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Not this time: City Council denies request to stray from complete streets

The City Council denied a developer’s request to exempt two collector streets in the South Hills from the city’s complete streets policy. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday denied a developer’s request to exempt two collector streets in the South Hills from the city’s complete streets policy – a request that hit a roadblock on both legal and philosophical fronts.

Lloyd Twite, the developer behind the growing Linda Vista subdivision, sought to paint Shaver and Christian drives without bike lanes to make way for parking. He offered to donate $10,000 to the city instead for improvements to Jeffery Park.

“The city has taken a blanket ruling on bicycle striping, and sometimes one size doesn’t fit all,” Twite said. “If I’m forced to stripe Shaver and Christian drives, I’m sure there will be another major uprising once that paint goes down.”

Less than a month ago, residents of the lower Linda Vista neighborhood won an exemption from the city’s complete streets policy by convincing the council to forgo bike lanes on Linda Vista Boulevard to make way for parking.

Residents of upper Linda Vista also wanted their streets painted without bike lanes, though the request ran into several challenges, primarily the law.

“What we’re talking about here is major subdivision approvals and conditions of approval,” said Mike Haynes, the city’s director of Development Services. “The reality is, in state law, as well as the city’s subdivision regulations, there is no opportunity to come back and revisit conditions of approval.”

Haynes and other city staffers said Missoula County and the City Council both placed a number of conditions upon the subdivision when earlier phases were approved. Bicycle lanes were among them, and the two collector streets were built to accommodate all uses.

“When you go through a major subdivision, it’s a robust process with a lot of input,” said Haynes. “At the end of that long process, the expectation is that the subdivision will get built in substantial conformance and the conditions of approval will be met.”

Allowing an exemption to two major collector streets in a growing part of the city also saw resistance on a philosophical level.

While several council members have lobbied in the past for exemptions to the complete streets policy based on neighborhood will, others see as it as a fundamental piece of smart city growth and planning.

The city adopted the policy in 2009 to “increase the usability of all streets for all modes of travel” and for “citizens of all ages and abilities.” Missoula was one of 37 municipalities to adopt a complete streets plan, though that number has since grown.

“We have a policy where we’re trying to encourage more pedestrian and bike usage in our city, and that’s what this is about,” said Ward 3 council member Gwen Jones. “As we connect our bike network across the city, 10 to 20 years down the road, there will be more bikes in Linda Vista.”

Ward 2 council member Jordan Hess agreed, adding that the request for an exemption to Linda Vista Boulevard differed from the requested exemption for Shaver and Christian drives.

The former street already existed and was built to different standards where the two latter streets are newly constructed.

“These are streets that were conditioned to be built with all facilities in mind,” said Hess. “We’re simply adding space for another mode of transportation. We’re not narrowing parking lanes and we’re not narrowing driving lanes. We’re not doing anything that would negatively affect other modes.”