Despite what’s shaping up to be a tight budget cycle, the Missoula City Council’s Budget Committee approved adding $19,500 to complete a traffic study on Fifth and Sixth streets between Higgins Avenue and Russell Street.
Ward 3 council member Alex Taft asked for the study, which the committee approved on a 4-3 vote.
Council members Adam Hertz, Ed Childers and Marilyn Marler voted against the measure, while Emily Bentley, Jason Wiener, Bryan von Lossberg and Taft voted in favor.
“For me, this has become more about responding to citizen concerns, which have been expressed over and over in every way people can come before us and express them,” said Wiener. “At some point, all that effort and involvement counts for something, and we should find a way to do this, for no other reason than for that.”
In making the request, Taft offered a brief history of the two streets, saying they were initially adjusted to meet the growing demands of the automobile. In doing so, the streets were converted to a pair of one-way connectors, even as other neighborhood streets in the area were left alone.
The two streets now serve as major east-west connectors. The result, Taft said, has been increased speeds. The city attempted to address speed by adding a bike lane, which ultimately narrowed the parking lane.
“That condition appears to not have slowed traffic as much as desired, but has caused side-swipe accidents,” Taft said. “It’s a neighborhood impact from the traffic issue that continues to not be addressed to the satisfaction of the current residents.”
Taft said the neighborhood council has worked to get the problem addressed, but the effort has stalled at several levels. The $19,500 would fund a traffic study and address some of the questions raised by the Montana Department of Transportation.
Taft said he was not advocating for reduced speeds, though he noted other efforts to slow traffic on Rattlesnake and Duncan drives.
Childers, however, asked how the problems on Fifth and Sixth streets differed from those elsewhere in town. He said he understood the neighborhood’s concerns, but added that the problems were no greater than those facing other neighborhoods in the city.
“I fully believe it’s important to respond to valid and objectively measured neighborhood concerns,” Childers said. “But we’ve gone through this before, and I didn’t see validation for their concerns. I don’t think we should do this.”
Taft said accidents topped the neighborhood’s list of concerns, though city staff members were unable to immediately offer statistics to verify the claims.
Bentley agreed with Wiener, saying that citizen participation should be enough to sway the committee’s decision to include funding for the traffic study.
“I’m going to support this because I don’t see how we can have people go through their neighborhood council, go through every single thing they can do to ask us for something, only to say no,” Bentley said. “I’m going to listen to the people who live there, and believe they’re telling the truth.”