Historic Montana Avenue in Billings, Montana, is getting a new flashing pedestrian crosswalk to improve the street’s safety and walkability. As Michelle Williams with the Historic Montana Avenue Association explains, this project has been a big topic for years.

Efforts to maintain safety on the street have started developing, including updating street lights with bright LED lights and hiring private security guards. However, one challenge faced is the three state highways running through downtown Billings, one being on Montana Avenue. Traffic calming is another issue that this new crosswalk may fix. The organization’s overall goal is to enhance the safety and walkability of Montana Avenue and the downtown area while supporting business and economic development.

“This pedestrian crosswalk is just one piece of the initiative to slow down traffic on Montana Avenue; make it safer for pedestrians to walk around, and help to increase people’s desires and interests to come down to Montana Ave. and support all the local businesses there,” Williams said. 

The Historic Montana Avenue Association group is comprised of business and property owners on Montana Ave. The group meets monthly to discuss any challenges they notice on the street. This crosswalk project will be a test case to show compliance with the crosswalk and how many people are paying attention to the flashing beacons. Based on the results, it will hopefully create opportunities to create more pedestrian crosswalks in the downtown area. The Historic Montana Avenue Association also works with Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPETD) to evaluate all business spaces on the street, find areas that could use safety improvements, and make the space more environmentally friendly and eye-catching. 

Mehmet Casey is the Downtown Development Director for the Downtown Billings Alliance. He says the funding for this project comes from a grant from the Downtown Urban Renewal District. The organization submitted an application for the grant in October 2021, where it was then reviewed by the board and taken to the council in December. The funding came to about 15,000 dollars, a reasonable price tag for this project they have in mind. These pedestrian crosswalks have proven to be helpful in other areas of town, so the idea is being brought downtown to see if it is helpful for patrons walking the streets. 

“We’re starting with this pilot, and if it proves to be successful, we likely will look at the other intersections, as well as other improvements the city and the state are looking at doing on Montana Avenue for traffic calming,” Casey said.

Over the next two years, the state will start planning other improvements for Montana Avenue and downtown Billings. On top of the flashing beacons installed on Montana Avenue, eventually, there will be parking reconfiguration, possibly reducing the street from three lanes to two. There is also a plan to improve sidewalks in the area as well. Once the design, planning, and engineering processes are complete, these improvements will be constructed the following year. 

These crosswalk beacons on Montana Avenue will be installed in the morning on September 29, and an annual ribbon cutting will start at 3 p.m.