Nearly a year ago, Missoula unveiled newfangled bike lanes on the north half of North Higgins Avenue, laying a bikes-only stretch of pavement between the sidewalk and parked cars instead of alongside moving ones. Now the city is collecting feedback from residents to help determine whether the "cycle tracks" set-up works and if it should be applied elsewhere in town.
Last Thursday, the Missoula Bicycle-Pedestrian Office held a public meeting to discuss the bike lanes and it's soliciting other comments on the cycle tracks' effectiveness. "There are a few individuals who don't like them at all," says Bike-Ped office director Phil Smith. "But if you summarize, I think we're in the range of about 50 comments or so now from the meeting and emails and whatnot, (and) the general tone is, 'Yeah, we like them, and here are some specific things that we don't like so much.'"
The MissoulaGov listserv was flooded with reactions to the cycle tracks last week, ranging from "They make me feel much safer and less likely to be taken out by a car door" to "When cycling in the tracks I feel that there is a much greater risk of running into a pedestrian or an open car door."
Biker, driver and walker Bruce Farling says he avoids the cycle tracks altogether because car doors, pedestrians, and alley intersections require "Tour de France-quality stopping abilities." "Folks who regularly drive or cycle downtown can probably get used to this stuff—as long as they stay off the cell phone—but the problem is, many drivers never will because they are out-of-towners or folks who only rarely navigate downtown," Farling wrote. "This change requires adaptation."
Smith says one of the most common responses he's heard is that the cycle tracks, for better or worse, slow cyclists down. "If you're a commuter and you want to just zip along to where you're going, the cycle tracks aren't the best for that," he says.
If the city decides to extend the tracks from Broadway to the Higgins Street Bridge, as the Downtown Master Plan suggests, it'll have to get a green light from the Montana Department of Transportation, which holds jurisdiction over that half of North Higgins.