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Missoula Streets and Trails

Missoula Bike Lanes: Looking at the System

Missoula's first bike lane was striped in the fall of 1997.   Since then, nearly 75% of Missoula's arterial streets have been restriped with bike lanes.  Some lanes work well for safety and comfort while other lanes need improvements:


Skinny Bike Lane Restriped at MIST Request

Rattlesnake Dr., in front of Rattlesnake Gardens

The bike lane was originally striped too narrow and then fixed a few days later. The new line to the left makes for a better bike lane. The old lane was 30” wide, forcing cyclists too close to the gutter pan seam. MIST, the city engineer and the City Council worked together to make the improvements.


Wrongly Striped Bike Lane With Sign Pole

The now wider bike lane removes a hazard- the sign pole was in the handlebar zone.


Six Foot Bike Lane With Ten Foot Travel Lane

Van Buren Dr., a half mile north of Van Buren/ Broadway intersection

This picture shows a good cross section for facilitating motor vehicle and bicycle movement. The motor vehicle lane is 10’ wide- near the minimum to accommodate larger vehicles, like buses.  The legal width limit for motor vehicles is 8’6”, the width of many large buses and some trucks.

The bike lane is 5.5’ wide, just under the minimum preferable width of 6' for most of Missoula’s bike lanes.  A good future cross section for all of Missoula’s arterials might be: 10’ motor vehicle lane width and 6’ bike lane width (a 'ten six' split).  If room allows, an eleven six split would be better, while an eleven seven split would be close to ideal.  Seven foot bike lanes allow two cyclists to ride side by side fairly comfortably. Note: This section of road has since been redone with curbs, complete sidewalks and other features. We are now looking at the possibility of removing parking on one or both sides and changing the bike lanes into cycle tracks.


Bike Lane with Low Tree Branches
This low hanging tree on Rattlesnake Dr. can be trimmed to increase safety and flow.  8’ of height clearance is usually sufficient.

Great Bike Lane Heading into Rattlesnake Valley

North on Van Buren near I-90

Heading north on Van Buren, from Broadway, there is a good bike lane.



Bike Lane Disappears on Van Buren Drive

North on Van Buren near I-90

The bike lane disappears at the railway underpass. To fix this hazard, several options exist:

-the motor vehicle lanes could be narrowed from 12’ to 10’. This would allow room for a 4’ bike lane.
-and/or the white line should be dashed to let cyclists and motorists know that there may be some merging.
-install a single lane roundabout at Van Buren/ Broadway, which would allow one motor vehicle lane to handle traffic, thus allowing a good bike lane and possible sidewalk widening.
-even without a roundabout, a motor vehicle lane could be replaced with a wide bike lane (this would mean that there would be just one left turn lane off of Broadway instead of two left turn lanes).

update:  two roundabouts have been built at this location in 2018.  We believe this is a step towards sustainable transportation, yet several concerns with speed and merging have surfaced.



No Bike Lane on Orange Ave.

Orange Street, looking south near 3rd, in early 2000's

Bike lanes exist on the Orange St. bridge to the north and on Stephens Ave. to the south. 

2009: Travel lanes narrowed to 10' and the center turn lane to 11', thus creating a 3'6" shoulder space for bikes. 

2012- Epoxy paint used for lane striping, keeping the 4' (and under) shoulder in place.  This did not result in safe biking facilities.

2017- The road was resurfaced, and the 3'6" shoulder was removed, in favor of Sharrows in the outside lanes.  Community feedback and observations strongly suggest that this configuration is not safe for people riding bikes.  More and more, MIST is working on a 3-lane roadway design- one lane in each direction for cars, a center turn lane, plus a buffered bike lane or cycle track on each side.



Bulb Out in Bike Lane on Stephens Ave.

Stephens Ave. looking south near Beckwith

Shown here is an example of bike lanes wrongly striped, then corrected.

Also shown is an incorrectly placed bulb out- the bulb out should not extend into the bike lane as it does here at the corner of Stephens and Beckwith. The back wheel of at least one bike trailer has caught the curb edge and flipped. We advocate trimming back this bulbout.



