Missoula's streets hold the dubious distinction of being the riskiest in Montana to drive, with 1,800 accidents per year. The numbers continue to rise due to the fact that Missoula is surrounded by mountains and has shrinking valley floor space. More accidents happen as more vehicles drive our city's chaotic street grid, which was established decades ago. Then there is the fact that our city has an aging population with diminishing eyesight and reflexes.
A split-second judgment error can result in injury or death to a driver, a bicycle rider or a pedestrian. Driving our streets is a white-knuckle experience. And as one-stop shopping becomes a dangerous outing, our city's economy will suffer.
Mayor John Engen's webpage touts how he delivers on “clean, safe streets.” But he and his city council have done nothing sane to address the increasing driving risks their constituents face. They are unable to comprehend that the more they accede to business development, the more they diminish our quality of life.
Engen is a lifelong Missoula resident. Can he really believe that our streets are safer now than when he first took office 12 years ago, and that they will be “clean” and “safe” in the future?
On Dec. 15, 2017, the City of Missoula opened Mary Avenue to through traffic and transformed a quiet dead-end residential street into a major east-west thoroughfare. The city fulfilled a request by the Southgate Mall owners, who wanted to turn Mary Avenue into a connector street by joining Brooks Street with Reserve Street in order to run a high traffic volume past their $64 million proposed upgrade.
The residents of Mary Avenue raised legitimate safety concerns to the city about the potential of 4,000 cars driving their street each day mere feet from their property. The mayor and his council scoffed at their concerns while continuing their policy of putting business interests above the safety and well-being of their constituents.
They used $1.6 million in taxpayer-backstopped bonds to push through a thoroughfare that violates city code by constricting the legal width of Mary Avenue and its parking spaces. The street has been further choked down by snowfall.
Will the city and Southgate Mall accept the moral and financial responsibility when someone is injured or killed on Mary Avenue due to their apparent violation of the law?
Mayor Engen once said that not much keeps him awake at night. This danger to his constituents should.