Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Carnage Saddens Missoula Community

Four girls where struck by a drunk driver over the weekend in Missoula along highway 200 connecting Missoula with East Missoula. All four were local high school girls; two of the girls died at the scene while the other two suffered fairly major injuries and were taken to the hospital.

This incident has really shocked all of Missoula and I even found myself choking up over this incident. I'm sorry to admit that I have become desensitized to hearing stories about cyclists and pedestrians getting struck and killed by vehicles. It just seems to be one of those daily occurrences that I read about almost everyday as a bike/ped advocate.

But this really hit home and I can't really explain it. There have been three other pedestrians hit and killed in the Missoula area this year that I can remember and while I was angry, nothing hit home like this. One man was even struck and killed this Monday and that incident almost seems like an after thought judging by the amount of attention and comments being posted (135 vs 10). I even witnessed a man in a crosswalk be hit by a car (he ended up being ok) and I didn't seem to make much of it at the time other than to think "fucking stupid driver."

Is it the youth of the girls? Does my grief over these girls that I don't even know say something about me or the society we live in? Are we supposed to value their lives more because they are still perceived to be young and Innocent while the other three pedestrian deaths have been of more elderly people that have already lived their lives? Are those three separate deaths any less tragic and sad? Or is it simply the shock from comprehending 4, not 1, people getting hit by a truck?

All I know is, this incident has created a hole in the heart of our community and there seems to be an outpouring of grief and support to try and fill it. If you would like to donate, please see here for details.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Riding in a Winter Wonderland

The snow has finally accumulated sufficiently in Missoula to have made the last month of getting around town a little more difficult on a bicycle. Snow, ice, freezing fog, slush, gravel, and de-icer all combine to make the roads just that much more treacherous, not to mention the limited amount of day time light and the confined roadways from piled snow that force cars to basically take over the bicycle lane on certain streets.

I have given up riding the fixie for now and switched to the used mountain bike I purchased this summer. The wide, aggressively treaded tires work great on the snow, ice, and had pack that dominates most of the side streets in Missoula ( you must understand that Missoula, being a town with not much money to spend on snow removal, concentrates on the main roads with the most traffic that are critical to moving people around and so the side streets are left to be turned into hard-packed public ice hockey rinks).

The only problem comes when my tires hit a patch of semi-packed snow that has warmed above freezing. This stuff is not yet wet slush and still has the consistency of snow, but when the front tire hits a patch of it, the weight of the bike pushes the snow away from the tire and your then forced to quickly try and regain your balance before your front tire goes out from under you. In these conditions I talked to a lot of people or heard conversations that involved "my hip hurts" or "I ate it hard around a corner." Luckily I have yet to fall, though I have been forced to put my foot down more than a few times.

Predictably the miles I'm putting on my bicycle have plunged (I'll have an updated millage figure within a week) as I have switched to the bus in the most horrid of weather - below zero - and have cut out trips from just not wanting to deal with riding other than for essentials, such as commuting and to get to the grocery store. And of course I haven't been on a bike for the last week since Ashley and I made our way up to her parents for the holidays; I couldn't imagine a better time to be on a bike getting in some exercise than during this food heavy time of year.

However, with all the extra hazards that you face as a cyclist during the winter, there is nothing quite like riding through a few inches of freshly fallen snow. The soft crunch the snow makes under the bicycle tire and the muffled silence of the world newly peaceful really does create a different and wonderful world to be riding through.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

Photo by Feuillu via Flickr

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Eat Fluffy or Get Rid of the Family SUV?

A tough choice for any family, but according to a new study recently published the family dog looks to be contributing more to global warming than that favorite villain of environmentalists... the SUV. Read the full story here.

This really is disappointing news, if only this study had been published before I went on my carfree crusade I could have saved myself a lot of useless headache. Part of my reasoning for going carfree for a year was to reduce my ecological footprint, but it seems this new study gives me an easier alternative.

Rather than giving up my '83 Toyota Landcruiser that only gets 14 miles-to-the-gallon I could have been practicing a little population control on the neighborhood dogs, having a tasty meal, and saving the planet all at the same time. I could be out there stalking around my neighborhood at night dressed all in black luring neighbor's dogs out with the promise of steak, then capturing them for my planet saving plan... just garnish with some seasoning and a side of baked potatoes. I could still be driving around with a clean conscience and I could have had more of an impact than by giving up on driving... all the while hot having to screw around with riding a bike in subzero temperatures.

Now, I am only kidding as I never intentionally eat such a meal. But it is amazing to think that a pet could be twice as harmful to the environment as an SUV, mainly because of the food that we feed them. I think this study is great because pet ownership is something that most American enjoys and also an aspect of people's live that hasn't received such an analysis. The impact of our transportation and food systems are well known, continually being debated and revised. But pet ownership is something that completely fell under the scope of any analysis. I doubt this will seriously wake people up to the idea of getting rid of fluffy, but maybe it will inspire more debate and a new look at our collective ecological footprint.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Random Bicycle Crap Fridays

Usually I post things relating to the ridiculous on Fridays, but today I want to highlight something inspirational, something that could utterly transform the usefulness and practicality of bicycles, and a few things seen around Missoula. Enjoy.

First, the Revolution:

Second, the Inspirational: A group of High School students in Florida have started their own "bike Bus" to school with amazing results.

High School Bike Bus from Keri Caffrey on Vimeo.

Third, something seen at Target:

Fourth, seen in downtown Missoula, who needs a bus stop when you have:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Parking Wars in Downtown Missoula

Missoula's downtown faces many of the same problems that most downtowns in America face. One of those problems is dealing with parking. Our cities long term planning envisions big growth for our little city over the next 20 years, especially in our urban core (seen above) where a lot more people will not only come to shop and eat lunch, but also increasingly come to live. To deal with this growth and the subsequent need to accommodate more cars downtown, Missoula's Downtown Master Plan calls for the building of seven new publicly owned multi-story parking structures at the cost of tens of millions of dollars to tax payers and using up precious real estate for the storage of our communities vehicles.

Recently this issue came up in Missoula's city council and discussed further in a great local list serve updated by one of our council members to keep Missoula citizens informed. A possible update to Missoula's parking meter system erupted into the biggest debate I have yet to witness occur over the email list serve. Over 30 emails went back and forth detailing almost all points of view people have on parking downtown.

Friend and colleague Jordan Hess made some very succinct point about the absurdity of spending public money to subsidize parking downtown. Jordan had this too say:

There is no such thing as free parking. Ever. Even the parking at Walmart is highly
subsidized in the form of infrastructure improvements the the city has to foot the bill for (such
as the idea of adding a second left turn lane from Reserve to Mullan).

