Evidence does not support Fowler expansion
The arguments for embarking on the “Fowler Connection” presented on February 15, 2022 to the City Commission are (1) that it has, in some capacity, been in the city’s transportation plans since at least 1990, (2) that Fowler is halfway between the principal arterials Cottonwood Rd. and North 19th Ave, (3) that traffic is diverted to other streets, and that (4) emergency response times for Fire Station 3 would be improved. These arguments are not convincing that the need for a minor arterial roadway exists.
1. A plan from or before 1990 is not necessarily relevant to Bozeman today. It’s true that the older transportation plans accessible online mention this, all the way through the most recent in 2017, where it is listed as a recommended project with no plan or funding source (MSN-13). When the plan was initiated in 1990 or before, as stated in the Feb. 15 presentation, there were no residential areas on Sweetgrass or Fowler based on historic Google Earth imagery. Homes on Sweetgrass were built in the mid-1990s according to Zillow, and Fowler Place was acquired by the city in 2005 and subsequently developed). People did not already use Ferguson, which has commercial areas, deeper setbacks, and wider boulevard strips through residential blocks (the houses are not nearly as close to the street). On Fowler between Babcock and Durston, setbacks are exactly the bare minimum of 25 feet and the right of way will not allow for more space.
The decades-old plan should be reconsidered as the evidence base for decision-making today. Fowler’s designation as a minor arterial is now in discordance with federal functional classification of urban minor arterials as roads that “Provide more land access than Principal Arterials without penetrating identifiable neighborhoods.”
The reasons for this federal guideline are clear: in the past 10-15 years, scientific studies have found there is a large body of evidence that living near major roads has a deleterious impact on human health. In addition to public safety hazards surrounding busy streets, epidemiological studies published in peer-reviewed journals provide striking evidence that residing in close proximity (50 meters) to a major roadway is associated with increased risk of a variety of health outcomes, including:
Neurological diseases, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis (1);
Coronary heart disease (2,3);
Childhood leukemia (4,15), lung cancer (5,6), breast cancer (7,8,9);
Reproductive issues (early puberty (10), fertility (11), pre-term birth (12), early menopause (13)); and
Based on the Montana Cadastral online, at least 60 residential lots just between Babcock and Durston are within 50 meters of the proposed minor arterial roadway; many more are located along other sections of the proposed expansion.
2. There is no precedent or need to space minor arterials exactly halfway between arterials. One glance at the map on page 25 of the 2017 Transportation Master Plan shows that this is not a consistent rule throughout the city and has no real basis. Ferguson, which is also between the two arterials, is already being used in this capacity.
3. Traffic does not necessarily need to be diverted to a new minor arterial. The last published scenario analysis of extending Fowler was done in 2007 and is no longer relevant. A map of daily vehicle counts for some of the more major roads was shown during the Feb. 15 presentation but did not include counts on local streets that the city is saying needs less traffic volume. These numbers of vehicles have no context to the public beyond being lower than the numbers in "Table 2.7 Theoretical Roadway Capacity" from the 2017 plan (linked above). Therefore, the only remaining published evidence base appears to be the roadway volume-to-capacity ratios published five years ago in the 2017 plan. Figure 2.9 shows that no nearby routes were at capacity in 2017. The equivalent section of Ferguson is listed at 26% of its estimated capacity. Figure 3.1 shows projected ratios in 2040, and Ferguson is still only at two thirds of its estimated capacity. The argument that 39-57% of Ferguson traffic will be diverted (from the Feb. 15 presentation) is trying to solve a problem that is not there.
4. A downgraded functional classification would save the same purpose for reducing emergency service time. This was stated as an argument but no scenario numbers were shown to support it.
The evidence base for the decision to push this project forward is either not strong or has not been shared with directly impacted stakeholders. It is unclear how the benefit of a major roadway so close to our homes outweighs the significant costs to residents’ health, the environment, and our investments in the city.
To Bozeman’s decision makers:
PLEASE make this an evidence-informed decision based on data.
PLEASE consider alternatives based on the evidence, such as downgrading Fowler’s functional classification in residential areas. There is a mechanism for this outlined in A Guide to Functional Classification, Highway Systems and Other Route Designations in Montana. The way the city has grown since this plan was initiated should make a clear case for designating Ferguson as the minor arterial instead of Fowler, still falling between two arterials, but with less cost, less impact to residents, and less destruction of the existing neighborhoods and wildlife corridor.
PLEASE allow a public comment period (or at least for directly impacted stakeholders) following the release of the draft plans.
PLEASE insist on prioritized plans for environment and climate mitigation. The corridor where this street is planned follows a riparian zone that is home to mature stands of aspen, cottonwood, and diverse wildlife. While the notes from the natural resources focus group state the city forestry division’s opinion that these stands should be retained or replanted if removed due to poor condition, the city repeatedly responds to questions about this with an answer that preserves their right to demolish every single tree in their path. Please don’t let the rotting stacks of cottonwoods along 19th and mutilated hedge behind my childhood neighborhood on S. 3rd be dismal foreshadowing here. There are significant economic benefits to maintaining urban forests that should be factored into the cost-benefit balance of this roadway. In a May 4, 2001 Bozeman Daily Chronicle article titled, “Neighbors startled by plans for Fowler Ln”, then-Mayor Marcia Youngman said, “It's a tough one to solve at this point, but I think we can come up with something better than cutting down all those trees.” Please continue this line of thinking.
PLEASE take this opportunity to prioritize existing neighborhoods and residents over future growth. Please drive through our neighborhood and imagine you live on Fowler. What would you want in your front yard?
Public Health Citations
Yuchi et al. 2020. Road proximity, air pollution, noise, green space and neurologic disease incidence: a population-based cohort study. Environmental Health 19(8).
Qi Gan et al. 2010. Changes in residential proximity to road traffic and the risk of death from coronary heart disease. Epidemiology 21(5).
Pindus et al. 2015. Close proximity to busy roads increases prevalence and onset of cardiac disease – results from RHINE Tartu. Public Health 129(10).
Tamayo-Uria et al. 2018. Childhood leukaemia risk and residential proximity to busy roads. Environment International 121(1).
Puett et al. 2014. Particulate matter air pollution exposure, distance to road, and incident lung cancer in the Nurses’ Health Study cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives 122(9).
Raaschou-Nielsen et al. 2011. Lung cancer incidence and long-term exposure to air pollution from traffic. Environmental Health Perspectives 119(6).
Hart et al. 2016. Long-term particulate matter exposures during adulthood and risk of breast cancer incidence in the Nurses’ Health Study II prospective cohort. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 25(8).
Sorensen et al. 2021. Road and railway noise and risk for breast cancer: a nationwide study covering Denmark. Environ Res 195.
Shmuel et al. 2017. Residential exposure to vehicular traffic-related air pollution during childhood and breast cancer risk. Environ Res. 159.
McGuinn et al. 2016. Residential proximity to traffic and female pubertal development. Environ Int. 94.
Wesselink et al. 2020. Residential proximity to major roads and fecundability in a preconception cohort. Environ Epidemiol 4(6).
Miranda et al. 2012. Proximity to roadways and pregnancy outcomes. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology 23.
Li et al. 2021. Long-term exposure to particulate matter and roadway proximity with age at natural menopause in the Nurses’ Health Study II cohort. Environ Pollut. 269.
Roswall et al. 2018. Long-term exposure to residential railway and road traffic noise and risk for diabetes in a Danish cohort. Environ Res 160.
Booth et al. 2014. Residential traffic exposure and childhood leukemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Preventative Medicine 46(4).