A spike in bicycle-motorist crashes along West Broadway in 2007 is alarming to the Missoula Police Department, Sgt. Shawn Paul said Wednesday to a committee of the Missoula City Council.
On the other hand, no one has died trying to cross the road since engineers rebuilt the street to keep walkers, bikers and wheelchair-users safe.
"Thank God we haven't had any more deaths along there," said Ward 4 Councilman Jon Wilkins.
The Public Safety and Health committee heard a report on accident trends on that stretch of road and traffic challenges that remain. Committee members asked for improvements there and also said they wanted to see more data and over a longer period of time.
In 2006, the number of lanes along part of the road went from four to two. Many people who have to cross the street say they feel safer crossing less traffic, but many drivers also say the road is congested and confusing to navigate.
According to data from the Police Department, crashes between bicyclists and motorists between Higgins Avenue and Mullan Road went from one in 2005 to eight in 2007. No crashes were reported in 2006.
Paul said he can't explain the increase, but also said it could be because more people are riding bikes. He also said motorists and cyclists share the blame for the wrecks.
In roughly half the accidents, drivers are at fault for making a move like turning right in front of a cyclist. In the other half, cyclists are to blame for doing things like riding into the road from a sidewalk.
Data also show that injury crashes went up from 2005 to 2006 and started leveling off in 2007. In 2005, the injury accident count between Higgins and Mullan was 10; in 2006, it was 29; and in 2007, it was 24, according to police data.
Overall crashes on Broadway followed roughly the same pattern, according to police data. Paul said officers expect to see a bump n but not a steep rise n in fender-benders as motorists learn to drive a new road. He didn't anticipate the increase for Broadway.
"It is higher than I expected," Paul said.
At the same time, he said crashes dropped citywide from 2005 to 2006.
Because of the slower speeds due partly to congestion, though, severe injury accidents on Broadway are down, he said.
Bicycle advocate Bob Giordano, with the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, said the irregular way the construction took place may have led to the increase in accidents in 2006. The lanes themselves work well but the "bookends" don't, he said.
"I think we need to work on those transitions," Giordano said.
Ward 5 Councilwoman Renee Mitchell said some pedestrians involved in the earlier wrecks weren't the residents living in nearby apartments and likely had another problem, too.
"They were probably not in the most sober state," Mitchell said.
Ward 3 Councilman Bob Jaffe said he would like more information from the Police Department. He requested raw data, information over a longer time period, and more details, like exactly where on the corridor the accidents are taking place.
Jaffe also said other reconstructions have turned out better than West Broadway but he assumes Broadway will improve.
"The whole thing seems substandard compared to the other (city projects)," Jaffe said.
Wilkins suggested a sign that alerts eastbound drivers to the road split before they reach Russell Street would help. He also said the lefthand turn from Broadway onto Cooper is problematic n and wouldn't improve with added residents from the housing development being built on Broadway and Russell.
"It's going to get worse," he said.
Public Works director Steve King reminded the council that the project wasn't comprehensive. It was $300,000 of painting new lanes and putting in a traffic signal. He also said the council last week rejected a proposal to spend money this coming year on better lighting for the corridor, but he plans to ask them to reconsider.