“You have a good idea. Don’t let the bureaucrats get a hold of it.”

That was Missoula City Councilman Dick Haines’ reaction Wednesday to neighbors who brought forward the Riverfront Bike and Motorway Proposal – and encountered layers of rules and jurisdictions. The plan for South Fifth and Sixth Streets between Higgins Avenue and Russell Street would cut the vehicle lanes down to one, paint a wide and buffered bike lane and create enough room for parking.

After the City Council committee meeting, Haines elaborated, saying not once has he driven along either of those streets and run into congestion. And the plan from the Riverfront Neighborhood Council makes more bike space for a city that’s clearly “bicycle happy,” and it’s simple and straightforward.

“So what’s the problem? Why does it take $50,000 and 10 other agencies to get into this?” Haines said.

It might not, although not all the councilors agreed with Haines by a long shot. The Public Works Committee didn’t take action Wednesday, and the matter likely will be back on the agenda in September.

Since 2010, a group of neighbors has talked about how to improve safety for bicycles, pedestrians and property owners in the area, said Caleb Kasper, who presented the plan to the committee. The group reviewed and rejected many ideas, and it finally landed on the one proposed by the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation partly because it was affordable.

“We want something to change, and relatively swiftly,” Kasper said. “And so if it’s going to cost a bunch of money, will it ever happen?”

The traditional next step would be to request a feasibility study, but Laval Means of Development Services said one would cost $40,000 to $60,000. She said the proposal is for an urban route, so it would need to be reviewed by the Montana Department of Transportation and the Transportation Commission.

Councilman Bob Jaffe said more engineering must be done to figure out the bus pullouts and intersections, but he generally supported the plan from neighbors. And he asked if the city could move ahead with a preliminary pilot project instead of a costly study.

“It just seems like an awful lot of money to do an awful lot of unnecessary work,” said Jaffe.

Councilman Marilyn Marler wondered if the project itself was necessary. Marler, who rides her bike almost every day, said she sometimes bikes Fifth and Sixth streets each twice a day, and she doesn’t have a poor experience doing so.

“I’m just really having trouble getting excited about doing this proposal, and I want to be honest about that,” Marler said.

Councilman Jason Wiener, who chairs the committee, said he will take up the project again in September after the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board and Community Forum have a chance to formally weigh in on it. At that point, the council could reject the idea or take no action on it.

Wiener said it could move forward in a variety of ways. It could request the study and work with the state to secure approvals; it could wait until those streets are up for new pavement in 2016 and hold the conversation about road striping at that point; or it could move to divorce the streets from their designation as an urban route and ask the city to tackle the project on its own.

The last option would mean giving up the opportunity to spend a pool of federal funds on Fifth and Sixth, but Wiener said those streets haven’t been getting that money anyway in recent years. And the project on the table is little more than paint on the ground.

“Doing it as a local project might not mean anything more than that,” Wiener said.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

Reporter for the Missoulian

(17) comments

skibum
skibum

Makes zero sense is spot on, but this is Missoula. Heck tree huggers next move will be Reserve Street after they stop traffic flow going towards and away from a major university. Duh.

Reason
Reason

Uh, there are 20 million alleyways that run across this town (between 5th and 6th Streets too). Why can't these be used for bikes?

Readneck
Readneck

Here's my idea for lowering traffic: test drivers! Many would fail a basic driving test and be off the road!

SuperGnar
SuperGnar

As a serious commuter cyclist, I do not see the point in this change. I often bike on these streets and do so comfortably and safely. To all the other cyclists, if you feel you are going to get into a pinch, pedal harder! Missoula needs better - faster, more agile, more aware - cyclists rather than nice fat bike lanes where people on cruisers can glide through la la land and then blame their mistakes on cars.

mim
mim

Since the anti-driving advocates like to anthropomorphize streets and traffic with terms like "calming" and "diet", I would suggest that, based on the experience with Broadway and North Higgins, the more accurate term is "arteriosclerosis."

