"Civil disobedience" is such a defiant term. Cycling activist Bob Giordano prefers "positive citizen action."

That's what he called it when he and two friends recently painted bike-lane symbols on the Higgins Avenue pavement along the Hip Street, a particularly treacherous spot for bikers.

The police called it something else: "criminal mischief."

Giordano and his spray paint-wielding accomplices now face charges of same. But Giordano begs to differ.

"Our angle is that criminal mischief is damaging public property," he said this week. "Did we damage public property or improve it?" asked Giordano, who heads the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, home to the Free Cycles Community Bicycle Program.

Pedal back a few days, to Sept. 25 and the annual Homecoming Parade. The Free Cycles float, a hay wagon pulled by cyclists, won the Mayor's Award. That night, Giordano and his friends kicked back, talking about the award, the parade and its route - and the fact that cyclists recently had been hit by cars along that very route, where the bike lanes disappear as the Hip Strip begins just south of the Higgins Avenue Bridge.

If only, they commiserated, there were a way to warn cyclists.

If only.

Out came the spray cans and the stencils and the guerrilla bikers pedaled purposefully into the night.

In about 15 minutes, they spray-painted about a dozen cycle symbols onto the right lanes of Higgins along the strip between South Third and Brooks streets. "They were very small and in fall colors, purple and orange and yellow," he said.

Passing motorists beeped and called encouragement, is how Giordano remembers it. But apparently not everyone shared the cycle love.

"We were biking away when two officers stopped us," he said.

***

Bruce Bender, chief administrative officer for the city of Missoula, bicycles along Higgins on his way to and from work.

Does he like the Hip Strip squeeze, where a cyclist could extend a hand in one direction and touch the parked cars, and tap moving vehicles with the other hand? No.

Does he think it's a good idea to paint symbols onto the traffic lane in the dark?

No - not for the painters and not for motorists, either.

"An extreme, very risky behavior," he called it.

What particularly rankles, he said, is that the city has taken considerable effort - spurred, in part, by Giordano and other activists - to improve cyclists' lot, from new bike lanes on the other side of the Higgins bridge, to the wholesale overhaul along North Higgins that saw the street go from four lanes to three, and bike lanes inserted between parked cars and the sidewalk.

On Thursday, workers touched up the bike lanes on South Fourth Street on either side of the Hip Strip with bright new white paint.

Such workers, Bender pointed out, are professionals. The city sends out advisories as to where they'll be working, and puts up signs to warn motorists.

The workers don't, he stressed, go out in the dark and crouch down over the street with spray cans.

"To actually directly put yourself at risk and the public at risk ... we just can't permit that," Bender said.

Hence, the ticket.

Giordano said he's got a court date Monday. He's still trying to decide whether he'll seek a jury trial.

Meanwhile, with one small orange exception across from the Roxy, Higgins has been scrubbed free of the tiny painted cyclists.

That's just fine with Bender.

"It certainly wasn't a safety enhancement," he said. "Maybe it's a statement."

 

(1) comment

Bob Giordano
Bob Giordano

Sharrows do improve safety by improving awareness of each other. The City dropped all charges against us, as we made a very good case why this was not criminal. The City, after evaluating the situation, put much bigger Sharrows down on this stretch of Higgins. We are now working on changing this part of road from a dangerous 4-lane to a more sustainable 3-lane, with bike lanes. Roundabouts are a part of the conversation too. Let us know if you would like to be involved. Thanks. -Bob Giordano, MIST, mist@strans.org

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