“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.