Missoula Gets Some Streetscape Love

By RYAN NEWHOUSE

On October 15, 2010 a ribbon was cut to celebrate the completion of the North Higgins Streetscape project. From Broadway north to Circle Square, the city’s street is now more friendly to…well, everyone.

For drivers, there is a dedicated turning lane and a through-lane, and the newly-installed, solar-powered parking meters take coins and credit cards. How’s that forconvenience?

Pedestrians get an extra slice of safe haven on what’s being called “corner plazas,” which are like bulbouts but bigger. The larger concrete standing area makes it easier for pedestrians to be seen by drivers, especially ones who may be turning, and now the street corners won’t be as congested on heavy foot-traffic days (Saturday Market, First Friday, etc.).

Cyclists, however, may notice the biggest change. Raised bike lanes now separate them from traffic, parked cars and the sidewalk. Essentially having their own little highway, cyclists can now navigate through several blocks of Downtown Missoula with greater ease. At each intersection, a green-colored bike lane rejoins the cyclist to the street, where cyclists can move through the traffic light like a vehicle before jumping back on their “cyclotrack.” Cyclists, of course, can still ride with traffic on the streets, even with the presence of the new lanes. In Montana, bicycles are considered vehicles and share the same rules and responsibilities as drivers.

Several other notable improvements in this multi-block district include more pedestrian-friendly street lights, new trees and landscaping, wheelchair ramps, better storm drainage, a new water main and an improved street surface.

The North Higgins Streetscape project is part of the Missoula Greater Downtown Master Plan, a 20-year vision for the heart of the community, and was largely funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ($1.2 million). Other funding sources include $200,000 from the Montana Legislature’s House Bill 645 and $50,000 from the Montana Department of Transportation.

Although this new section of North Higgins was completed in September and served as a focal point of Sunday Streets Missoula, the streetscape is now officially open for foot, bike and vehicle traffic. Head downtown and check it out for yourself!

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Ryan Newhouse has pedaled through thousands of miles of Missoula’s streets and trails as a commuter, long-distance cyclist, recreationist, and former city bicycling ambassador. Although he now works from home, he still uses two feet or two wheels to push or pull himself and his daughter around town. More of Ryan’s writing can be read at http://www.ryannewhouse.com.