If parking in the urban core is free, than it will be taken up by people parking for a long period
of time, such as employees or area residents and it won't be available for customers of
downtown businesses or for folks stopping by government offices. There are many ways to
properly price downtown parking to make it hassle-free and affordable. If parking were free, I
believe it would actually be a strain on downtown businesses because less would be available
to their customers. It would certainly be a strain on city budgets.

Building new parking structures is far more expensive than providing premier transit. At
$50,000+ per space
(I've seen figures more in line with $15,000 - $30,000 per space),
parking structures are an extremely expensive way to get people downtown. It is absurd to
imply that Missoula can't have a good transit system because we are not a large city full of
wealthy people. There are solutions for our size of community.

I'm going to use the University (of Montana) as an example, because I am more familiar with
it than with downtown in terms of parking and transportation, but the two function similarly in
these regards. On campus, ASUM spends about $0.65 per ride provided on the Park and Ride.
While this may seem like a lot, in order to provide parking for the same amount of money, a
parking space would have to turn over more than 5 times a day, 365 days a year for 40 years
(a rather generous lifespan for a parking garage). This doesn't take into account the cost of
maintaining the garage (about $1,000 per space per year).

Consider this: paying for one person to NOT use a parking space is the exact same thing as
building one new parking space. If by providing better bus service, I opt not to use an
on-campus parking space, it is functionally identical to the university building one additional
parking space, but the difference is that it cost the university a fraction of the cost.

We need to use this model downtown. Do not build any additional parking. Instead, spend this
money on increasing transit into downtown. This WILL free up parking used by people who
find the current level of transit service to be inconvenient. This newly available parking can be
used by folks who cannot or simply choose not to ride transit.

I couldn't agree more. Providing alternatives to driving and parking is a much more cost effective way to use a communities limited resources. Missoula's zoning regulations allow for business to replace one parking spot with 8 bike parking spots. Even if you figure that surface parking costs between $5,000 - $10,000 per spot then exchanging one parking space for 8 is a great value. Not only does a developer save money, but the city saves from reduced impacts on city streets from encouraging people to ride bicycles, and everyone wins when congestion is reduced. Eight bicycle parking spots would probably cost between $500 - $800 while an equivalent number of surface parking spots for vehicles would cost at least $40,000. Big difference.

Planners and urban design theorists are starting to come around to the idea that "if you build it, they will come." One commenter on the list serve said
so long as personal vehicles remain the preferred and affordable means for people to go to and from Downtown, it is necessary to accommodate vehicles. This is the standard argument used for everything from road expansion to our current federal transportation spending.

If you build a large 6 lane expressway, it will encourage people to drive and if you design cities to sprawl and build large box stores with large parking lots then people will largely be forced to drive. Building more roads will not reduce traffic and building more parking spaces will not reduce parking problems, but in fact induce people to drive and use those extra spaces. This situation is called the Jevons Paradox in which gains in efficiency actually encourages more consumption. Homes built today are more energy efficient than those built 40 years ago, but they are also so much bigger to the point that the average house uses more energy than 40 years ago.

This works just as well in reverse. If you reduce road capacities, congestion is actually reduced as people find better and easier ways to get around that doesn't require driving. At the same time, if bicycle infrastructure is invested in and mass transit increased this will induce demand for these services as it becomes more convenient. Not only does a community spend less money to accommodate locally focused transportation but it frees up real estate when fewer roads need to be expanded and fewer parking structures built. This extra real estate can be invested in, creating wealth and jobs in the local community rather than creating a larger tax bill for city residents.

Fewer roads and parking spaces and more transit, bicycle infrastructure, and buildable real estate = lower tax payer costs, more wealth, more investment, more jobs, and a more vibrant, resilient, and livable community.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Solutions to Climate Change must focus more on behavior and less on technology

Much of the focus this week in the media has been centered around the summit in Copenhagen focusing on climate change and the pledges of governments to cut emissions. But the media misses half of the solution in many cases; only focusing narrowly on technologies that can combat global warming and largely ignoring how people's behaviors are the true culprits of green house gas emissions. While a hybrid vehicle might be better than a regular SUV, a bike is even better and a person changing their behavior from driving to biking will do more for the environment than simply changing the tool that people use to express their everyday behavior.

An article in the Mother Nature Network by Ken Edelstein got me thinking about this subject. Even so called "Green" media outlets such as Treehugger and EcoGeek, when covering a topic such as transportation, usually discuss the latest hybrid or electric vehicle rather than the much more green option of not driving at all. Four out of seven of today's top articles in the transportation section of Treehugger are about cars. As Ken points out in his MNN article, stories about the latest in vehicular technologies provide a Wow factor that connects with American's love affair with the car

But I think it goes deeper than that and our current economic downturn can provide a little bit of insight. With the economic downturn everyone is suffering, not least of all the media industry and people don't like change. There is a big emphasis on the need for recovery and for things to get "back to normal." By normal I mean more cars sold, more vehicle miles traveled, more consumption, and a bigger than last year holiday sales season. Media outlets especially want this so that their advertising revenue can return to normal. I'm not claiming this is some conspiracy, it is just that people and media outlets perceive "back to normal" as being in their interest.

Thats why we have a government that wants us to go out and spend and a stimulus package that is designed to inject money back into the system. In Obama's opinion it is better to saddle us with debt so that we can spend now than it is to be frugal and let creative destruction take affect and reorganize our economic system. Its the same policy Bush put in place after the Dotcom bubble and 9/11; lower taxes, borrow more, and take out your credit cards and go to the mall.

Rather than learn lessons from my grandparents generation that had frugality and self reliance forced on them by the Great Depression, we are trying to spend our way out of the mess we created when we borrowed and spent too much in the first place. We are attempting to prop up an outdated economic system, one based on perpetual growth, consumption of ever more resources, and unlimited sprawl.

As Ken points out:

Even though repair backlogs can stretch years or decades into the future, nearly one-third of (stimulus)
money, $6.6 billion, went towards roadway new capacity projects. At a time when public
transportation ridership is hitting all-time highs and the budget crunch is causing transit agencies to cut
routes, service and jobs, an abysmal 0.9% was spent on public transportation. Only 2.8% percent was spent
on non-motorized projects (i.e., bike and pedestrian projects).

