Friday, January 23, 2015

Farewell from Allison Batch, S.A.V.E. AmeriCorps VISTA

Today is my final day serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the folks I’ve been lucky enough to work with and highlight some successes from over the last year. Serving as S.A.V.E.’s Multi-Modal Transportation Coordinator opened my eyes to many of the challenges faced by people with limited mobility. I got to work with talented and motivated individuals who genuinely want to improve their community. Furthermore, I am taking away valuable job experience that has already helped me land another non-profit position in Kalispell—starting Monday!

The mission of AmeriCorps VISTA is to fight poverty in America. The program places thousands of volunteers with organizations around the country to work on projects accomplishing just that. S.A.V.E.’s Alternative Transportation Project contributes to this goal by supporting alternative transportation options. These opportunities empower individuals with access to jobs, healthcare and public services; allowing them more freedom and opportunity in their choices whether can afford to have a car or not.

I’ve witness a lot of exciting change over the last year. I worked with a number of different community groups, including Bike Walk Helena, the Helena Area Transportation Advisory Council, the Non-Motorized Travel Advisory Council, and Safe Routes to School. Through these partnerships I was able to expand Helena’s annual community bike swap, contribute to the biannual data collection of bicycle and pedestrian user counts, and help form a new coalition called the Physical Activity Stakeholder Group.

One of the big issues in transportation this year was the 2014 Update of the Helena Area Long Range Transportation Plan. Updated every 10 years, the Transportation Plan serves to guide transportation infrastructure improvements, including motorized and non-motorized modes. The consultants at Robert Peccia & Associates and Alta have worked hard over the last year to hear ideas from stakeholders and the public. Because of this input, a strong, multi-modal Transportation Plan that takes all users of the roads into account is in the works. If you haven’t gotten involved in the planning process yet and would like to, a rough draft of the plan should be available in February, with many opportunities for public comment to follow. Keep updated, view Plan documents, and send in comments at

Exciting developments are planned for the Helena Area Transit System (HATS). Lewis & Clark County has now received Round 3 of a federal grant to facilitate planning for an improved public transit system. Thus far, new bus routes have been identified to provide more frequent bus service for a broader area of Helena. New marketing improvements will accompany the new routes to make it easier for new riders to find information on how to use the service. The Helena Area Transportation Advisory Council is hopeful that these recommendations could be implemented for HATS by July 1st, 2015. See the recommended routes and more information here:

Multi-modal transportation had another success this year with the Centennial Trail breaking ground. The Centennial Trail will be an east-west non-motorized corridor through Helena, connecting Spring Meadow State Park with the East Helena trails. Construction began on the east side of Centennial Trail in the fall, and should be completed this spring. Community Transportation Enhancement Project (CTEP) funds have been dedicated to build the west side in summer 2015. If all goes well, this important non-motorized corridor could be complete by the end of next summer!

My service term marks the third year in S.A.V.E. Alternative Transportation project. I’d like to thank my two VISTA predecessors who permeably paved the way for my service, who accomplished so much work behind to scenes to help alleviate poverty and raise the quality of life in Helena. I’d especially like to thank Matthew Cramer for sticking around after his service ended to guide me through my first few days. Credit is also due to the organizations who made this VISTA position possible: Montana Legal Services for hosting the first two years of this project, and the Prevention Resource Center for adopting the final year.

Finally, I’d like to thank my supervisor and Board of Directors for empowering me over the last year and allowing me the freedom to find my passion. It’s been a great year, and I’ve learned more than I ever imagined. I’m proud that I can say I’m a S.A.V.E. VISTA alum!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Capitol Shuttle for the Legislative Session

We have another reason to celebrate this holiday season! The City of Helena and the State of Montana are working on a deal to provide free shuttle service beginning January 5th for people headed to the Capitol during the Legislative session. The shuttle will operate as a park-n-ride from the Capital Hill Mall and the Montana Department of Transportation, running from 6:30am - 6:10pm, Monday through Friday until April 27th.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Centennial Trail Update

The Centennial Trail is getting closer to becoming a reality! The Centennial Trail will be an East-West non-motorized path through Helena, providing a safe, protected through-way for walkers, joggers, and bikers. The Trail is planned to connect the East Helena bicycle path by Walmart to Spring Meadow State Park.

Construction began on the East side of the Trail this fall, but was shut down due to winter weather. The project is currently in winter shutdown and will be completed next spring. While still unpaved, this portion of the trail has been graded and is open for non-motorized use. Barricades have been set up to prevent vehicular traffic from using the trail.

The West side of the Trail will be built using part of the remaining Community Transportation Enhancement Program (CTEP) funds, as approved by the City Commission this summer. The project has gone through the first phase of programming with MDT, and is now in the second phase after plans were approved by City staff.

The planned route (shown in purple) picks up where the current Trail ends at Joslyn St. The Trail will continue south on Joslyn, then head west using Leslie Ave. right-of-way (not currently a built street). The Trail then has the option to head north and continue on Country Club Ave., or find alternative right-of-way to connect to Spring Meadow State Park. These details have yet to be determined.

Once the City receives approval to proceed from MDT, the project can go out to bid for a consultant to design the trail. The trail must be designed and ready-to-build by June 1st in order to use the CTEP funds. City staff is hopeful that the process will go smoothly and construction will begin on the West side next summer.

As evidenced on the walking tour of CT West in October, a dirt path is worn through the ditch on the side of Country Club Ave. from people walking to Spring Meadow State Park and beyond. This is a high traffic roadway currently designed exclusively for cars. A non-motorized connection is vital to provide a safe pathway for those accessing the Park on foot or bike.

As we've learned from so many other non-motorized facilities: if you built it, they will come. Once complete, the Centennial Trail will be a protected corridor for active recreation, families, people exercising, kids, and commuters; promoting a healthy, safe, connected community in Helena.

Potential Changes Planned for HATS!

The Helena Area Transportation Advisory Council (HATAC) has been working hard all summer on the second round of a Transit Planning 4 All grant awarded to Lewis & Clark County. The grant hired four consultants to look at improvements for the Helena Area Transit Service (HATS), specifically focused on four action areas: Coordination, Policy & Funding, Communications & Marketing, and the formation of a Transit Rider's Council. All four of the actions areas contribute to the broader enterprise of transitioning HATS from an inefficient, limited service, to an accessible, reliable public transit system that better serves all of Helena's citizens.

As the grant is wrapping up, the consultants have produced some promising results. The Transit Rider's Council has formed and is working on dealing more efficiently with customer complaints. An inventory of all transportation services in Helena has been completed, in hopes that more coordination between these services can happen in the future.

A new marketing plan has been developed for HATS. The plan would change the name of HATS to be Capital Transit. The buses would be painted in distinct colors (indigo blue with gold and dark red accents, to match the color scheme of Downtown Helena) in order to stand out as a public transit service. A website is being developed to make it easier for riders to find information about the bus service. Bus stops would all be marked with signs and schedules (many of the current bus stops are not signed at all). These changes would make HATS more visible in the community, and more accessible for new riders.

Most notably, a transit service improvement has been recommended that includes a broader range of fixed route service to better serve Helena. While details are still being finalized, this new service could be in place by next summer. The service improvement provides access to all of the existing fixed route service area, as well as areas current not accessible by public transit, including the West side, the Capital campus, and Carroll College.