Pie charts depicting driver yielding rates with and without curb extensions. PHOTO COURTESY OF WTI/DRAFT REPORT

Traffic calming data released

Driver yielding rates improved

Data from the Town of Ennis Main Street/ Highway 287 Traffic Calming Project have been released.

The traffic calming study found that drivers’ speed increased near the Lions Park MetroCount traffic tube by 2.6 mph and by 3.7 mph at the Town Pump traffic tube. This was attributed to the location of the tubes outside the traffic calming zone. Main Street parking spaces are angled, and vehicles must hit traffic tubes perpendicularly for accurate data.

Drivers yielding to pedestrians improved 8.9% with curb extensions near Willie’s Distillery. “That was the biggest takeaway for me,” Ennis Town Commissioner Lisa Roberts said. This data was collected by CountCam traffic cameras.

Pedestrian counts at the 3rd Street temporary crosswalk showed 10-15 people used the crosswalk per hour on weekdays and 20-25 on weekends. Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) standards require a permanent crosswalk feature if more than 20 people cross at a certain location per hour.

Through traffic on Main Street in Ennis, Mont., which is also state Highway 287, has been a major concern. Semis enter town at speeds above posted signage and roll, sometimes incurring property damage to Main Street businesses.

The Town of Ennis reached out to the Western Transportation Institute (WTI)—the largest research institute in the nation focused on rural transportation, part of Montana State University—to look at how to solve this issue. WTI provided planning, installation and removal of the pop-up project as well as data collection, analysis and reporting. WTI funded staff and travel time and the Town of Ennis provided funds for materials as well as staff and volunteer time.

This was the first time a popup study occurred on a state highway and thus, the first time MDT and WTI collaborated on a traffic calming project. Additionally, it was the first time a small town had some freedom to determine what happens on their Main Street, Roberts said.

Curb extensions, or parklets, were put in place on Ennis’s Main Street that extended the curb further into the street with the intention of increasing pedestrian visibility. Four parklets near Willie’s Distillery, the Gravel Bar, the 2nd Street crosswalk and the 1st Street crosswalk were installed from August through October.

The parklets caused Ennis residents and business owners strife. While the goal was to narrow the street to provide better visibility for drivers, discourage high speeds and shorten the amount of road to cross, much of the focus was on reduced parking and the impact that may have on local businesses.

Thirteen parking spaces were removed during the pop-up demonstration. According to WTI, drivers’ line of sight can be improved if less vehicles are parked on the street.

The Town of Ennis is working on a master planning document. Roberts said a consulting firm has been chosen and the town will use data from the traffic calming study as well as community meetings to guide the process. The pop-up study served primarily as data collection to inform the master plan.

“That’s part of a pop-up project. They’re cheap, they’re temporary and they give an opportunity for the community to give feedback and for us to collect data and analyze it,” Matthew Madsen, research associate with WTI who prepared the report, said.

At an Ennis Town Council meeting Dec. 10, Madsen noted constructive feedback from both the safety and business sides of the conversation. Some community members felt the traffic calming study was brought upon them without any notice. Roberts mentioned the process began in 2018 with a community workshop and Ennis originally reached out to WTI in 2019.

“Our outreach was stymied by Covid. The Town learned a lesson about conducting more comprehensive public outreach, but there’s also a lesson in personal responsibility to be engaged,” Roberts said.

Town commissioners also requested a realignment of 1st Street, West Main and Highway 287 at the intersection in front of Shedhorn Sports to reduce road user conflict and provide more space to bikers and walkers as part of the study. This resulted in West Main being almost perpendicular to Highway 287. A stop sign was installed for traffic on West Main to give Highway 287 traffic the right of way.

At the conclusion of the study, WTI provided a few recommendations.

Gateway treatments—welcome signs, median islands, narrowed travel lanes—could be considered as a way to let drivers know they are entering a town. Temporary curb extensions were recommended at the 2nd Street and south end crosswalks based on the improved driver yield, using designs that do not limit many parking spaces. Annual or biannual restriping of existing crosswalks was recommended to maintain visibility.

Additionally, WTI recommended outreach and community engagement be a part of any planning moving forward.

The study may be found on the Town of Ennis website.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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