And that brings me back to our behavior. We can thrive on producing and consuming less because by doing so there is the potential to unleash previously locked up resources to create whole new business models, local economies, and industries. Economists for the longest time worried about the loss of union jobs in manufacturing because the jobs that replaced those lost usually payed less. William Travis in his book, New Geographies of the American West, cites two University of Montana economists, Thomas Powers and Richard Barret, who found that supporting such "old economy" industries such as manufacturing and resources extraction actually held back the Montana economy from developing faster and better allocating scarce resources of capital and labor. While manufacturing and union jobs have constantly declined since the '70s America is rich not poorer because of it.

Part of the problem is obviously design, as our cities, road networks, and economic connections are all designed to work toward moving vehicles, goods, and money through the system as fast as possible. Thats why the financial collapse happened. All of a sudden when a banks payment of a loan was held up by a second bank's inability to pay the first bank, the whole system came crashing down in a matter of days. Its the same with our cities, if we only connect communities with roads designed for cars, there will be no opportunity for a community to connect through walking and biking and that community will miss out on an opportunity to organize itself and social and economic activities around such activities

By changing behavior, i.e. consuming less, driving less, working less, we don't have to sacrifice our quality of life and can actually improve it while at the same time lessening our impact on the environment. Change can be a scary thing for many people because of the uncertainty that it fosters. But if people are serious about combating climate change and at the same time developing more resilient economies that offer opportunities for the future we have to focus on behavior and not just the technology.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Damn Cold

Winter finally seems to be here. After an extended summer where I got used to riding my bike in 60 degree weather in the middle of Oct./Nov. things have dramatically changed in the last two weeks. For a good article on winter riding, visit this link written by a fellow BWAM member.

Temperatures have been as low as -15 in the last couple of days and that means a change in behavior on my part. Luckily for me there is a bus stop within a block of our place. Of course the bus takes a little longer, about another ten minutes, and requires a transfer in downtown Missoula, but its worth it for the nice, relaxing, and warm commute. I don't have to be all sweaty when I show up to classes and spend an hour coughing and sniffling from the ride in the cold temps.

I was going strong even last week when temperatures in the morning were in the single digits. But my three mile commute makes the cold even more pronounced on my extremities. Even with heavy gloves and boots, my fingers and toes were feeling the brunt of the cold temperatures. The tip of my left index finger even has a spot of frostbite thanks to the 20 mile an hour winds Missoula experienced much of last week.

As soon as temps start to get back to a more normal winter level, I plan on hoping back on my bike and can't wait to try out my mountain bike in the snow... that is if Missoula ever gets any snow this year. I still see plenty of people out there on their bikes, although many of them don't seem to be very smart... wtf is with riding your bike in sub-zero temps without even a hat or gloves? Until then I'm happy to take a warm seat on Missoula's great bus service.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Catching Up

I hope that everyone had a great holiday week, I know I found the break enjoyable and much needed. Figure I'll take the opportunity to perform a little blog cleaning, and by this I mean this post to catch me up on the car-free stats that I haven't posted on for more than a month.

Calculate your carbon emissions @ http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm

Week 30

Miles Biked: 57.27
Gallons Saved: 3.58
CO2 Not Emitted: 22.47 Ibs

Week 31

Miles Biked: 49.71
Gallons Saved: 3.11
CO2 Not Emitted: 19.51 Ibs

Week 32

Miles Biked: 71.65
Gallons Saved: 4.47
CO2 Not Emitted: 28.13 Ibs

Month 8

Miles Biked: 243.75
Gallons Saved: 15.23
CO2 Not Emitted: 95.67 Ibs

Week 33

Miles Biked: 30.58
Gallons Saved: 1.92
CO2 Not Emitted: 12.01 Ibs

Week 34

Miles Biked: 26.73
Gallons Saved: 1.67
CO2 Not Emitted: 10.49 Ibs

Thursday, November 19, 2009

David Orr on Post-Carbon Cities

Missoula was lucky enough yesterday to have David Orr in town. In between the meetings usual social events, there was enough time for him to give two lectures at the University of Montana.

For those of you who don't know of David Orr, he is a leading thinker and innovator environmental issues, green building, and ecological design. Within the last decade he gained national press for his effort and subsequent success in building a fully carbon-neutral building on the campus of Oberlin College which can be seen above. It integrates passive solar design by orienting the building to take advantage of the suns energy, a roof fully covered by solar panels, sustainable materials, food production in the form of a garden and orchard on the north side of the building, and environmental restoration on the wetlands immediately adjacent.

David Orr covered post-carbon cities in the lecture I attended. The scope of his talk was extensive, delving heavily into the philosophy behind green building/urban design. What resounded with me was his call to take a systems approach to issues. He blames academia for the tradition of reductionist thought that breaks issues/objects into components without concerning itself with how the whole works or interacts with the world. He used the example of optimizing the Hvac system of a building without also optimizing the insulation or materials used in the building.

By taking a systems or wholistic world view we can come to better understand the world and the interaction between our actions and the environment. This is true of economics - which as a student of economics I fully agree with - where one doesn't pay the full cost of any product. Externalises exist everywhere and with every purchase; a vehicle doesn't really cost only $20,000 if you include the pollution from its manufacture and operation, the cost of the roads it travels, and the cost of disposal, etc. If all these costs where taken into affect, our world would be a much different place. There would be no coal fired power plants if the coal industry had to directly pay for every death caused by the pollution it creates.

Back to post-carbon cities. David has an ambitious goal of turning Oberlin into a carbon-neutral city, starting by redeveloping the downtown area to be an eco-village. He is taking a ground up approach by gathering support and investment from within the community. This seems like a much better approach for such a project than the one taken by Saudi Arabia and China in attempting to build their own respective eco-cities, both of which after years of being in the design and planning phases have gone nowhere.

Of course, building a fully carbon-neutral town is a big challenge, as not only do the buildings have to be redesigned, but people's behavior's have to radically change and a whole new local economy built from scratch. If David Orr has any misgivings about such a project, its is that he doesn't know whether people are willing to do what needs to be done to create such an ecologically friendly future.

He is optimistic in terms of having all the tools ready and at his finger tips. David talked of how over the last thirty years scientists and entrepreneurs have developed the tools to create such a future and now everything simply has to be brought together and integrated. Social awareness has also progressed enough to allow the building of such a future. This is especially true within professions that can move something such as eco-cities along. Daniel Narrin over at Discovering Urbanism illustrates this point in a recent post. Having found a planning text book from the early 1990s, he was surprised to see how far the profession has developed in two decades, having found that the book never once mentioned pedestrians or cyclists and describes environmentalists only as obstructionists against progress.

