MISSOULA — Beartracks Bridge in downtown Missoula has seen major changes this summer, and the Montana Department of Transportation is finally wrapping up their rehabilitation efforts, but just beyond the bridge, affectionately known as the Hip Strip, is full of problems and full of potential.
City planner Aaron Wilson and his department are currently conducting a corridor study on Higgins Avenue, and exploring ways the roadway could better accommodate its many uses.
If you frequent the area, you know that it’s often congested, left turns are prohibited at certain times of the day, the roadway is narrow, and for bicyclists in particular, it can be dangerous.
A final plan for the future of the Hip Strip should be done by early next year. Until then, they want to see community involvement.
“The way the road is set up right now is really not equipped to handle all of those potential and different users of the street, and so that's one of the things we want to look at, how do we accommodate all of that and think about growth when we've got limited space,” said Wilson.
“It's only going to get busier, and how do we make sure that people continue to travel through and get where they're going as the Hip Strip continues to grow?”
Wilson told MTN News that the kind of project required to meet these needs could take four to five years.
In the meantime, city planners and locals are doing what they can to fix some of those hiccups on the Hip Strip. For example, a newly improved intersection of Third and Myrtle.
As of this week, the intersection, which runs into the storefronts of Bernice’s Bakery and Meadowsweet, has far less parking spaces. This comes as a shock to many, as parking is already cited as one of the biggest issues of the Hip Strip.
“Parking, parking, parking….yeah, parking is an issue,” said Meadowsweet owner Kelly Needs. “We don't have any of the parking enforcement from downtown, and so even though there are, all along the strip, two hour parking spaces, that's never obeyed.”
Transportation planner for Missoula Ben Weiss explained the reasoning behind the newly diminished parking spaces.
“Federal, state, and local laws all prohibit parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk, and every intersection is a crosswalk,” said Weiss.
This law made itself known after a pedestrian was almost hit by a car in the Third and Myrtle intersection a couple of years ago.
Upon review, city planners found that the existing parking spaces weren’t up to code. Even nearby business owners admit that while the extra parking was good for business, it was never safe.
”You're taking a chance as soon as you hit the gas...on a pedestrian or a cyclist or an oncoming car,” said Bernice’s Bakery owner Missy Kelleher.
Considering the safety concerns, the already limited parking spaces had to go. “I think it's much better for pedestrians at this point, just a sad day for cars,” said Needs.
Now, instead of parking, you’ll find a vibrant seating area with greenery, picnic tables, and freshly painted roadways thanks to the artwork of Kim Kresan.
“While we were out here installing this, we heard it described as psychedelic, fruity, fish-like, and flowing like the river,” said Weiss.
With a $12,000 grant from AARP, the city received the funds to decorate this area, add crosswalk markings and delineators.
The grant also expedited some other projects the city had been planning to address down the road.
The city replaced the main water line in the area, repaved the roadway, and brought the curb ramps up to ADA standards.
Meadowsweet and Bernice’s Bakery aren’t going anywhere - a trip to the intersection of Third and Myrtle may just take a little more planning.
“We hope that it alleviates some stress and doesn’t cause it,” said Kelleher.