-stress facilities—preferably starting in 2019.

A facility is “low-stress” if it passes the “12-year-old test.” If an average parent would feel comfortable using a bike facility with their 12-year-old son or daughter, it passes. If not, it fails. The Gallagator passes (when snow-free). The new shared used paths on South 11th Avenue pass. The new bike lanes on Rouse fail dramatically (in fact, these new bike lanes generally fail the “30-year-old intrepid rider” test).

Building this sort of thoughtful infrastructure requires a level of planning and detail that far exceeds what’s written into our Transportation Master Plan (TMP). For example, no existing city document describes how to create a “bicycle boulevard,” or shows intersection treatments with bicycle boxes (currently, most of our bike lanes simply disappear at busy intersections, where they’re needed most!). The network that’s shown in the TMP is a visionary future network, which is a helpful North Star, but lacks the required details about intersection treatments, design specifications, prioritization, and legislation necessary to fulfill its vision.

If Bozeman desired to obtain a “Bicycle Friendly Community” gold designation (which would be a good milestone goal toward the broader goal of fostering active transportation), having a bicycle plan is a necessary precondition. If it does nothing else in 2019, Bozeman should fund and hire professional assistance to create a bicycle plan.

Tackling these three “low hanging fruit” in 2019 would be a great step toward showing that the city is serious about promoting active transportation. At the end of the day, the types of transportation infrastructure we build and maintain determines our mobility choices. We’ve built great sidewalks: now, let’s maintain them. We’ve made some unhelpful laws, but these are easily amended. We have yet to build a network of useful, low-stress cycling facilities, but there’s no time like the present to start. Let’s make progress in 2019 by figuring out how to keep our sidewalks clear, ensuring that our laws support safe bicycling, and beginning to plan and build a useful network of cycling facilities that will appeal to users of all ages and abilities.

Thank you for your consideration,

Mark Egge
542 N Black Avenue
Bozeman, MT 59715

CC: Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, Bozeman Area Bicycle Advisory Board, GVLT, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, WTI, Downtown Bozeman Partnership

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