Cycling 

Missoula stacks up

Randy Neufeld doesn’t classify himself as a “recreational cyclist.” He’s pedaled far and wide—Vancouver, Chicago, Copenhagen, Kiev—but a bike is simply his preferred way of getting around town. The habit has made Neufeld, a renowned bike policy expert and director of the international SCRAM Cycling Fund, a veritable database of urban cycling trends.

After his first trip to Missoula, Neufeld likes what he sees.

“A couple of times yesterday, we stopped at a stop sign to cross a slightly busier arterial, and the cross traffic would stop,” Neufeld says, referring to the rides he took around Missoula with Adventure Cycling’s Jim Sayer earlier this week. “That’s amazing.”

Neufeld got his start in cycling advocacy back in 1987, as the executive director for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. These days he busies himself lobbying on bicycle policy and traveling to places like Missoula to give speeches to local cycling groups. He tries to tailor his message to the mainstream, or the 60 percent of potential cyclists he refers to as “interested but concerned.”

To that end, he has one question for the community: “What could you put in downtown Missoula that would be almost a level playing field for cyclists, so that the interested but concerned could look downtown and say, ‘I belong here,’ as opposed to, ‘I can survive here.’”

Overall, Neufeld believes the city’s cycling infrastructure is on the right track. He compliments the river trails and the cross-river connectivity. He was even surprised to see several bikers braving the February cold. It’s tricky to tell how Missoula could better promote cycling, he says, because we don’t have the “horrendous driving situations” spurring recent increases in big-city bike traffic.

“If you want to see what the potential of biking is,” Neufeld says, “simply look at how hard and how expensive it is to park.”

Neufeld feels Missoula could benefit from a bike share program, which would allow people to pick up a bike at one location and drop it off at another. The community should also strive to “roll out the red carpet” for the one- to three-mile commuter market, and prioritize cycling projects in places where driving is already difficult. Missoula has some major road projects on the horizon, namely Third Street and Russell. How bikes fare in the final plans will, in Neufeld’s experience, dictate Missoula’s cycling future.

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