NewsMissoula County


Concepts emerge for Higgins Avenue redesign with bike, bus and pedestrians in mind

Higgins Bridge
Posted at 8:56 AM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 10:56:34-04

MISSOULA — City transportation planners brought several proposals for Higgins Avenue to members of the Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee on Tuesday, beginning a process to make the dense downtown corridor safer for all modes of travel.

Unless the “do-nothing” option wins out, the suite of recommendations will see changes to the roadway, each carrying different benefits and drawbacks.

“Each conversation, comment and survey response provided the team with valuable information that allowed us to develop several design alternatives for the corridor,” said Aaron Wilson, the city’s transportation manager. “We’ll take all the feedback and analysis we receive and go to our steering committee to land on a preferred concept.”

The proposals include changes both north and south of the new Beartracks Bridge, extending from Broadway south to the Brooks Street intersection.

The three proposals for the project’s north end include maintaining the status quo while another would maintain four travel lanes and add raised bike lanes. Doing so would sacrifice roughly 21 parking spots but have minimal impacts on motor vehicles, Wilson said.

A concept design for Higgins Avenue north of the bridge.

The third option for the project’s north end includes reducing four travel lanes to three and adding raised bike lanes. That would cost just one parking spot but have a larger impact on motor vehicles. However, it would leave Higgins with a uniform design throughout the downtown corridor.

Changes proposed south of the river to Brooks Street would all see a reduction in travel lanes. Two concepts include one lane in each direction with one center turn lane.

But Concept A would have a painted bike lane and would retain most of the parking while Concept B would have a raised bike lane and eliminate some parking. The raised bike lane is deemed safer than the painted bike lane, and would reflect the design north of the river, Wilson said.

“Part of the benefit of doing this is that you have a consistent street,” said Wilson. “When we see challenges is when we have these abrupt changes. There’s some benefit of continuing it all the way through.”

A concept design for Higgins Avenue north of the bridge.

Concept C would create a center-running bus lane or dedicated trolley. It would eliminate the center turn lane but offer both raised and painted bike lanes, depending on where the crossover point is for busses moving in the opposite direction.

A similar plan is being studied for the length of the Brooks Street corridor to enhance rapid-bus transit with minimal impacts to existing traffic. It’s something Midtown advocates have supported.

“It’s a transit-focused concept that includes a center-running bus lane with center island boarding stations,” said Wilson. “This is a concept we’ve been looking at on the Brooks corridor and it would continue that design to provide more efficient and dedicated transit service.”

Wilson said the project is nearing its end and the outreach and analysis have led to the current concepts. After the last round of public input is gathered this spring and the steering committee has weighed in, the final proposal will be presented for adoption this fall, followed by efforts to get it built.

Advocates of bike safety favor most of the concepts, saying the public roadways should serve all members of the public, not just those in motor vehicles.

“Most every example I’ve seen across the country where a city has chosen to improve bicycle and pedestrian access into retail district areas, the businesses have actually gained from it,” said John Wolverton. “I think we should all not be scared of using the word road diet. I still say road diet is not a dirty word.”