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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

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