Despite street policy, city opts for parking on Linda Vista over bike lanes

The city’s complete streets policy fell by the wayside Wednesday as members of the City Council’s Public Works Committee voted unanimously to do away with bike lanes on a collector street in the South Hills to make way for roadside parking.

The decision, which also exposed the absence of a city ordinance making it illegal to park in bike lanes, will see Linda Vista Boulevard painted to its old lane configuration, one that allows parking on both sides of the street but excludes designated lanes for cyclists.

“They (the neighborhood residents) were absolutely clear they wanted parking retained on both sides,” said Ward 5 council member Julie Armstrong. “We’re elected to represent our constituents, and they’ve been clear that’s what they want.”

Linda Vista was repainted in 2016 to include bike lanes in both directions after a sewer project opened the street. The configuration was recommended by engineers based on the city’s complete streets policy and other considerations.

But some residents opposed the new scheme and wanted it changed back. The city chip sealed the road last month and has left it blank, awaiting the City Council’s decision, which will now see the roadway painted to its old pattern.

The committee’s decision Wednesday gels with the wishes of the neighborhood, and while the vote passed unanimously, some agreed with trepidation. Making an exception for Linda Vista has implications for the city’s entire transportation network, they said, and it moves the city no closer to achieving a mix of transportation modes.

“We have multiple public documents that have been vetted through an extensive public process, including our Long Range Transportation Plan, our city growth policy and complete streets policy,” said Ward 2 council member Jordan Hess. “We have other collectors in the area slated to become part of our bicycling network, and here will be a chunk missing from that network.”

Members of the council have gone against the wishes of other neighborhoods by allowing the construction of a car wash on 34th Street, even as the neighborhood council and a church opposed it, as well as the extension of Mary Avenue near the mall.

Hess encouraged those in favor of taking out bike lanes on Linda Vista to keep their arguments handy in the coming weeks. It’s then when the council will take up the request of another neighborhood looking to reduce Fifth and Sixth streets to a single lane of traffic.

“The neighborhood (Linda Vista) has come to us and supported an option, and it’s important to honor and listen to that,” Hess said. “In a number of weeks, we’ll have another project before us that a neighborhood has also spoken very strongly about, and that’s the project on Fifth and Sixth. I encourage everyone to give the same neighborhood weight in that project.”

Several neighborhood residents spoke in favor of restoring Linda Vista to its original lane configuration, one that never included designated bike lanes. They said safety had never been an issue and the cyclists and motorists both managed to navigate the roadway without accidents or conflict.

But Bob Watchel, chairman of the Missoula Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, opposed the move, saying the city has a responsibility to treat cyclists the same as motorists when building – or painting – infrastructure.

“Returning Linda Vista to a street without bike lanes will not only require a complete exception to the complete streets resolution – one Missoula has received national recognition for its approach – but it will also revert this street to the potential site of a serious injury to a pedestrian or cyclist,” said Watchel.

Armstrong, who pushed the effort to restore the street to its original configuration, said if the paint scheme didn’t work out, the city could repaint the roadway to include bike lanes.

The decision will become final after the Sept. 11 City Council meeting.