Missoula’s multimodal transportation needs persist; bonds could come

A cyclist navigates traffic and construction on Higgins Avenue. (Current Martin Kidston/Missoula file)

A May fatal biking accident in Missoula has city council members and the public calling for increased investment in safer multi-model transportation options, and one group even wants the city to seek a public vote on a blanket obligation to fund the sidewalks.

Members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board wrote a letter to city leaders asking them to explore “new and alternative means” to fund sidewalks throughout Missoula. The committee specifically suggested municipal bonds and “bringing an initiative to voters to fund non-motorized transportation projects.”

If the city were to follow through on the request, it could be one of many obligations placed before voters in years to come.

“We believe it is in the economic, environmental and social interest of the city to significantly expand, if not complete, the sidewalk network as quickly as possible,” the committee wrote in its letter. “With many neighborhoods in our city lacking entirely or continuous sidewalks, we’re concerned that current funding mechanisms may not meet the city’s climate, equity, or multi-modal goals.”

A number of bonds could be presented to voters this year or next. Among them, Luce Research conducted a survey testing voters’ appetite for a blanket requirement to build facilities at the Missoula County Fairgrounds, including an ice rink and 4-H facilities. This survey presented a number of funding scenarios and obligation amounts.

The Missoula Parks Department also plans to build a $44 million recreation and community center to complement the McCormick Park Aquatic Center. While no official decision has been made on how the facility will be funded, a general bond bond has been used to build the existing Currents Aquatic Center, as well as the Fort Missoula Public Library and Regional Park. .

This week, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council presented a letter at its meeting urging the city to at least consider a bond to fund sidewalks and multimodal infrastructure.

“Sidewalks provide safe connectivity for all members of the community, including children and families, seniors and people with disabilities,” the committee says. “The lifespan of sidewalks exceeds that of roads, and therefore has a high return on investment.”

City council members have yet to weigh in on any of the funding requests, although many argue that the infrastructure around multimodal transport needs to increase. And for years, sidewalk funding has been a source of contention given the cost.

Council member Jordan Hess said the recent fatal bicyclist crash on Orange Street served as a “stark and painful reminder” of the city’s multimodal shortcomings.

“We have visionary transportation planning documents. We have ambitious long-term transportation plans. We must continue to work towards these goals,” he said.

While efforts to improve safety along a number of busy streets are part of the planning effort, including the reconfiguration of Higgins Avenue, Orange Street remains an outlier. The cyclist was traveling northbound on the southbound sidewalk when the accident happened, according to the accident report.

“It’s a state-controlled road designed to move traffic at speeds above the posted speed limit, and that’s not how we should design roads,” Hess said. “It’s an inflection point where we can think about how we design roads and we can do it better, and hopefully we will.”

Cycling advocacy groups in Missoula and proponents of broader multimodal infrastructure have also increased in recent years in their call for increased investment. During this week’s city council meeting, many spoke of the need for safer non-motorized infrastructure.

“We need more safe routes for bikes to provide our community with safe and efficient non-motorized transportation options,” said one resident. “We lack the infrastructure for that and so people don’t feel as safe.”

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