Bike Lane Too Skinny On SW Higgins

Higgins Ave., just north of the curve where Pattee Canyon enters

In 2009, this bike lane was made one foot wider than shown in this older photo.  The 2011 epoxy project added even more width. This bike lane is in front of the University’s Lewis and Clark student housing and is an important bike route for all ages, complementing the new trail behind the housing complex.

The motor vehicle lane in the picture is 11’ 2”-unnecessarily wide- and encourages speeding. The center turn lane used to be too wide also, which increases speed and maintenance costs. The bike lane in the picture is 22” wide- not counting the concrete gutter pan. The seam between gutter pans and asphalt tends to crack and widen over time and should not be counted toward bike lane widths when measuring in general.  Careful paving over the gutter pan can increase the effective bike lane width somewhat.


Bike Lane Repainted Out From Door Zone- Almost

Higgins Ave. looking south near Central

The old bike lane stripes put cyclists in the ‘door zone’ of parked vehicles.  To solve the ‘dooring’ hazard, bike lanes can be striped 3’ out from the parking lane, or should have a minimum of 14'6" when you combine the width of the parking lane and the bike lane.  These numbers come from extensive research we have done by cross correlating bike lane widths, parking lane widths and dooring reports.

In the above picture, moving the bike lane another 6" away from the parked truck would create a safer flow for bicycles and motor vehicles.



Bike Lane With Drainage Grate

South Ave., just east of South and Higgins intersection

This bike lane has since been widened. An indicator that the lane is too narrow is that the bike lane stencil cannot fit in the designated area and overlaps onto the concrete gutter pan.

The sunken drainage grate and broken pavement are in need of repair.



Good Six Foot  Bike Lane on Arthur Ave.

Arthur Ave. looking north near Sussex

This picture shows the chip seal tags where the old bike lane line used to be. MIST requested and the Public Works department accepted the proposal to add a foot to the bike lane when the road was restriped in 2005. This partnership lead to the eventual narrowing of several Missoula arterials to enhance motor vehicle and bicycle safety and flow.

Chip sealing and other routine maintenance endeavors provide opportunities to improve Missoula’s biking system. Small changes to the widths of lanes on the street can strongly improve the comfort and safety of both cyclists and motorists.  Missoula, like over 200 communities, has adopted a 'Complete Streets' ordinance that now calls for evaluating roadways for walker and cyclist improvements any time a resurfacing of the road happens.

The new bike lane pictured here is 6’ in width. There is still room to further narrow the motor vehicle lane. The extra room could go towards sidewalk widening or towards more green space.  This stems from many Missoula roads- almost all in the University district- being 40' wide total.

We are working on a matrix that lists our suggested lane widths for different size roads, based on parking or no parking, level of active transportation use, and land use type.  We will post when completed.

2017 update: The Arthur Ave. bike lane has gained a bit more width, and a second buffer stripe has been added.  "Inch by inch, the work is a cinch!"
While this phrase highlights some of the MIST work over the last twenty years, we now suggest that communities institute 10' wide travel lanes and then allocate the remaining width to walking and cycling.  


2010 pre construction season project analysis for bike lane status-
Several Missoula Bike Lanes to Get Epoxy, Yet Safety Concerns Exist *

Bike lanes benefit all road users

Higgins Avenue

Higgins Avenue has some great elements and some not so great elements....  

The section from Broadway to Railroad was completed in the fall of 2010.  This project converted the 4 lanes to 3 lanes, and added cycle tracks onto the street where no specific bike facilities existed before.  The pedestrian crossings have been greatly improved primarily by shortening the crossing distance from 60' to 33' and lowering speeds with 11' travel lanes and tighter turning radii.

The section from Broadway south to the bridge was restriped in 2009 to include bike lanes after a repaving project.  The four travel lanes were narrowed from 12' to 10' and the parking lane from 9' to 8', allowing 5' bike lanes to be inserted on both sides of the road.  This section is an improvement in our opinion yet would benefit from being converted to a 3-lane similar to N. Higgins.  A community discussion is needed regarding bike lanes or the separated cycle tracks for people riding bikes.  The current bike lanes are a 'dooring' hazard so something needs to be changed.

