Longer days with more sunshine have me reflecting on my years spent in Denmark where the sun would stay up well past 11pm this time of year and never fully set. Riding my bike down to the harbor in the evening for a swim, I was flanked by hundreds of Copenhageners using the city’s extensive protected bikeway to commute home after work, pick up their kids in a cargo bike or head down to the harbor to take a dip for themselves. Even as an avid bike commuter, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I quickly felt like a part of the community and fell in love with the biking culture there. Any time of year the bike lanes are filled with people riding the green wave – a system of cycle traffic lights that are coordinated in such a way that if you ride ~12mph you’ll catch green lights all the way during rush hour.
Copenhagen wasn’t always a cyclist’s haven and it didn’t happen overnight. A switch from being car-centric to emphasizing bikes and public transit was jump started in the 1970’s by a combination of the oil crisis and a growing environmental awareness. In an effort to relieve the stress on oil supplies, the City instituted Car Free Sundays and the Cyclist’s Federation held huge demonstrations demanding a car-free city. Planners and government agencies saw the value in transforming the city’s infrastructure and began changing policies and taking space once used for cars to build pedestrian only streets and wide, protected cycle lanes to improve safety. From 1982 – 2001 every budget had funds allocated to cycle path construction and improving existing infrastructure. Today, they have bicycle superhighways that connect 28 municipalities in the Capital Region complete with bridges dedicated solely to bike traffic, an integrated traffic light system, and ample bike parking. Bike traffic has risen by 68% in the last 20 years, over 60% of the population commutes to work and school by bike, and bikes outnumber cars.
Now I’m a Missoulian and biking is my favorite way to experience this town. I wonder what it would be like if there were less cars and more people on bikes with me and how to make that dream a reality.
Like Copenhagen, Missoula is making incremental changes to improve our infrastructure and foster a culture of active and sustainable commuting. Every 4 years the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) establishes regional goals, projects, and investment strategies through a Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) update. This year they’re developing Missoula Connect 2050: Missoula LRTP based on goals established in 2016, the existing conditions of our transportation system and our feedback as community members.
I’ve found Missoula Connect to be an incredibly useful tool for familiarizing myself with the sustainable transportation network in Missoula, envisioning the future, and guiding our growth as a community towards safer, more active, and more equitable transportation options.
Right now, the MPO is entering phase 2 of Missoula Connect. If you took the values survey, your feedback was used by MPO planners to develop preliminary goals and desired outcomes for the future of our transportation infrastructure:
(1) Improve safety and promote health to enhance quality of life, (2) advance sustainability and climate resilience to protect natural and historic resources (3) expand mobility choices to improve efficiency and accessibility, (4) connect and strengthen communities to create a more equitable region, (5) maintain assets and invest strategically to boost economic vitality.
Via a citizen advisory committee, we discussed these goals at length, working with other community organizations to ensure they reflect our call for an equitable and resilient community with improved access to sustainable transportation options. Now it’s time to make sure you feel the same. Then we’ll figure out the best ways to meet them. Can you take this short values survey to make sure your voice is heard?
Another way to get involved and a major part of phase 2 is identifying specific projects like improving walkability in a neighborhood by adding a sidewalk or safer crossing, creating a bike lane, adding a bus stop to a route, expanding bus service hours, performing road maintenance, etc. You can participate using the interactive map or online form to submit project ideas by June 30th. Our page on transportation and smart growth has more information on the relationship between transportation and climate change and how we can act, advocate, and assist for a healthier and more resilient future.