Mary Laporte feels nervous when she rides her bicycle on Fifth and Sixth streets, not far from her Riverfront Neighborhood home. "It can be kind of hairy," she says.
Laporte's trepidation is among the reasons she supports a tentative plan being vetted by the Missoula City Council that would eliminate one vehicle traffic lane from Fifth and Sixth streets. As it stands, both are two-lane thoroughfares that accommodate one-way traffic heading, respectively, east and west between Higgins Avenue and Russell Street. Proponents say the change would make more room for bikes and cut back on the all-too-frequent occurrence of parked vehicles being sideswiped by speeding cars.
"Slowing down the traffic is a good thing," says Laporte, who serves on the Riverfront Neighborhood Council, which has unanimously endorsed the proposal. "These are residential streets."
Not everyone, however, is sold on the pitch. Councilman Adam Hertz says that since the referral, which is being sponsored by Councilman Alex Taft, went public this past week, several locals have contacted him to voice concerns. His constituents worry, Hertz says, that if the city eliminates vehicle lanes, traffic congestion will increase and idling traffic will negatively affect air quality.
"It's like, what on Earth are we doing here?" Hertz asks. "I think it just defies common sense."
There's a perception among some of Hertz's constituents that alternative modes of transportation are increasingly being prioritized over automobiles—and they don't like it. In an effort to find middle ground, Hertz suggests officials should create bike-friendly routes on calmer streets rather than slimming the two relatively high-traffic ones. "Maybe we can think outside the box a little more," he says.
Taft, for his part, says he's open to brainstorming. He disagrees, however, with naysayers who predict calamitous results from the proposal. He points to past controversial local transportation overhauls, such as the addition of roundabouts in the University District and the "Broadway Road Diet," which eliminated one vehicle lane, as proof that gridlock fear doesn't always come to fruition.
"When things are changed," Taft says, "people adjust."