On the road: City plans to triple bicycle commuters by 2045

Cyclists cross the South Reserve Street pedestrian bridge and pick up one of Missoula’s non-motorized trails. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Missoula’s new master plan for the infrastructure needed to support bicycles as a form of mass transit was quietly approved this week by the City Council.

But its impact could be significant, transportation planner Aaron Wilson said.

The city’s goal is to triple the number of bicycle commuters by 2045.

A year in the making, the Bicycle Facilities Master Plan outlines the infrastructure and implementation targets that must be met en route to the 2045 goal.

Wilson said more bikes lanes, greenways, shared paths and intersection improvements can connect more of the city than ever before.

“That’s really what this plan is trying to accomplish,” he said, “connecting all of Missoula with that low-stress facility, appropriate for bicyclists of all ages, all abilities.”

The plan did draw a few opponents from the audience at this week’s council meeting. Most were frustrated with the city’s existing bike lanes and confused about the laws governing bicyclists.

Former city councilman Jerry Ballas was more concerned about the financial burden the facilities plan could place on the city.

“Is there a cost impact for this?” Ballas asked. “I think, before you really adopt a plan, you should have some idea of the potential cost to the taxpayers and city down the road.”

The plan doesn’t outline funding sources, but the referral document does state that it “will have no direct financial impacts to the city.”

Wilson said there has been no money budgeted for bicycle-specific projects; rather, improving bicycle infrastructure will rely heavily on grants from outside sources.

Others in the audience spoke in favor of the plan. John Mandike said he’s a recent “convert” to bicycle commuting and likes that the city is investing in bicycle infrastructure.

“It’s very important to me to be able to ride into town,” Mandike said. “I wish that more people realized how easy it is. If we had a stronger facilities infrastructure, it would be a lot easier.”

Mandike suggested that educational materials about bicycle facilities could help improve awareness of laws.

Council members favored the plan.

Councilman Jordan Hess commended the transportation planning committee for its work and addressed the audience members’ complaints.

“If we can get one person out of a car, that’s one less person that’s in a car,” Hess said. “When you complain about traffic, keep that in mind. This is a system, and we can improve the system by getting people out of the car and onto a bicycle.”

Other council members echoed Hess’ praise and emphasized the importance of bicycling.

Councilwoman Emily Bentley pointed out that most improvements to bicycle facilities come with improvements to vehicle infrastructure.

“Most of the bicycle facilities we put in are going with new roads,” Bentley said. “I don’t know that we ever, I mean rarely, put in bike lanes without redoing the road.”