It now seems very possible that the environmentalists so reviled by many only two decades ago will be the ones innovating and creating our future as it has gone from a movement of obstructionism to one of practical application and problem solving. Best of luck to David Orr and his vision of a carbon-neutral future, I hope to experience it one day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Review: After The Car

Full Disclosure: I received a free copy in return for this review

Despite the provocative title and front cover of the book, After The Car by authors Kingsly Dennis and John Urry, there is little radical thought or ideas that give a blueprint on how our society will organize after the decline of the personal automobile. That said, if you are new to how personal transportation issues relate to global climate change, economics, social organization, and urban design, than this book gives a short and concise summary that provides a good overview of all these issues. Overall After The Car is a well-written and well-thought out book that is concise and covers a lot of ground in a very small package.

At a mere 164 pages, After The Car, takes the reader through a handful of today's most pressing issues. The first chapter quickly explores the situation we find ourselves in today, including climate change, peak oil, the growth of the Internets, and the supremacy of urban areas. This quick overview sets the stage for the rest of the book and for how we got to the situation we find ourselves in today.

The heart of the book delves into how the car came to completely reshape our lives. At one time the automobile was a new and disruptive technology. At the beginning of the car's history it transformed the lives of millions of people and led to a huge leap in productivity. But after a century of the car's dominance it has come to signify, "...many of the most troubling aspects of human civilization."

The authors take the view that the dominance of the car is thanks to the convergence of various trends such as allowing for freedom of mobility, the huge increase in economic productivity it allowed, and the complete seepage of car culture into the fabric popular American culture. But this wholehearted acceptance of the car has led to unintended consequences. The car system's full adoption by society has come to mean high levels of pollution, possible climate change, economies that are held back by the maintenance of sprawling transportation networks, and the adverse social affects that come with being so spread out and disconnected from one's neighbor.

As for my aforementioned disappointment, once the book finally makes it to a diagnosis for our future, there is very little in the way of new thinking and rather mostly a simple summary of current trends that might come to partially supplant the current transportation system. The trends covered include denser living through new urban design, rapid personal transit, electrical vehicles (EVs), and green cities. The authors express great hope in the idea of green cities such as Dongtan China, even though most of the over hyped green trophies are still just nice drawings on some government official's desk.

The criticism I can't get out of my head is talk of how EVs and biofuels will be a part of the solution. For a book entitled After The Car it seems a bit of contradiction to propose that EVs and biofuels will really change anything. How many trillions of dollars will ultimately need to be spent on infrastructure to build generating capacity just to power our EVs and how little will that investment reduce our green house gas emissions? This is a question that the authors simply gloss over.

Overall, After The Car, does an excellent job of giving a concise overview of many of the issues that will shape our new century and how that could affect our transportation system. But there is little revolutionary thought held within the pages of the book, and despite the title, there is almost no vision of our future after the car.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Complete Streets WIN

Complete Streets policy has been spreading for some time now thanks largely in part to groups like the National Complete Streets Coalition and local advocacy groups like Missoula's own BWAM and MIST. For the uninitiated, complete streets is a concepts and policy goal of designing streets that are accessible to all populations. This means a de-emphasis on moving at high rates of speed and making infrastructure improvements that make safety for pedestrians and bicyclist more of a priority.

Check out this map of America showing where complete streets are taking affect. And for those interested, Transportation for America has an online petition that asks DOT head LaHood to emphasize pedestrian safety.

And now it appears that we have some evidence that complete streets design is actually helping to make our most abundant of public spaces safer. Transportation For America recently released a long worked on report, Dangerous By Design, that highlights street design failings and success.

Columbia, MO seems to be a shinning example of complete streets policy at work.

This from an article at KOMU.com by Josh Frydman:

In 2004, Columbia passed a complete streets ordinance, which specified how streets should be designed. This included five-foot sidewalks on all streets as well as bicycle accommodations on certain streets, and that sent a very clear signal that Columbia is serious about encouraging people to walk and bike in Columbia.

Columbia's Pedestrian Danger Index scored four times lower than the national average. Columbia reported just two pedestrian fatalities from 2007 to 2008, and just 3.8% of the total traffic deaths during that time were pedestrians.

This is just a portion of the rethinking of street design that is slowly sweeping across our country. After more than half a century of placing almost all our efforts into moving more cars and seeing this strategy fail over and over change is finally snowballing. Bike paths/lanes, mass rapid transit, sidewalks, green streets, and the redesigning of intersections are the new fashionable strategies in many cities for dealing with transportation.

We are even importing a few good ideas from the Europeans, GASP! Hans Monderman's design concept of shared space is replacing the idea of traffic control with controlled chaos. This can be seen in the growing number of roundabouts and uncontrolled intersections that force different modes of transportation to actually interact and be cautious towards one another.

Each roundabout or transportation plan that includes complete streets is only a small step, but a decade of small steps takes you far from your starting point.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Carfree Fail

Its been about 7 months of not having to worry about traffic, gas prices, car insurance, or car payments. In that time I have found life without the use of a car to be pretty easy. A few times I have hoped in a car to carpool places outside of Missoula or to go to Costco with Ashley, but for the most part its been smoothing sailing, until this weekend when I made fairly extensive use of a vehicle.

I had an art show displaying my photography for Missoula's First Friday Art Walk. Time was short to get everything organized and buy the refreshments (booze). Making the trip over to Costco and the Orange Street Food Farm for supplies in the time frame before the show just would have been impossible on a bicycle. Of course, I could have spent more time planning and gotten everything I needed the day before, but I didn't. And that is the lesson really of trying to be carfree, everything takes a little more thought, planning, and time to get done.

Instead Ashley saved my ass and helped me out getting everything I needed. Without her the First Friday event wouldn't have been a success. While carpooling doesn't go against the rules I set for myself over this year, this instance was different because the trip was something that I created, Ashley never would have run those errands, and she did so only because I needed the help.

The second instance of using a vehicle this weekend involved driving my '83 Toyota Landcruiser. Its been parked on the street for awhile now and had become a place to store things. I've had it for sale for a little over a month; I figure if its just going to sit there and its not going to fit into my lifestyle I might as well get rid of it.

