Sorry for being a bit deceitful, there’s no actual magic involved in the workings of MIM (Missoula In Motion). As with most entities involved in promoting conditions that improve the health and general well-being of a community, the enterprise of MIM comes down to being goal oriented and industrious.
So, what improved condition is the goal of MIM? Glancing at a selection of past activities and promotions, it can appear at first glance that the primary intent is to increase bicycle commuting. But that’s only a subset, albeit a significant one, of the overarching objective. Since its inception in 1997, the organization’s aim has been improving Missoula’s air quality by reducing the use of single-occupant motor vehicles (SOVs) with their relatively high (per person) production of exhaust pollutants and stirred up dust particulates. Substituting bike trips for motorized trips certainly works toward that end. Of course bus use, especially with Mountain Line’s pre-COVID levels of ridership, also brings improvements to air quality. Car pooling and walking as well electric assisted bikes, scooters and even skateboards help improve the valley’s air quality. And telecommuting, though not technically a transportation mode, greatly helps in the effort of cleaner air for all.
Support of “cleaner air” transportation choices by the MIM staff (presently three full time) takes a number of forms. Among the most notable: Monthly Trip Challenges. By logging sustainable trips (errands or work/school commuting) at MIM’s Way to Go! website, commuters earn “goodies” from supporting local businesses. Bringing the power of friendly competition to bear, MIM also conducts an annual Commuter Challenge where businesses compete to achieve the most sustainable commuting trips by employees. The businesses compete with others having similar employee numbers. There is always ongoing communication as the staff helps the businesses provide support and encouragement for their employees. Last year, 547 employees from 54 workplaces competed in the challenge — logging over 7,000 non-SOV trips.
Based on research, MIM’s methods of supporting/encouraging of individuals has recently evolved. For a number of years their messaging had been targeted to the general public. They promoted the reasons why sustainable transportation was preferable and gave information on transit services, connecting with others interested in car pooling and finding the best biking routes. Those routes could be chosen either for shortest distance or for a more “comfortable” (lower traffic intensity) situation. Presently that messaging by MIM has a more precise focus. Studies have shown that people are more open to changes in commuting when they have made a recent move. So staff have started to selectively contact people with a record of a recent address change. Last year over 50 such individuals were successfully shown, on a personal basis, how modifying their commute could improve both their pocketbook and the quality of life in their community.
One of the best things about the programs to improve local air quality via improved transportation options is that they’ve come at virtually no cost to local taxpayers. MIM is funded in most part by a federal grant to provide for “Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement.” Mountain Line and the Missoula Parking Commission are also supporting partners.
2020 was a challenging year for obvious reasons; the ability of MIM to maintain normal programs, events and procedures was certainly impacted. Nevertheless, the efforts of those individuals they encouraged and supported resulted in a reduction of more than 330 tons of CO2 that would have otherwise been pumped into our valley.
As we roll into a more robust 2021, check out missoulainmotion.com. You might become “enchanted” to help all of us to breathe easier.
Gene Schmitz is a lifelong bicyclist and traffic safety advocate with a history of significant involvement in bicycling advocacy in Missoula and other communities. He is a member of the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Board; this column represents his views alone and not necessarily those of the board.