After successfully investing to speed up development at South Crossing and elsewhere along south Brooks Street, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency is working on a new project aimed at slowing things down. Currently, MRA is partnering with the WGM Group, an engineering firm, and the Montana Department of Transportation to put the finishing touches on a $1.5 million project designed to calm traffic and increase bicyclist and pedestrian comfort between Reserve and Dixon streets, along Brooks.
"It's gonna have a huge impact on the way Brooks looks and feels and how comfortable it is to be on Brooks, other than just in a car," says Ellen Buchanan, MRA's executive director. "... Because right now, it doesn't matter what [speed limit is posted], it's a racetrack."
The project's design plans, which are 60 percent complete, call for narrower motor vehicle travel lanes, while adding parallel parking, bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly lighting and sidewalk landscaping. Though the changes are intended to slow cars and accommodate cyclists and walkers, members of Missoula Bicycle and Pedestrian Board still have concerns.
In a letter to Buchanan dated April 7, board members "strongly urge MRA to further evaluate the proposed plan for accommodating bicycles," due to questions about safety and whether the lanes would effectively attract new riders. Citing problems with similar bike lanes along Stephens and Higgins, the letter asks MRA to consider the creation of a buffer to increase the space between bikes, moving vehicles and the opening doors of cars parked in the new parallel spaces.
"Our ideal for cyclist safety and for encouraging more cyclists to ride there is to have a buffered bike lane, not to provide for parallel parking along that stretch of Brooks," says Bob Wachtel, the board's chair. "We see sufficient parking in the off-street parking lots for the various businesses."
While Buchanan acknowledges the parallel parking spaces "might not be used a whole lot right now," she says that continued development could make them necessary down the line. She adds that designers are looking "at the various alternatives" to accommodate the board's concerns.
"And frankly," Buchanan says, "one alternative might be to put in the parking, put in the bike laneif there are conflicts, you can always remove the parking. It's as easy as painting the curb yellow and putting up signs."
The coming changes are part of the second phase of the three-phase Brook Street Corridor Plan, paid for with tax-increment financing from Urban Renewal District III. During the first phase, changes—including the installation of a new traffic signal—were made to improve safety at the intersection of Brooks Street and Dore Lane.
It will be up to MDT to pursue the third and final phase of the corridor improvement plan, which would entail replacing Brooks' continuous left-turn lane with a landscaped median. Doing so, Buchanan says, would require consolidating exits and entries to businesses and finding ways to preserve access without the turn lane.