OldBow
OldBow

I agree with all of these comments. And I am an avid bicycle rider!!!!!!!!!!!1

GaryTinkSanders
GaryTinkSanders

This is a comment I made the other day "I realize that the lanes are narrow, there is a lot of blind corners etc but choking two lanes of traffic down to one lane is going to increase congestion on 5th and 6th as well as send anguished drivers down other thorough fares increasing congestion on otherwise quiet streets, in essence overall this will exacerbate the problem spreading it into new neighborhoods. The crossing issue could be helped out by crosswalk lights alerting drivers to pedestrians crossing the street, I like the ones on Mullan road and Highway 12 myself. Back to the speeding, these people are already willfully breaking the law and they will more than likely be the ones spreading to new neighborhoods making enforcement more difficult." Missoula is already one of the most Agenda 21 compliant cities in the Nation and until there is a change at the helm Missoula will continue on it's downward spiral where more of the one percenters will continue to rule and to hell with the masses. Sorry Missoula but I can only help with my vote and many of you can help yourselves if and only if you get out and vote to let the city leaders know that you are getting sick and tired of them meddling with the other wise non-problems of Missoula and creating an Agenda 21 Utopia.

theorangedog
theorangedog

Heres on idea. If you are on your bike, go one street over to where there is virtually NO CAR TRAFFIC! Wow Mind Blown! Use some common sense people.

Gman
Gman

Why do the bikes have to be on the main streets of town? Move them over to lesser used side streets. Maybe we should just ban motorized vehicles altogether and let the cyclists pay for the streets.

Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson

They already do as most of them, like myself, also own a car and pay taxes.

Waltzing Matilda
Waltzing Matilda

Your argument has no credibility Alan. People that own more than one vehicle still pay taxes on each vehicle even though they can only drive one vehicle at a time. If your claim had any credence, everyone would only have to pay taxes on one vehicle, whether it was a bicycle or motor vehicle. If bicyclists want bicycle lanes, they should be required to pay for them. The city of Missoula has an ordinance requiring bicycles to be licensed. Why is that ordinance not enforced?

Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson

Matilda Bicyclists may also own more than one car. They also may pay ad valorem real property tax and anyone earning income pays state and federal income tax, all of which go to finance and maintain roads and bicycle lanes.. Actually I wouldn't mind paying a personal property tax on my bike. But not much money is going to be raised by taxing a percentage of market value on a used bike. As to why no enforcement? For one thing it's pretty hard for a police officer to see whether a bicycle is licensed. Maybe you could lobby for bike license plates that are the same size as on a car?

My argument is credible enough. Last time I looked up the definition of credible it did not say "anything a dancing Australian might disagree with."

libertarian
libertarian

There were more government employees at this meeting then there were citizens, yet not all citizens were allowed to speak on this issue. The special interest would like to see another road diet, yet most citizens have no trouble with 5th and 6th except in the fall on certain Saturdays. I guess when you have money, you have to spend it on useless things like studies.

msogirl
msogirl

Great - two more streets that will be screwed up for driving around this tree hugging, nut crunching town. What about the river trail? Bike riders are rude & frankly do not follow the rules of the road. Giving them more roadway doesn't help it just gives them more attitude
I hope - for once - the city turns this down.

amortdal
amortdal

Completely pointless. They are two of the most functional streets in this town so please don't fix a non-problem. Also, they do get a lot of traffic in the morning and evening and the backups would be huge if there was one lane.

Roger
Roger

This idea makes about zero sense - Missoula is growing, and these streets could get more vehicle traffic in the future - don't fix it if it isn't broken.

Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson

I'm not necessarily for or against it. But the use of 5th and 6th streets is unlikely to increase as the town grows. The streets are busy between Higgins and the University, but not so from Higgins to Russell. I travel them a lot. It will have nothing close to the impact of the Broadway Diet. Broadway has always been a commercial street. In contrast 5th and 6th west of Higgins has always been and remain residential. There is no real connection with the new growth areas of the city, because neither street extends as far as Reserve Street. I do think there are probably higher priorities though. So call me neutral, mostly, but not all that excited about it.

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