Sustainable Missoula: Creative transportation for a more sustainable future

Alli Kane

When I drove across the country last fall to serve as an Energy Corps member with Climate Smart Missoula and St. Patrick Hospital, I made sure to rent a minivan big enough to fit my bike.

Biking is my main mode of transportation and over the years I’ve replaced the wheels, tires, and brakes. This spring it’ll need new gears and a chain, but it got me through my first winter in Montana so I think it’s earned it. I ride everywhere.

I’ve been able to work from home lately, but I miss that energizing ride to work in the morning and unwinding from the day on my bike home. Now I ride my bike by the office and back home in the morning just to get those creative juices flowing, and I find myself thinking a lot about what I’d like to see on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 has shed new light on many of the challenges communities were already facing – from economic inequality to the very infrastructure of our cities. One of the outcomes is that many cities are rethinking how transportation and urban design can better serve all residents, today and in the future.

Right now, providing reliable and safe transportation for essential workers, adequate sidewalk space, and clean air are top of the list. Essential workers need to get to work, we need to remain physically distant when walking to the grocery store, and air pollution makes covid-19 more deadly.

The number of telecommuters has soared and streets are less congested. And yet, as more people seek safe ways to get outside for fresh air and exercise, cities all over the world are addressing the lack of space along roadways for cyclists and pedestrians to maintain a safe physical distance from one another – and from vehicles.

Did you know that some are responding by closing long stretches of streets to cars and others are making room on roads, converting space for cars to space for people? Initiatives like the Slow Streets Program in San Francisco and Oakland, and pop-up bike lanes, walkways, and street closures in places as diverse as Paris, Budapest, Mexico City and New Zealand are improving air quality and mental and physical health.

This kind of creative action shows how communities can use the challenge of this crisis to spur us into a more sustainable future, not back to the past. Designing cities for people rather than cars improves our health and well-being and is crucial to reducing dangerous carbon emissions. It’s part of how we’re going to “Build Back Better” from the pandemic pause.

We can do this in Missoula, too, and in fact a number of local initiatives and planning efforts are already underway.

Planners are working to update the Missoula’s Long-Range Transportation Plan, Missoula Connect – and they need your input during this process to ensure sustainable transportation continues to be prioritized.

And Missoula has an extensive and growing bike lane network, a network of neighborhood greenways where speed limits and traffic volumes are low, a public transit system that recently adopted a resolution to be emissions-free by 2035, and organizations like Missoula in Motion and Free Cycles that provide incentives, expertise, and resources to active commuters of all kinds.

More ways to improve air quality and grow sustainable transportation options include:

Telecommuting. Working from home has quickly become the reality for many nonessential workers. Businesses and organizations that can, should continue offering telecommuting as a viable option for their employees.

Safe and emission-free transit. Riding the bus is a safe option for those who need it for essential travel. All riders are required to wear a mask, buses are sanitized frequently, and routes 1 and 2 are operating on 15 minute frequencies for a more spacious ride. With 6 electric buses and a plan to electrify the entire fleet, Mountain Line is also working towards zero tailpipe emissions.

More room for people and bikes. More and improved cycle lanes and shared use paths offer space to maintain a safe physical distance. Narrower lane widths, lower speed limits, and traffic circles can increase safety by reducing volume and speed of vehicles. Transit-oriented development and smart growth policies emphasize accessibility.

Charging infrastructure for electric vehicles. Many people will still need to drive, and electric vehicles are becoming more widely available. Developing a more comprehensive network of public charging infrastructure is key to expanding EV adoption.

Better funding. Vote for representatives that value public health and improved air quality and ask our elected officials to allocate the necessary budget funds. Check out our website for updated advocacy opportunities. The next COVID relief bill includes $15 billion in emergency support for public transit, but agencies need more – . join Transportation For America in asking Congress to increase that funding to $32 billion.

Join in and speak up! Participate in Bike Month activities through May, and take the Missoula Connect survey to share your values and ideas for the future of transportation in Missoula.

Reducing transportation’s contribution to our climate crisis is a strong component of our work at Climate Smart and we’d love your involvement. Let’s build on the momentum in our community to make room for people, bikes, and buses on our streets, to ensure cleaner air and a safer climate long after COVID-19.

Alli Kane is the Energy Corps AmeriCorps member serving with Climate Smart Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

As COVID-19 has postponed or cancelled many community events, many have moved on-line or found creative outlets. Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community and a handful of compelling readings. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for Home ReSource’s eNews via their homepage here.

Did you know Home ReSource is open? Details here.

May is Bicycle Month. And this pandemic won’t pause that – choose sustainable transportation!

  • May 1-15. Missoula in Motion + ZACC are sponsoring Bike month art neighborhood challenge – sidewalk chalk. More here including recipes to make chalk paint!
  • Join in with rides from Women Bike Missoula
  • More virtual events at Missoula in Motion
  • Free Cycles is back and working to help without opening their shop – but you can request a bike, request bike parts and shop online.

May is the start of farmer’s market season! The opening of the physical markets is delayed until May 23rd and the markets will look different this year to protect public health, but both the Missoula Farmer’s Market (at the XXXXs) and the Clark Fork Market will have online ordering for pickup at the market available throughout the season. Check their websites for more details. CFAC also has a great list of local food resources for consumers.

Missoulaevents.net has many virtual activities listed – they’re stepping up to help us all stay engaged.

What we’re reading this week:

Forget the TP: Here’s what you really need to get through a disaster The power of building relationships with your neighbors in tough times.

Check out the powerful visuals in this Pulitzer prize-winning climate series from the Washington Post.

The choice between individual and collective action on the climate crisis has always been a false dichotomy – we need both, and the coronavirus crisis shows us why: Collective or individual action? What the coronavirus shows us.