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Missoula City Hall

Missoula City Hall

Electric bikes will be allowed on commuter trails in Missoula, but not on the trails in the soon-to-be-acquired Grant Creek open space. A marathon of City Council public hearings Monday night ended in approving regulations on e-bikes and the use of Open Space bond money to buy more than 100 acres in the North Hills.

Riding regulations

The new rules on electrically assisted bicycles allow privately owned e-bikes capable of assisted speeds up to 20 miles per hour to be operated on primary commuter trails in city limits. Bike-sharing companies, like Lime and Bird, are still prohibited from using public right-of-way.

Primary commuter trails include the river trail, the Milwaukee Trail, the Northside Greenway, and the Bitterroot Branch trail among a handful of others, and the bridges connecting them. They may not be operated on other types of trails within city parks meant for non-motorized pedestrian traffic.

The only council member who voted against the ordinance was John DiBari, who said he supported the goals of providing better transportation options for citizens, but didn’t want to see motorized bikes on trails.

“What it’s going to take is a recommitment of resources from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars maintaining our automobile-oriented network and putting that into the infrastructure that supports bicycle and pedestrian facilities,” DiBari said.

The ordinance allows the electric bikes to be used on sidewalks, but only while manually operated without motor assistance. Other allowed riding areas noted in the ordinance include car lanes, designated bike lanes, and paved shared-use paths unless otherwise prohibited.

The regulations cover the Class 1 and Class 2 bikes, but does not mention Class 3 bikes, which can reach 28 miles per hour without a throttle.

City Council committees have considered regulations on e-bike-sharing businesses in Missoula, but decided to put those plans on hold to observe how similar programs in other cities worked out.

Lime, one of the most well-known bike-sharing companies, had been eyeing Missoula but the City Council’s decision to hold off means it is still illegal for those companies to operate here using public right-of-way. Local bike shops are able to rent e-bikes, however.

Open Space

A 124-acre swath of land, previously held by the Five Valleys Land Trust, known as the Bluebird-North Hills Open Space, will be added to the city’s greenspace holdings using most of the leftover money from the 2006 Open Space bond account.

The land, located generally behind Starbucks on Grant Creek and extending east into the North Hills, will join the Snowbowl shuttle parking lot and a previously inacessible 300-acre area of conservation easement land set aside by Allied Waste in 2010.

Pelah Hoyt, lands director at the Five Valleys Land Trust, said the nonprofit needed to act quickly to purchase the land when it went up for sale in order to preserve it. She said the other interested buyer planned to build one house on the 124-acre lot and was not interested in allowing public access to the land. 

The trailhead will be located at the Snowbowl shuttle lot, and will provide much-needed recreation access for the fast growing Grant Creek and North Reserve neighborhoods, supporters said.

Council member Jordan Hess pointed out that the city’s open space acquisitions and easements were nearing continuity between Grant Creek and the Orange Street Trailhead.

The value of the land is set at $660,000, with the city paying $450,000 of that, and the Five Valleys Land Trust donating the remainder of the value. The remaining fund balance from the 2006 Open Space Bond is $103,000.

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