by Josh Vanek
I ride a bike or walk to work most mornings, mostly because I live close enough and it's my preference, but also because, you know, you don't drive if you don't have to. I'm probably gonna sound like a crank/curmudgeon here, but I found two things sort of annoying in the small piece on cycling "Missoula stacks up" in the Feb. 14th Indy. Randy Neufeld, director of the SCRAM Cycling Fund was in town eyeballing our city's friendliness from a cyclist's perspective. On balance, according to Neufeld, Missoula's on the right track, with our river trails and "cross-river connectivity" and soforth.
What got me was that Neufeld mentioned that "cross traffic would stop" on a couple of occasions when he was attempting to "cross a slightly busier arterial."
I don't know if it's just me, but I hate this practice. It strikes me as misguided charity from motorists who I'd rather treated bikes like other vehicles, albeit without the thousands of pounds of steel enclosure (and motor). I mean, I'll take the charity to an aggressive road-hogging driver, but I've also seen cars swing out from behind these would-be good Samaritans and come dangerously close to smacking cyclists. Ultimately, I think we Missoulians are a conscientious lot. We stop for pedestrians and too many of us lump cyclists in with walkers, who legally have right of way at street crossings. I imagine somebody's done the research and can talk more intelligently about what data tell us, but my gut tells me that a car waving me across Higgins Avenue when they don't have a stop sign ain't totally safe. I'll take a traffic circle at a crappy intersection to having to count on driver charity, if I've got a choice.
Neufeld also recommended a bike share program among the things we could do here. In fact, we had a pretty DIY version of that in the latish '90s here. Some green-painted junkers are still submerged in the Clark Fork. I think if you look off the pedestrian bridge on a day with good water visibility, you can see one or two.
Anyhow, cool idea and all, but uh, we've got Free Cycles Missoula, and the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Travel, which are responsible for I'm sure thousands of bikes getting recycled, repaired and made usable again. It surprised the hell out of me to not see that as part of the assessment. It's a little like saying "You should start a building material re-use nonprofit here" or "How 'bout thinking about starting a documentary film festival?."
I prefer the Free Cycles model, which requires some labor, learning basic mechanical skills and volunteerism, all of which I think ensure a little more built-in ownership/responsibility in bike riders, compared to the random green-painted Montgomery Wards junkers parked in front of Charlie's, often with flat tires and bent-ass handlebars. The University of Montana has a bike loan program for anybody with a Griz Card, too.
At the end of the day, I'm 100-percent in on a much more cyclist and alternative transport-centered Missoula. I just think we've got to look at what's happening now that's making this town pretty vibrant before breaking out the cookie-cutter ideas.