Someone finally wanted to take it for a test drive on Sunday, so there was a mad dash to get it cleaned out and make sure it was running fine before the test drive. While I have been in cars since trying to be carfree this was the first time I have driven, going about two miles to get rid of a few things in the back of the cruiser. The test drive was successful and within a week I'll be rid of the Landcruiser. So, while I used a vehicle a lot more this weekend than I should have, in the end I'll be freeing myself from a vehicle and someone else that needs it will be able to use it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009


Last week I wrote about how to get younger people to shift from our dominate car culture to alternative modes of transportation and I have been thinking a lot on the subject since. For the most part I feel like a lot of my people understand the connection between things like environmental change and personal consumption levels. Every day, even in cold winter weather, I see a lot of people my age out on their bicycles.

But I must step back and remember that Missoula is a college town and has a unique culture that is not easily duplicated in other communities. It seems that more and more people are making shifts in their daily behavior and these small changes aggregate into numbers that can actually matter.

But how do you get people to go from shifting personal behavior such as their mode of transportation to actually becoming actively involved in a wider movement or organization? In Missoula the people that are personally involved in advocating for alternative transportation and complete streets are not people of my age group. When I show up to a meetings or work on non-profit projects, the people sitting across the table from me are usually 20 to 30 years older than me.

Of course generation Y is well represented at any event where music and beer are present. Events such as Missoula's Bike, Walk, Bus Week and Pedalfest are important in fostering community and spreading ideas, but fall well short of building momentum for sustained change or wider engagement.

Hell, I'm right in the middle of generation Y and I have no idea of how to actually get my friends involved in advocacy work and a lot of times people's eyes glaze over when I talk to friends about some project I'm working on.

My gut tells me that the answer lies in building a vibrant community and maybe Missoula is just not big enough to support something like what I am envisioning. Strong non profits are another important part of the mix and people within those organizations that can really push to organize and do creative things are a huge asset. But how did the Obama campaign capture the energy of my generation so well? I know more than a few people that worked within the campaign at various levels as either volunteers or paid organizers. I'm not trying to compare Obama with exciting world of alternative transportation, but just using his campaign as something to contrast against.

Maybe I'm off base with my concerns, but my generation is full of people that have the energy, creative thinking, and new approach to challenges that non-profits pushing for social change can really use and if those talents go uncaptured it seems like a shame.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Random Bicycle Crap Fridays

This is really random, but I find it pretty funny. I have numerous articles of clothing that have a bicycle theme. All but one of these have I actually purchased, while the rest have been given to me as gifts. Most have come from my fiance, Ashley, and include many t-shirts. Her last present is... you guessed it, the boxers you see above. I just couldn't resist putting this online for my Friday post; what is more absurd than doing a whole post on a pair of boxers?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reaching Gen Y and Younger

An interesting discussion has cropped up over at the Carfree Cities list serve associated with Carfree.com about how all us bicycle and carfree advocates can reach people under 24.

Its a challenging proposition since I feel like my generation is so full of contradictions. We are simultaneously one of the most self-centered, self-absorbed generations while also becoming one of the most engaged and informed age groups. A recent report from the UK found that people in their twenties waste the most energy and have the least knowledge about energy use. At the same time people from my generation greatly involved in trying to push for change regarding energy policy, climate change, and so on. Many are in fact giving up their cars and trying to live in simpler ways. And this trend is being noticed in a lot of media, such as here.

I don't think that a large generalization about car-free being a new trend among young people can be made. Certain cities and areas of the country are seeing an amazing amount of growth in non-motorized transportation, but at the same time large segments of the country are still not experiencing such a cultural shift.

We also can't think of the "young" as being a monoculture. Here in Missoula, MT there are two high schools with two different cultures. One is set in our urban core with almost no parking; most of the students walk, bike, or take our public transit (since there is no room for school buses to park and drop off kids). There must be between 100-200 bikes parked at the high school ever day. The other is more suburban, and has a parking lot the size of several football fields with kids getting there with either a vehicle, dropped off by parents, or on a school bus.

Local culture is probably the most important factor. If there is no bicycle culture present in a city, the work that must be done to get people on board with bicycle transportation and for them to see the need to get out of the car is hugely increased. All the blogs, books, and newspaper articles written about the new trend, environmental, and health concerns will do little.

Much of the cultural change that is taking place is happening in cities that already had a significant bicycle culture presence and that culture has finally grown in numbers to become more important and more visible. I agree that social interaction person to person is probably the most powerful and effective way to spread such ideas. Having that local culture that someone can connect to, have fun, learn new things, meet friends, and become engaged is important because without those opportunities all the information that is being put out there wont inspire anyone.

My experience is that a lot of books about such things are read by people that are already interested in the subject or are already believers. The same with blogs are true, many of my readers and the people that comment are themselves activists and other bloggers. Such things are aids to spreading such cultural ideals as being car-free or living in an environmentally responsible manner but cannot replace the influence of friends, family, and local community.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Sorry for the prolonged absence from the blogosphere, but it was something I think I needed. It been about two weeks since my last post and during that time, I haven't even been keeping up with other blogs I read or going through the copious emails from various listserves I subscribe to. Let me tell everyone that it felt relaxing not to have to keep up with everything and have that nagging little voice constantly reminding me that I need to read this or right a post for that.

I have, however, spent some of that time off to think about exactly what the point of this blog is beyond the main purpose of keeping a journal about being carfree. The content that I have been posting has not been of the quality I feel that I should be creating and much of it has felt lazy to me. So, in the future I hope to create more work of a higher quality; putting more thought into each post and posting less frequently.

Why the rethink? I set out thinking that I would use this blog not only to chronicle being carfree, but as a platform to write and hopefully discuss urban design theory, concepts, and design. In this respect I have so far failed. I would like to aim to make this blog more along the lines of two of my favorites; the Proper Scale and Discovering Urbanism blogs.

So... with my carfree journey more than half way over I will be aiming to make this a more thoughtful affair, although I wont be getting rid of all the ridiculousness. And now for a few stat updates.

Week 28

Miles Biked: 28.58
Gallons Saved: 1.78
CO2 Not Emitted: 11.22 Ibs

Week 29

Miles Biked: 65.12
Gallons Saved: 4.07
CO2 Not Emitted: 25.56 Ibs

Month 7

Miles Biked: 187.77
Gallons Saved: 11.73
CO2 Not Emitted: 294.8 Ibs

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Riding with Swiney

I'll just start by saying that swine flu really sucks. We've all had the flu before, but for those that are on their bikes excessively, this one pretty much takes you out at the knees. Why? Because this thing really hits you in the lungs. Hell, I'm getting winded just getting up from the couch and walking to the kitchen.

