Missoula City Council on Monday approved the Mullan-Reserve intersection redesign, despite concerns that the project will endanger the disabled and those traveling on foot and by bike.
The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) proposed the plan last month as a way to curb accidents in what has historically been a dangerous intersection. The agency, in collaboration with city and county government, proposed adding a left turn lane northbound on Reserve Street to Mullan Road heading west.
"This should be a substantial safety improvement for a majority of users," says Missoula Director of Public Works Steve King.
Between 2003 and 2005, King says there were 89 rear-end crashes and 21 northbound left-turn crashes at the intersection. He hopes adding a turn lane along with a green arrow signal will curb those collisions.
But alternative transportation advocates say the plan improves one user group's safety at the expense of another. Making space for the new lane will force elimination of a pedestrian island in the intersection's northwest corner, lengthening the distance pedestrians must cross.
"For somebody who is wheelchair bound or a slow walker, this is really terrible," says Ethel McDonald of the Bike/Walk Alliance for Missoula. "The longer the crosswalk is the more hazardous it is for pedestrians. For most people it will simply discourage them from walking and biking in that area."
Pedestrians now have about 18 seconds to walk 79 feet from curb to island. From the island to the opposite curb is another 28 feet. The redesign will allow roughly 36 seconds to cross the entire 123-foot stretch.
Councilman Jon Wilkins, who has a prosthetic leg, voted against the project along with Dick Haines and Bob Jaffe.
"If it was me, I'd need at least a minute and a half," Wilkins says.
King argues that adding the turn lane will benefit the largest number of users. And while he supports accommodating all types of commuters, satisfying everyone in this case requires road widening, which is impossible, he says, on the project's $350,000 budget.