For the bridge we fully support the option from the Downtown Master Plan that would convert the Higgins Ave. Bridge from a 4-lane bridge with 5' bike lanes and 4' sidewalks to a 2-lane bridge with 7' bike lanes and 9' sidewalks.  It might look something like this:



Rendering of a 4-lane Higgins Ave. Bridge Converted to a 2-Lane Bridge with Widened Bike Lanes and Sidewalks

 Above; Rendering from the Downtown Master Plan.

For the Hip Strip section (bridge to Brooks) we support a 4 to 3-lane conversion.  This section has 'sharrows' bike symbols in the middle of the right hand lane, in an effort to better promote sharing the road.

Overall, we fully support the conversion of Higgins Avenue from a 4-lane to a 3-lane from Railroad St. to Brooks Ave.  This would allow good bike lanes or cycle tracks to be integrated into the street, pedestrian crossing to be shortened and made safer with less lanes to cross, improved design features for transit and an improved motor vehicle circulation pattern.

pdf of a presentation we gave to City Council on changing the Higgins Bridge


Broadway Street- between Toole Ave. and Orange Ave.- was converted from a 4-lane roadway to a 3-lane roadway in the fall of 2005.  The City of Missoula initiated this project in response to five pedestrians being killed by motor vehicles over a seven year period.  The change has resulted in a much safer roadway- injury crashes have dropped significantly, and pedestrians, drivers and cyclists on the most part report that the road feels safer.

We have requested a modeling of extending the 3-lane from Orange St. thru downtown to Madison.  This was the extent of the original project and is still viable and needed as much as ever, as the 4-lane section now has one of the highest crash rates in the City.  Single lane roundabouts could replace some signals, promoting better flow and increasing safety along this major Missoula route.


Broadway three lane roadway with bike lanes

This is a 3-lane section of Broadway- one lane of travel for motor vehicles in each direction, with a center turn lane.  A benefit of converting a road from four lanes to three lanes is the ability to add in bike lanes.  Pedestrians benefit also, by having to only cross one lane at a time.  Traffic flows more freely.  The transitions from four lanes to three on each end of the converted roadway have caused some confusion: this is a strong reason to extend the 3-lane through downtown.


Broadway four lane roadway near Childrens' Theater

Here is a 4-lane section of Broadway that still exists near the Courthouse downtown.  At a similar 4-lane section near the Missoula Children's Theater, a pedestrian was hit by a car and killed in November of 2005.  Extending the Broadway 3-lane the entire length of Broadway would improve safety for all modes of transportation while enhancing traffic flow.


Burton pedestrian crossing at 3-lane Broadway

This is the Burton pedestrian and bicycle crossing.  A pedestrian or cyclist only crosses one lane at a time, which is safer than crossing four lanes at once.  This section was converted from 4 lanes to 3 lanes in November, 2005.


What are the advantages of a 3-lane compared to a 4-lane?  Read this letter from Missoula's Public Works Director


Here are some pictures of Broadway as the old 4-lane, before conversion to a 3-lane:


Old 4-lane- Dangerous Especially for Pedestrians

The most critical safety issue of an undivided 4-lane urban arterial:  a pedestrian has to find a gap across four lanes of traffic at once.  The biggest risk is that a motor vehicle in one of the lanes does not see a pedestrian- who is often obscured by vehicles in the other lanes. Conversion to a 3-lane allows for a center island with landscaping to be integrated into the roadway.  A pedestrian only has to negotiate one lane at a time.


The old 4-Lane Broadway Before Conversion to a 3-Lane

The old 4-lane- looking west near McCormick Street.  The inner lane would often clog with left turners blocking the straight thru.  A lack of bike lanes often causes motor vehicles to pass too closely.  The largest safety danger is a pedestrian crossing the 4 lanes all at once.



More Broadway Pictures and Diagrams

Billings, Montana 4 to 3 Conversion data

More Information on 4 to 3 Lane Conversions

Van Buren, Orange, I-90

Current plans call for two roundabouts at the I-90 ramps junction with Van Buren Street.  This will be constructed in summer of 2018.  MIST has several safety concerns with the proposed design.  Most notably are the angles of entries and exists that seem to allow higher speed than can be deemed safe; also, the northbound Van Buren to eastbound I-90 outer lane that diverges to the higher speed Interstate is sure to be a safety challenge to people on bikes.  Please get in touch with us if you would like to help develop solutions for making this a better project. 


