City takes the long way ’roundabout 

Most of those who ride, walk, and drive the roads of Missoula have an opinion about the functionality of our transportation infrastructure. Meanwhile, some citizens take it upon themselves to do more than helplessly loft empty complaints into the cold ether.

On Friday, March 28, a group of concerned Missoulians met with city engineer Steve King and representatives from Morrison Maierle, Inc., the consulting company hired by the city to draft a plan for the intersection of Beckwith, Hill and Higgins—an intersection with one of the worst accident records in the city.

Travis Eickman of Morrison Maierle presented the consultants’ preferred alternative for the intersection: a conventional traffic light. Meanwhile, the citizens at the meeting were clamoring for a roundabout. Single-lane roundabouts have been shown safer than traffic lights for cars, pedestrians, and bicycles.

“I would love to build a roundabout” said Eickman, “but only if it would be appropriate for the site.” The problem here, he explained, is that Beckwith and Hill don’t enter Higgins opposite each other, as they would in a conventional four-way intersection. This makes designing a roundabout somewhat problematic—especially in the context of respecting the property rights of Grizzly Grocery to the west and the Missoula Church of Christ to the east.

Roundabout proponents agree that a roundabout should only be constructed if it can be done correctly, since a high-profile, badly constructed roundabout would only sway public opinion against roundabouts in the future.

Eickman presented a drawing of what he considers the only way a standard, 120-foot diameter roundabout could work at that intersection. But it would mean cutting the southern corner of Beckwith and Higgins. This would cost the church a few parking spaces, and require its permission. So far, the church has opposed any modification of the intersection—even a traffic light—despite safety concerns. While the church can’t stop a traffic light, by withholding permission to use a corner of its land it can shut down a roundabout. Across the street, the owners of Grizzly Grocery are open to a roundabout, provided access is maintained into the store’s parking lot.

Based on citizen insistence that every available roundabout alternative be explored, Steve King sent the consultants back to the drawing board one more time to tinker with smaller roundabouts and try to find a way to make it work. Meanwhile, a delegation will approach the Church of Christ one last time in search of their blessing to cut the corner of Beckwith/Higgins across their land. The results of these endeavors will be unveiled at a public meeting in the Paxson School on Thursday, April 10, at 7 p.m. This meeting will be the public’s final opportunity to comment on the matter.

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