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Missoula’s commuter cyclists eye implementation of pathway expansion plan

Missoula Bike Trail Riders
Posted at 10:37 AM, Nov 05, 2022

While cycling home from the gym in March 2020, Heidi Sedivy was struck head-on by a car on Russell Street.

Impaled by her handlebars and rushed to the hospital, she survived the crash, but no longer feels comfortable riding on Missoula public roads.

Once a daily bike commuter, Sedivy has not ridden in town for over two years.

“It was nice not being tied to a car, and I really enjoyed it,” said Sedivy. “But there is currently no way for me to get to work without riding on a main road, so I drive.”

In an effort to mitigate risks to cyclists and pedestrians, Missoula County has been developing a Pathways and Trails Master Plan.

The plan outlines and prioritizes the expansion of paved shared-use pathways, to enable safe, sustainable alternative transportation for local residents.

Unlike other bike-ped pathway plans previously presented in the area, the plan puts heavy emphasis on bike trails outside the downtown metro area of Missoula, extending throughout Missoula County.

A motion to integrate this plan into the Missoula Growth Plan passed unanimously on October 4.

Prior to being struck by a car, Sedivy routinely utilized designated bike pathways and lanes, but her routes also necessitated the use of major public roads.

Crashes like hers are the basis for prioritizing locations within the plan that most urgently require development to ensure cyclist and pedestrian safety.

Data from bicycle crashes and community engagement in the project over the last year have helped the planning team target the areas demonstrating the most immediate need for pathway development given their current infrastructure.

Though the plan is still working through the formal adoption process by the county, Travis Ross, the operations administrator spearheading the development of the master plan, indicated they are already feeling the benefits of having this master plan come together.

“We are already seeing projects come out of this. It’s really nice to get folks engaged in their neighborhood connections.”

The Pathways and Trails Master Program was finally approved by the County Commissioners on Oct. 27.

Bob Giordano, the founder of Free Cycles in Missoula, advocates for more of these pathways as Missoula’s population continues to grow.

“We hear all the time that people would bike more if trails were more connected through town,” said Giordano. “Better bike and walking infrastructure will serve those who are already choosing sustainable transportation and entice a lot of new people to start biking.”

City Police Department reports indicate that, on average, there are eight crashes involving cyclists and motorists every month in Missoula.

Giordano believes the real number is much greater.

“About every two weeks someone comes into Free Cycles with a bent frame from a vehicle collision, but usually, if no one is hurt, the crash won’t be reported,” he said.

Ethel MacDonald has been an avid cyclist in Missoula for the past 43 years and has played an integral role in the development of many bike pathways around town.

At 84, she is an active part of the cycling community, traveling exclusively by bike or bus.

“Everything that makes life nice happens when you’re on a bike,” said MacDonald, who said she is much happier without her car.

Data gathered for the plan indicates 11% of county residents bike or walk to work every day, roughly 8,000 people.

Missoula planners aim to triple that number over the next 20 years.

“Every bike is one less car on the road. Every time someone can bicycle for their basic needs, it’s that much better for everyone,” MacDonald said.

For residents like Sedivy and Macdonald, this development plan is an exciting step forward.

With the additional trail development plan, more residents across the county will eventually have access to safe bike paths, and the region will edge closer towards a sustainable transportation model.

“Traveling about your daily life should not mean you risk not coming home at the end of the day. Bicycles are the future of how we move,” Giordano said.