The State of Montana initiated a project to do three things:

improve the intersection of Van Buren Dr and I-90
improve the intersection of Orange Ave. and I-90
improve I-90 through the Missoula Valley

Initial meetings showed the Department of Transportation favoring new traffic signals at the off-ramp intersections, and expanding I-90 from four lanes to six lanes through the Missoula Valley.  In addition, part of the project aims to reduce the sound impacts from the Interstate.

The following comments were submitted by MIST when this project was open for public comment in the summer of 2006:


We have several concerns regarding the Montana Department of Transportation statement:

(Originally located at:

"Phase 1 study, concluded in 2004, identified deficiencies related to interchange configuration, traffic operations, and traffic noise at these interchanges. Currently, project development is under way that will consider possible mitigation measures such as ramp acceleration enhancements, an auxiliary lane on I-90, traffic signals at the ramp terminals and noise abatement measures. Upon final determination, project improvements will be designed and constructed."

Specific comments and concerns from MIST:

1- We have strong concerns with an 'auxiliary lane on I-90'. Previous DOT comments have indicated a preference for making I-90 six lanes through town. This would be too many lanes and would likely induce more traffic and increase air and noise pollution in the Missoula Valley.

2- ‘Intersection improvement' should be a goal of the study, not jumping to a traffic signal conclusion. A modern, single lane roundabout may be the solution instead of more signals. Modern single lane roundabouts make for great gateways into historic, residential areas. Moreover, a single lane roundabout would allow a lane reduction from 2 to 1 on Van Buren (Broadway to Vine) which would then allow a bike lane and widened sidewalk on that stretch of road. Currently the bike lane ends at the I-90 underpass and picks back up at Vine. Completing this bike lane is essential for better bicycling movement in that area.

3- A completed, safe and accessible bike and walk system should be an outcome of the project, regardless of intersection control devices chosen.

4- We support the project goal of creating 'noise abatement measures.'

5- If a signal is chosen, then utilize a bicycle signal head that it is triggered by motion or an in-ground loop. Also, a pedestrian count down should be installed. Give priority phasing to non-motorized transportation.

6- Look at the bigger picture: every development happening east and west of Missoula affects Missoula directly. This proposed traffic signal at Van Buren/ I-90, for instance, is directly related to the subdivisions at Rock Creek, in Granite County (500 homes proposed 30 miles east of Missoula), in Milltown, and so on. In short, we are all connected and good land use planning (place-based and not sprawl) and good transportation infrastructure (options-based and not automobile dominated) will ensure a more sustainable future for Missoula and Montana. Please look at incorporating the spirit of these ‘bigger picture' comments into this specific study.

7- More outreach to the public is needed, and more encouragement for the public to summit comments, either on-line or in writing is needed.

(People may submit written comments to the Montana Department of Transportation Missoula office at PO Box 7039, Missoula MT 59807-7039, or online at www.mdt.mt.gov/mdt/comment_form.shtml, noting comments are for project CN 4855.)

Thank you for considering these comments.

Bob Giordano, Director, Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation,
Full-time resident of the Rattlesnake Valley




Unsafe Double Lane Roundabout Proposal

This is one version of a roundabout proposal for Van Buren and I-90.  Pictured are double lane roundabouts.  Double lane roundabouts are not nearly as safe as single lane roundabouts, especially for pedestrians and people on bikes.  Single lane roundabouts would promote traffic safety and efficiency while saving space.  MIST greatly supports single lane roundabouts.

The design was changed to mostly single lane roundabouts in 2014, and construction is slated for 2018.



Single Lane Roundabout Proposal for Orange and I-90

We mostly support this single lane roundabout that was built at the Orange Ave. and I-90 off-ramp intersection... some of the motor vehicle speeds are too high as the roundabout geometry allows for that.  We plan to help retrofit this roundabout in the future to lower speeds and increase safety and accessibility for walking and biking.  There is a trail head on the north side of I-90 near this location.

Here's a close-up

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