BILLINGS — It’s that time of the year again when red bags cover downtown parking meters, signifying free parking for holiday shoppers. But as more take to the streets, frustrations are growing around traffic and parking downtown. Luckily, change is coming.
The Downtown Billings Alliance (DBA) and city of Billings are working together on an extensive project restoring 10 one-way streets to two-ways.
In 2021, Mac Fogelsong, the city engineer, told MTN News the back-in spots and lane changes would help create easier access and connectivity to downtown businesses, which was backed up by a 2018 study. He added back in parking spots would make it safer for people to exit and unload their vehicle.
But a little over two years later, those improvements have turned out to be more of a headache.
"It’s not fun. Just because, if you’ve got a green light coming through that intersection, that’s hard because you feel like you’re holding up traffic," said Sam Adams, a downtown shopper, on Friday. "So it can be kind of high pressure."
The problems with traffic and parking are the big reasons why the city is shifting back to the two-way streets.
"I think that will be great," Adams said. "I think the construction process and the getting from one way to two way is going to be tricky, but otherwise once it’s all complete, I think it will be awesome."
The project aims to preserve the roadways, address safety concerns and optimize business access.
"We have a lot of people that get frustrated that can’t back in. And we feel sorry for those people," said Laura Mettler, the owner of Toadnwillow, on Friday. "We lose business because they’ll just give up and drive off."
Downtown business owners like Mettler are thrilled to see the project plans.
“The back-in parking has been not so well welcomed by many people in town. Including some of the business owners that we share the same street with the back-in parking because we’ll be watching people and they’ll just get frustrated. Or they’ll hit a meter, or you know one of those things,” Mettler said. “People are going to be able to drive both ways, park on both sides of the street, and go to businesses on both sides of the street. I think it’s going to be very much a positive for everyone down here."
They just wish it could have been completed sooner, as Friday night, the annual Holiday Stroll is set to take place.
“This will be one of the biggest events at night downtown for the city of Billings. It’s a great event. It’s very festive. We’re growing," Mettler said. "Every year we grow and do different things. I think that the weather is beautiful tonight, we’re going to have fire pits out, we’re going to have lots of fun things for people to do. Hot drinks, wine for the Art Walk, just different things that people will enjoy."
While traffic and parking spots may be difficult to navigate, at least it’s free for the time being.
"We just were able to park right around the corner in a free spot and I think it is great for businesses," Adams said. "Makes it easier for shoppers."
Construction on the project is tentatively scheduled to start in 2024. Until then, business owners and patrons will continue to navigate the downtown area.
To learn more about the project, click here.