On Monday I rode to campus while I was just starting to feel bad. The temperature was hovering around 10 degrees and the streets were virtually deserted of over cyclists. The cold air mixed with a tight chest made cycling pretty difficult.

Its now been two days since I have gotten on a bike and I have been getting around by carpooling. Although thats not much since I have basically living on the couch for the last two days.

So enjoy your experience with swine flu... I know I am. Time for another movie.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Week 27 Carfree Stats

Calculate your carbon emissions @ http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm

Miles Biked: 52.91
Gallons Saved: 3.3
CO2 Not Emitted: 20.71 Ibs

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Better Living Through Density - A Video by David Baker

A Small Annoyance

Now that its cold my usual cable bike lock is a pain to use. The cold air makes it stiff and difficult to flex or to fold into small loop that can fit in my bag.

This is just one of those small details you forget when its not right in front of you. Guess this means I'll start having to use my u-lock.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Game Changer

It is here... winter that is. Until a week ago Missoula seemed to be experiencing a prolonged summer, with temperatures in the 80s up until the beginning of October. Now this morning it is 20 degrees out.

Not a big inconvenience, but the cold isn't helped by the unique topography of the Missoula valley. This time of year, as the suns declination declines in the sky, our favorite Mountain in Missoula seems to get in the way of the suns warming rays. Its 8.30 and the sun is just visible, but over at campus, which is right under the mountain, it will be another hour before the sun starts to warm the area.

Still... this means its that time of year to start layering clothing for the morning commute. I think I might also have to start riding something other than my fixed gear, since the only shoes that feel comfortable on that bike are not necessarily that warm.

This is just the beginning of a long winter, lets see if I can keep up this carfree thing when it hits -30 degrees.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pictures From Missoula's 2009 PedalFest

I finally made it through a few my photos from this years Pedalfest. So, I'll let the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy.

Week 26 Carfree Stats

Calculate your carbon emissions @http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm

Miles Biked: 48.36
Gallons Saved: 3.02
CO2 Not emitted: 18.93 Ibs

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Random Bicycle Crap Fridays - Only the coolest PSA ever

Pet Peeve Regarding Motorists Number 1

Throughout my time being carfree there is one nagging behavior that keeps popping up among motorists that really annoys me. The complete disregard certain drivers (assholes) display for a cyclist waiting at an intersection. Here I am in these situations trying to obey traffic laws and be a good little cyclist when some asshole acts like an asshole. Maybe assholes just don't view people on bikes as real people, and therefore they can ignore and marginalize us. We are less then them, we are... sub-asshole. For more on the subject of assholes, cars, and the cyclists they hate, you should read this blog post from the Boston Biker Blog, explaining how to deal with assholes.

Over and over again while I wait patiently at intersections, a vehicle will come from behind and not stop after me, but pass and stop in front of me at an intersection. It happened again yesterday and seems to happen regardless of whether I have taken the lane or am waiting behind another vehicle.

At the intersection of Scott and Toole, I stopped behind an SUV turning left, about ten seconds later a Chevy truck pulled up and rather than acknowledge me, nudged in behind the SUV. When I waved at the driver to get his attention and using my hands to explain, not the middle finger, that I was there before him, he just looked at me and shook his head in apparent disgust. At which point, when the SUV got an opening to go, I quickly moved forward to block the asshole from moving forward.

At the same spot a month back I was the only one at the intersection trying to take a left but cross traffic was to heavy to find an opening when an Eclipse pulled up, passed me, and without stopping peeled-out into traffic. Of course I learned a valuable lesson then... Eclipse are officially cool again now that I know they can peel-out.

These incidents seem to happen mostly at stop signs. But still, in the 6 months I've been carfree, this has happened 6 or 7 times. Maybe I need something like the clothing below to fend off assholes:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Covered Bike Racks in Missoula?

I just came across this bike rack design on the city of Missoula's website. Its a design for a covered bike rack and the date on the document is from 1998. However, I have been living here for about 7 years and have never seen on of these covered racks.

This isn't really a big deal, but this information is on Missoula's Bicycle and Pedestrian Program website. So why is a government website putting out false information? Maybe because no one will notice, other than me, but really if a government agency is going to claim they have done something, it would be nice if they actually did it. I would love some covered bike racks in this town, or something that is a little more pleasing to the eye than the usual racks around here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Jane Jacobs

I finally made it through Death and Life of Great American Cities the other day and can move on with my life. I'm embarrassed to say that I started reading Jane Jacobs' classic last spring while there was still snow flying.

While the book is showing its age, especially regarding discussion about banks and housing projects (now that most housing projects have been or will be torn down). Nut overall Death and Life is still a very important piece of literature.

Jane Jacobs obviously takes a lot of pride in the small details that make up a city, the parks, people, sidewalks, building facades, and local entrepreneurs that make up a city. The small details are what matter the most when it comes to building a community with a sense of place and character and it is precisely these most important small details that planners often over look.

That is the inherent contradiction of planning, it is a profession that takes a look at the big picture for the most part, and until recently when collaborative planning has become part of the process, the small details that make a community thrive were missing from planners' radars. That is way the collaborative process is so important, to fill in gaps in knowledge and design that planners might not have access to.

The book is a big proponent of cities as "organic" structures that are not stagnant but alive and constantly in flux. As such, organic growth of neighborhoods, associations, relationships, and the urban structure of cities are what make fro vibrant and strong cities and not massively scaled urban renewal projects that attempt to sanitize an area.

She doesn't spend much time on the car, other than to emphasize the positive feedback the car's influence on city design has on the erosion of vibrant and diverse cities. Cars must be designed for, and in accommodating the use of cars, forces a separation and spreading out of what used to be mixed-use areas because of the pressures of moving and storing vehicles.

Her message from all this critique is simple; that people have to take back the planning process from government bureaucrats that don't have a city's or neighborhood's best interests in mind. Ideas such as Radiant City and Garden City design must be thrown out and replaced with something that actually expresses the reality of people's needs and psychology.

I guess since planning will be my profession I need to heed her words even though the planning process has significantly changed since the book was originally written.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Week 25 Carfree Stats

Calculate your carbon emissions @http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm

Miles biked: 62.47
Gallons Saved: 3.9
CO2 not Emitted: 24.52 Ibs

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Random Bicycle Crap Fridays: Advertising FAIL

For today's Random Bicycle Crap Fridays, patent pending, I am once again diverging from my normal pattern of irrelevant nonsensical crap and featuring something I find just a little ironic.

