Missoula City Council stockimage

Missoula City Council Chambers.

City planners deferred approving the use of electric bikes and scooters on park trails Monday, along with approving funding for an easement along the Clark Fork River and a program to improve apprentices for the city’s construction projects.

At a Missoula City Council meeting, members approved an update to regulations for trails throughout the city’s parks. Before voting, the proposal was amended to strike the use of e-bikes and e-scooters from the ordinance following a debate among council members. City council members said the issue of e-bikes and e-scooters on the city’s trails will be addressed in future hearings.

Donna Gaukler, the director of Missoula Parks and Recreation, presented the ordinance updating provisions for Missoula City Parks, which will allow for e-bikes on primary commuter trails. The two and three-wheeled vehicles must run on electric motors, and cannot exceed 20 mph. This will accommodate two of the three classes of e-bikes, as well as e-scooters, defined by a city ordinance approved June 3.

According to the ordinance, which is based on classifications adopted in 14 states, Class 1 e-bikes are built with motors that only assist while pedaling and have a maximum speed of 20 mph. Class 2 bikes require no pedaling, but still can reach speeds of 20 mph.

Primary commuter trails include the Bitterroot, Ron’s River and Grant Creek trails. Drivers will have to adhere to speed limits marked as “slow zones” throughout parks, where speeds are limited to 10 mph or less.

According to the new provisions, primary commuter trails will also remain open to the public 24 hours a day, all year long.

Gaukler said allowing electric bikes and scooters in parks, along with keeping some trails open at all hours of the day will be a good opportunity to both reduce congestion on city streets and reach climate change goals.

Earlier in the meeting, city councilors also approved a program that gives bidding preferences to construction companies using registered apprentices. In order to qualify for the program, companies must guarantee that 10% of their total labor hours for a project will consist of work done by apprentices. The city of Missoula will then grant those companies a 5% preference during the bidding process for a contract.

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The program will be available only to construction projects costing $500,000 or more.

City councilors Heather Harp and Gwen Jones proposed the plan June 5 as a way to combat a statewide shortage in construction trades. It will also give incentive to local construction companies to create new apprenticeship programs in order to stay competitive.

Councilors said more Missoulians entering trades could also help to bring up wages overall for residents, and offer a way of easing the city’s affordable housing crisis.

The program will be reviewed within 12 to 18 months to see how effective it’s been in creating more plumbers, electricians and carpenters for Missoula.

City planners then unanimously approved $91,300 to go toward preserving a portion of a trail between Hellgate Park and an apartment complex on the north side of the Clark Fork River. In June 2018, the city purchased the land in order to prevent a developer from constructing a condominium and blocking the hikers, joggers and bikers who frequently use the dirt path.

Funding for the easement will come from the 2006 open space bond, which has granted millions of dollars for conservation, agricultural and public access projects in the city and county. Preservation of the trail is one of many long-term projects detailed in the Activate Missoula 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan, which aims to connect downtown with the surrounding area through paths on the northern and southern side of the Clark Fork River.

Mayor John Engen will sign the agreement to purchase the property at 1505 East Broadway and secure the trail easement at 1515 East Broadway.

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