The power of pedaling

An analysis published in The Atlantic last month suggests that because Missoulians bike more than people in other communities, we may be happier and more educated, and our community more diverse. "The percentage of cycling commuters is positively associated with levels of happiness and well-being," according to the study, by wizardly demographer Richard Florida.

According to the U.S Census Bureau American Community Survey, Missoula ranks third among metropolitan communities nationally, behind Fort Collins, Colo. and Eugene Ore., for the highest proportion of residents—4.8 percent, in Missoula—who regularly commute by bicycle.

Florida and colleague Charlotta Mellander wrote that Missoula stood out when they scrutinized commuter data alongside, among other things, Gallup surveys in which respondents talked about happiness.

Missoula Bicycle Pedestrian Program Coordinator Phil Smith considers himself a happy enough guy. He bikes a lot. But he's not sold on the idea that cyclists overall are more content. "I don't think I can go as far as to say it's a cause-effect," he says. "I have to say I find a few people on bikes that don't seem to be very happy."

It is clear that people who commute regularly on two wheels are generally healthier. That's largely why Missoula continues to invest in non-motorized transportation options, Smith says. Missoula has roughly 32 miles of bike lanes and steadily adds more non-motorized trails. Just last month, the city painted roughly 170 white symbols on roadways around town that portray a cyclist beneath two arrows. The "sharrows" are an effort to remind locals to share the road on thoroughfares where there isn't enough room for an actual bike lane. "We want bike riders to know—and we especially want drivers to know—this is an intended roadway for bikes," Smith says.

Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation director Bob Giordano says while more work needs to be done, he appreciates the city's efforts, and the sharrows specifically. "That seems to be a long time coming," he says.

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