Obviously, people that visit this blog know that its about trying to live carfree for a full year besides the other transportation and urban design related musings. But this small little tiny detail must have slipped by someone recently when they wanted to advertise on this site.

A spokes-person for RentACarNow.com emailed me inquiring about possible advertising space. Here is the email:

My name is ____,

I work for RentACarNow.com, a rental car search engine.

I stumbled on http://imaginenocars.blogspot.com/ and was interested in advertising on your front-page.We are interested in a link featuring our company.

Would you be interested in something like this? Also, would you be willing to set up a 6 month or 1 year deal?

Please let me know.

Thank you for your time.

I personally find this fairly amusing, as I never set out upon this journey with the idea that I would make any money. Not only that but obviously this person didn't spend that much time figuring out what this blog is about, but maybe that is my fault. Do rental cars count as "alternative transportation"?

I guess these are the kinds of opportunities/hassles that I have to now deal with since becoming a "new media" content producer/shit shoveler. The kind of opportunities I like having offered to me are more like book reviews (which come with free books). I had my first complimentary book sent to me by a publisher titled, After the Car, by Kingsley Dennis and John Urry. I have not started reading it yet, but now that I'm done with Jane Jacob's masterpiece, I can finally move on.

What I want to know from the few readers that have made it this far, and I'm guessing thats not many since there is now video of a cyclist hitting their nuts on something, is is there a difference between the two offers?

I automatically accepted the offer for a review copy of the book, but have yet to respond to the advertising offer. After the Car seems to fit perfectly with the message/bullshit I broadcast from this blog on a daily basis, but the rental car thing is just plain contradictory. But am I selling out by accepting either of the offers? Or would I be selling out if I accepted the rental car advertising offer?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Random Bicycle Updates

As I said in my previous post, its getting to be busy around here, and so I'm falling behind with posts and not keeping up with things as I should be. Case in point, two widespread events that I missed until the days of the events; Park(ing) Day and World Carfree Day.

First up is a call for public participation in a new series of photo slide shows at Streetsblog.org

From the Streetsblog:

We need your help.
We want to see what you're seeing when you're out there on the streets of America, and we're going to be asking you to send us your pictures on specific themes in the weeks to come.
This week: bike traffic.
In pretty much every part of the country, fall is prime biking weather -- not too hot, not too cold. Just right for riding to work, doing your errands or getting out and about for some recreation.
Well, we want the proof. Shoot us your pictures of bike traffic in the places you live -- the more cyclists the merrier. Of course, while pictures of jam-packed bike lanes are welcome, feel free to send along anything noteworthy, beautiful or just plain fun.
We'll gather the results and put them together in a slide show for your enjoyment and edification.
You can send JPEGs to me at sarah [at] streetsblog [dot] org. Or tag your photos with streetsblog in Flickr.
Don't forget to include caption info, and let us know how you want to be credited.
Need a deadline? Submit your entries by next Tuesday, September 29th.
And have fun out there!

This being Missoula, Montana, we don't have the population, or the people paying attention and willing to organize for everyone of these big events. But we're doing our best here.

Park(ing) Day took place on Sept. 18th and was a demonstration of citizens taking back public space from cars. The local paper, the Missoulian, even covered the event in their Strange News section. Part creative art project, part public demonstration project... the goal is to show that public space currently used for parking cars can offer much more in the way of public needs, engagement, and cultural expression.

World Carfree Day took place yesterday, and while not a big event in America, certainly a big rallying cry around the world. Both these events ultimately aim to get people engaged in thinking about how cities can be different from the auto-dominated environments most are today.

Here in Missoula, Pedalfest took over Caras park all day Saturday. A celebration of everything cycling, the day started with a costumed ride around downtown, followed by lots of music, bicycle stunts, bike jousting, and plenty of flowing beer. I'll have a more in depth look at the event with photos within a week.

Finally, Missoula is once again attempting to organize a series of Sunday Streets events for next year. Originally they were going to happen this year, but too much organization had to be done in too little time. The tentative idea is that two events will happen next year, one in the spring and one in the fall. If anyone is interested in being part of the planning and organizational process, meetings happen once every two weeks on Fridays @ 9 am @ Liquid Planet. Nest meeting is this week.

Monday, September 21, 2009

James Corless of Transportation for America

Photo via T4A

Last week was a big week in terms of both my class load and things happening that I want to write about. I hope I can catch up a little this week.

On Thursday, James Corless from Transportation for America (T4A) was in Missoula for a small conference on health. While he was here he also gave a short guest lecture at the University of Montana sponsored by ASUM Transportation.

What is T4A? Its a large non-profit organization geared toward campaigning and advocating for reworking America's national transportation system. A large coalition has been built around the need for reform of over 300 other non-profit, for-profit organizations, and government officials. As an organization, T4A is very much geared toward lobbying and policy, but have a wide range of resources available for partner groups to access.

Mr. Corless' speech covered the usual "why we need reform" points that most of the people in the audience had probably heard before; certainly preaching to the quire. But he had a lot of good points to pass along. He stressed the connection of land-use and transportation and that the two are so interrelated that they can not be treated separately.

Our current land-use patterns certainly don't promote people getting out of their cars and hopping on transit or a bike. The last 70 odd years have seen an erosion of our cities and public spaces to provide for vehicular traffic. And as this process has continued, the more cars are accommodated, the more cars are present on our roads and need to be stored somewhere, which then reinforces the need for more space for cars and more travel by cars.

The only way to stop such a process is to stop designing for ever more cars and design for more public space to be given over to transit, sidewalks, and cyclists; as demonstrated by the recent Park(ing) Day events that aimed to take public space back from vehicles. This strategy needs to be accompanied by a reorganization of our land-use practices. Putting a transit corridor down a an area of sprawl does little to alleviate traffic. But add in mixed-use zoning and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) along that corridor for several blocks on either side, and all of a sudden you have a game changing situation.

Another important factor is the cost of transportation, not just monetary, but time and convenience (as even Thomas Friedman knows and points out in his recent column). If transit can be made to be faster and easier to use, while var travel is made harder to use, people will naturally switch. This is what has happened for almost a century, but in reverse; making it harder for people to use transit or walk to where they need to go. And so people have intuitively made the switch by the millions to use of the SOV because other modes of transportation where so damn hard and confusing to use.

Once people see that transit or active transportation (biking/walking) can be enjoyable, easy to use, convenient, and cheap they will flock to it to reach there destinations. Vehicular traffic now creates so much of its own friction as people compete for limited road space and congestion builds, that people don't want to deal with the stress of driving. Give people an enjoyable experience on their way to a destination, as Phoenix is discovering with their new light-rail line, and people will flock to public transportation.

