Bicycling in the Garden City will be a little easier and a lot safer after the Missoula City Council voted Monday night to prohibit parking in designated bike lanes.
In a 9-1 vote, with Ward 4 Councilman Jon Wilkins dissenting, council members voted to add language to the local traffic ordinance prohibiting parking in bicycle lanes and giving police the authority for enforcement.
The issue emerged earlier this year when residents of the Linda Vista neighborhood successfully fought to have the bike lanes removed from Linda Vista Boulevard, saying there was no room.
During the debate, city officials discovered a discrepancy between state and local laws – and how they are enforced, explained Ben Weiss, with the city’s Development Services office.
“Namely, there is no local ordinance in the parking chapter to prohibit parking in bike lanes and as such, the prohibition in the moving violation chapter of the state law is unenforceable,” Weiss said.
“Adding brief language to the local parking chapter will remove the discrepancies and give PD the authority to enforce against parking in bike lanes, thereby protecting the investments we have made in bicycle infrastructure and, more importantly, the safety of our residents.”
Monday night’s changes also included a prohibition on parking in and around bus stops.
Wilkins tried to convince his fellow council members to amend the provision by allowing residents to receive a permit for parking in the bike lane during special events. In particular, he said, homes along 39th Street need the ability to occasionally park in the bike lane.
Councilwoman Annelise Hedahl countered Wilkins, saying “it is a huge safety issue to allow parking in bike lanes” and that there should be no exceptions.
In the end, only Wilkins voted for the proposed permit system for exemptions from the law.
As approved the ban on parking in bike lanes will be enforced by Missoula police, using their discretion.
Mayor John Engen said police officers will “use their discretion” in ticketing illegal parking – and revealed that enforcement issues had provoked “considerable discussion by staff” in recent weeks.