Letters: Missoula Chamber’s “wide roads” theory misses the point, and future

I recently read of the Missoula Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to a local project and wanted to share a response backed by numerous studies.

The Chamber, perhaps understandably, offered the status quo opinion; the opinion that we need wide roads and lots of excess capacity for healthy businesses. Yet, as American cities all over the country modernize their infrastructure to include bike and walking facilities, data and research find exactly the opposite.

New York City in the last 10 years added 30 plus miles of buffered bike lanes, and carried out an extensive analysis of the results and found that the streets that received buffered bike lanes saw a 5 percent to 8 percent greater increase in overall sales as compared to similar corridors without buffered bike lanes.

Study after study finds that cyclists spend comparably to motorized traffic, these studies generally conclude that cyclists spend less per trip, but make more trips. Dublin (Ireland), Auckland (NZ), Wellington (NZ), Christchurch (NZ), Toronto (Canada), Portland, Seattle, Davis, and San Francisco all have studies demonstrating this trend.

Many of those cities are in fact larger than Missoula, so let’s look more closely at Davis, California a comparable city of 68,000 people, just a few thousand less than Missoula. This study in Davis carried out an analysis of downtown spending studying the patterns of spending by cyclists and by motorists. Interestingly, in Davis, cyclists on average per month spent $224 while drivers spent only $168 on downtown shopping. This study indicates that large urban areas don’t hold a monopoly on the economic benefit of cycling.

Another study that dramatically demonstrates the economic benefit of bike infrastructure lies in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, a less dense and more residential part of Seattle. Kyle Rowe carried out a before-and-after study of this area using the city’s sales data for the area.

The study area involved removing a travel lane, very similar to the 5th and 6th street project, as well as a few parking spots. He found that the before-and-after sales had zero impact on the business. In another location Rowe studied, the city had removed 12 parking spaces, residents pleaded, “Please do not take away the 65th St. traffic lanes for bicycle lanes. Traffic is congested already and eliminating street parking for cars will [be] detrimental for all small businesses located on 65th,” a similar claim the Chamber makes.

After the project was completed that exact area saw a 400 percent increase in sales over the next year, a quite remarkable result. Due to the methods of the study, a causal relationship cannot be made, yet the evidence emphatically contradicts the concern of the business owner.

There are many more studies like the ones mentioned above. I understand the Chamber’s mission to promote business interests, but this proposal will almost certainly be great for Missoula business. Missoula has serious air-quality challenges; encouraging more people to walk and bike will help make a healthier town, and this proposal will help do that.

The neighborhood’s children and parents have trouble crossing two lanes of traffic. Often one lane of traffic will stop and the other will not, putting people in serious harm.

This proposal solves that challenge. Also, the roads are only at one-quarter capacity for cars right now, so it makes sense to allocate some of that excess space to walking and cycling. In summary, I urge the Chamber of Commerce to reconsider its letter and stand with the Riverfront Neighborhood for a safe, healthy, walk/bike/drive friendly, and a functional 5th and 6th street.