A long road to reform looms ahead, but already local and national organizations like BWAM and T4A are already working hard to make a difference. It will take a lot of collaborative effort to achieve T4A's vision for transportation. Thanks again to James Corless for talk with us here in Missoula.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Carfree Stats For Week 24 and Month 6

After this week I am basically half way through my Carfree year. Of course, this being Montana, the easiest half is now behind me.

Calculate your carbon emissions @http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm

Week 24

Miles Biked: 86.42
Gallons Saved: 5.4
CO2 Not Emitted: 33.91 Ibs

Month 6

Miles Biked: 284.12
Gallons Saved: 17.76
CO2 Not Emitted: 111.49 Ibs

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I was debating even writing about this, but since I wanted this blog to chronicle the highs and lows of being carfree, and this is certainly a low that I am ashamed of.

Yesterday, right after getting to campus, I hit a pedestrian with my bicycle just in front of the Adams center. It was a fairly low speed impact and I didn't even knock the man down; he looked like the kind of person that plays a lot of sports and so was just going to take the pain and walk it off without complaining.

What happened is that I had just transitioned onto the side walk in front of the Adams Center on my way across campus. I saw the guy walking in the same direction as me as well as an on-coming cyclist. The guy was walking with his head down and so didn't notice the other cyclist until he looked up. At that point I was already going to might right to go around him, but when he saw the on-coming cyclist, he stepped into my path. I couldn't go anymore right, since there was a big-ass sign I would have hit, so I tried to veer to the left but there was no room and I would have hit the cyclist. So, in the end I hit the brakes hard and then hit the pedestrian. I made sure he was alright and he just kept walking and ensured me that he was fine, so I headed off to my destination.

Like I said before, I'm ashamed that this occurred. I guess if you bike long enough things like these will eventually happen, as I've been hit by a car. I don't feel like I was riding dangerously, but that doesn't change the fact that I fucked-up just a little.

If anyone out there knows a big guy that likes to work out at the gym on campus that had a run-in with a cyclist yesterday, let me know because I think I owe him a drink.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Little Wisdom from Jane Jacobs

Traffic arteries, along with parking lots, gas stations, and drive-ins, are powerful and insistent instruments of city destruction. To accomidate them, city streets are brocken down into loose sprawls, incoherent and vacuous for anyone on foot.

-Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Week 23 Carfree Stats

Calculate your carbon emissions @http://www.carbonify.com/carbon-calculator.htm

Miles Biked: 61.23
Gallons Saved: 3.83
CO2 Not Emitted: 24.03 IBS

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fridays Random Bicycle Crap

Today's post is dedicated to my lovely fiance, Ashley. Thanks for being there with me on this long and convoluted journey.

I'm going to veer off my usual course for this Friday's post and subject people to some of my thoughts. Plus... I really don't feel like wading through all the stupid stuff out there on the intertubes.

When I first started this carfree experiment, Ashley was pretty insistent that I try it out for a month or so, and depending on how that went I could expand it. She was also pretty upset about me not driving and how that would affect her life, as she felt it would be an unfair burden; plus no more DD at 2 am. I figured that a month was a pretty puny goal and held strong on the full year idea. Now I'm just about half way through and Ashley's attitude has changed just slightly.

Now within the last few weeks Ashley has expressed different opinions about cars and bicycles. She has repeatedly said how frustrating driving anywhere can be, how crazy and inconsiderate other drivers are, and how long it takes to get anywhere with congestion - and all this in a town of about 70,000.

At the same time she has discovered how fast a simple bicycle ride can be to get to places and how enjoyable it can be as well. Recently she has been coming home and asking me how long I think it took her to get somewhere and when I'm wrong she proudly exclaims her time.

I must say that I'm proud she is finding bicycling so convenient and fun. She has significantly increased the amount of trips she does by bicycle and she is getting more comfortable riding around town. One of my goals of this experiment was not only to see if I could not operate a vehicle for a year, but to hopefully inspire other people to do the same. I didn't have any naive idea that this blog would reach people and they would get my message, but I was mainly hopping that people close to me might make small changes in their daily habits.
I guess I've succeeded in that small goal. Have a good weekend everyone.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Missoula Roundabout Opening

Last week Missoula's first roundabout opened to the public. It was a pretty large event for the opening of an intersection; maybe because it was built with stimulus money and was the first large project to be completed in the state of Montana. A lot of big political players sent people from their offices, such as Senators Tester and Baucus and all the local politicians were on hand for the ribbon cutting.

Before I get any farther along though, I would like to point people's attention to the photo above. Hopefully people can notice the abundance of signage present; 32 in all, even everyone in my Land Use Planning class thought that was a little excessive. I think Montana's DOT was a little scarred of stupid or distracted drivers driving through the middle.

Of course I believe the signage itself is a bit distracting, and even with all the signs people in cars still tried to blow through the intersection when it first opened. Most of these people were on cell phones and one even came close to running over city councilman Jason Wiener.

Here in America, traffic engineers like to tell the public exactly what type of behavior is expected of them, mostly through signs (but then we do things like have speed limits on wide, open, and straight roads that encourage speeding). Drivers are mostly o.k. with this, since it allows them not to have to think too much while simultaneously being on the phone.

But does having 32 signs at a roundabout do anything for safety, or does it fill a contractor's pockets? A roundabout is a perfect situation for "shared space," a concept first proposed by Hans Monderman. Essentially, shared space takes away all on road instructions and allows users of the road to "negotiate" with one another for road space. The intent is to slow traffic, increase safety, and allow all users to share the road more equitably. I can almost guarantee that most people's reaction to this idea in America would anger and puzzlement. There are places in America that already implement this principal, such as Savannah, GA as pointed out at the Proper Scale blog.

Anyway... back to the opening ceremony. Below is the ribbon cutting ceremony performed by our mayor, John Engen and Jim Lynch, head of the MDOT.

And what would the opening of a roundabout be without cyclists to test it out? As you can see in the photo below, we had a pretty good turnout. The MDOT was giving out pamphlets on how cyclists and pedestrians should behave in the roundabout. It called for cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes through the cross-walks. Lets just say that none of us cyclists performed that stunt.

Missoula's own bicycle ambassadors, where there to educate the riding public about proper on street behavior. Ben even had a hand painted helmet on, go Vikings!
Dogs even came out to participate in such a monumental moment. Below is a BWAM member's dog along for the first ride through the roundabout.

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