It is just paint, after all.
With that in mind, the Missoula City Council unanimously voted to remove the bicycle lanes from Linda Vista Boulevard, after push-back from residents.
The striping configuration they decided on will replace parking on both sides of the street and paint "sharrows," symbols indicating bicycles may be in the lane of traffic, in each direction.
An online questionnaire drew more than 100 responses, over 80 percent of which were for the sharrows and parking option.
“It was closer to unanimous at the public meetings, but we did have people come up to us after the meetings and say that they preferred it with the bike lanes, but weren’t going to say that in front of a mob of people,” Bicycle/Pedestrian Program Manager Ben Weiss said.
The Aug. 22 public meeting, according to neighborhood council member Jack Walton, drew around 90 residents and was “vocal” and “very lively.”
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Residents have been pressuring their Ward 5 council representatives for months over the year-old bike lanes, which took away parking in front of Marilyn Park, a popular gathering spot for the neighborhood.
The new configuration had drawn ire, complaints and mystification from those who drive Linda Vista daily; not many bicyclists use the road (it’s one long hill) and plowed snow doesn’t have a good place to go.
Kevin Slovarp, city engineer, noticed people still parked on both sides of the street, taking up the bike lanes (which isn’t actually illegal), which made for unsafe situations where a bike would have to swerve into the lane of traffic around a parked car.
If he had to do it again, Slovarp said, he may not have painted the bike lanes, just because they created such an unsafe road atmosphere.
“This proves that the neighborhood needs the parking on both sides of the street,” Ward 5 representative Julie Armstrong said. “That’s why they used the bike lane.”
Although the committee voted unanimously in favor of changing the striping, Ward 2 representative Jordan Hess and Ward 4 representative John DiBari said they were reticent to allow exceptions as a matter of course.
The guidelines of the Complete Streets Policy (which recently won a national award), the Long-Range Transportation Plan and the city’s growth policy have all gone through extensive public review, Hess noted, and were used in determining that Linda Vista should have bike lanes.
“I am uncomfortable about this in many different ways as well,” DiBari said. “It’s not because I don’t value public input, it’s because I feel like I have (an) obligation to represent the rest of the community and all the planning documents and all those other sorts of things that have been long established.”
Ward 5 representative Annelise Hedahl thought there was absolutely room for an exception.
“I do think there was an opportunity to compromise and find something in the middle. That’s not how it went,” she said. “At the end of the day, the residents have spoken.”
The street will be repainted as soon as possible, after it was chip sealed in July.