Pros and Cons of the Higgins Avenue Project in Missoula
Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - KGVO News spoke to Scott Billadeau, co-owner of Liquid Planet in downtown Missoula on Tuesday about his strong opposition to the City of Missoula’s ‘Road Diet’ proposal for Higgins Avenue.
After attending a recent city council meeting, Billadeau put together a ‘synopsis of opposition against the Missoula downtown road diet.
Billadeau said he first heard about the plan about a month ago.
“About 30 days ago, I just finally heard about it, and I consider myself a fairly engaged citizen and business owner,” began Billadeau. “So it's rather shocking to hear that this was planned all this time, and that I didn't know about it. So, I reached out to a bunch of fellow business owners around a couple of blocks where I'm at downtown, and they didn't know about it either.”
Downtown Business Owner Opposed to 'Road Diet' Plan
One of the selling points of the downtown road diet was ostensibly for public safety, however, Billadeau believes there is an additional motive by the city.
“I really don't think this is about safety,” he said. “I think it sounds good. And so they are basically packaging it that way so that most people would think, ‘Oh, that's a good idea, and I think safer’. But that's not really what this is about. This is about more biking, more walking, more busing, and literally trying to force Missoula to not be able to drive downtown.”
Billadeau referenced a recent study that proclaimed Missoula to already be walking and bicycle friendly.
He said a Study Found that Missoula is Already a Success Story
“One of the frustrating parts about this whole thing is that that bridge (The Beartracks Bridge) was designed and built to substantially expand the walkways and the bikeways across the bridge into downtown. And so when they first looked at this project, they had a consulting group come in, and they literally said pretty much word for word that downtown is already a success story as a multimodal corridor, that we already have a lot of biking and walking and busing taking place.”
Billadeau said he has been communicating with fellow business owners in downtown Missoula and plans to speak at Wednesday’s Missoula City Council Public Works meeting.
“I've already been communicating to a number of people about this,” he said. “I spoke at the City Council last week. I will be speaking to them again tomorrow (Wednesday) and I will absolutely make our voices heard. The number of people in Missoula County is now well over 100,000 people, and I think if they did a legitimate survey or a poll of how all of Missoula felt about this, they would find that there's a fair bit of opposition, if not a whole lot of opposition.”
KGVO News also reached out to Ward 3 Missoula City Councilor Gwen Jones who expressed her total support for the plan, which she did not refer to as a 'road diet', but a planned reconfiguration.
Ward 3 City Counselor Gwen Jones Explains her Support for the Plan
“This is a plan that has been in our long-term transportation planning documents for over 10 years,” began Jones. “In the 2009 Master Plan for downtown, it was referenced that the Higgins corridor needed some serious attention. And then I think it was in 2017 when we did the updated master plan for downtown and this time it was more specific, calling for a three-lane figuration instead of a four-lane configuration. So it's been in the works for a long time.”
Jones reiterated the reason for the reconfiguration was a matter of public safety for both pedestrians and bicycles.
City Councilor says the Reconfiguration from Four to Three Lanes Enhances Safety
“The city decided to really go forward with a traffic study to truly analyze this and see how we can make the Higgins corridor better because I’ll tell you, I've got people who will not ride their bikes on the Hip Strip,” she said. “I refuse to my ride my bike because they are very narrow lanes, and it's dangerous. Then when you get across the bridge to the other side, although there are bike lanes but they don't feel very safe until you cross Broadway and really get to the protected bike lanes.”
Jones repeated her contention that the planned reconfiguration has been extensively studied and approved.
“It's not really a ‘road diet’,” she said. “This is a comprehensive traffic engineering study with expert traffic engineers who really analyzed it and figured out how we can get the most traffic through most efficiently, but also accommodate safe spaces for pedestrians and bicyclists. So this concept of going to three lanes actually improves the traffic flow going both ways quite a bit because now we can have left-hand turn lanes in these areas and people are not getting backed up behind them.”
Jones also said her constituents in Ward 3 who are business owners are looking forward to enhanced business due to the plan.
“But, boy I tell you, the more I think it would make downtown all the more thriving and robust to have more foot traffic, more bikes, and more people down there pulling their wallets out,” she said.
The Missoula City Council’s Public Works meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 1 at 1:00 p.m. at the Missoula City Council Chambers. Click here for details.