Bike-Unfriendly Bozeman

Bike-Unfriendly Bozeman

McCune, Jenny
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In the case of Bozeman streets versus cyclists, the jury’s still out. The situation is like a typical bicycle ride: some uphill, some downhill; both potholes and smooth pavement; for every tailwind helping you along, you’re later punished by a grueling headwind.

On the positive side: last year the City of Bozeman posted more than 300 “Bicycle Route” and “Share the Roads” signs to increase motorist awareness of cyclists. The designated bicycle route system is about 22 miles long and runs to places like the East Gallatin Recreation Area and Lindley Park.

Most cyclists believe the signs are helping. “This has had the effect of raising awareness and helping to integrate bicycles in traffic,” says Alex Lussier, a member of the local road-bike racing team.

This past May, the city released a map of all designated routes, bike paths, and trails. In addition to lining up a grant for the cyclist signs and shepherding it through the city governmental process, the Bozeman Area Bicycle Advisory Board (known affectionately as BABAB) also reviews subdivision proposals and checks that required bike lanes and paths are noted on the blueprints. Each year more bike paths and routes are added, including one that was approved this year, which will run along Huffine from College Street to Fowler.

Beyond Bozeman’s borders, each year Gallatin County paves more roads, which cyclists can use, and the county has entertained the notion of cleaning shoulders to make its thoroughfares safer for cyclists.

But for every plus, there’s a minus—in fact, almost every plus can also be viewed as a minus.

It took six years for the bicycle friendly signs to be posted—not exactly a record-breaking race pace. “Getting anything to change and getting a new bike path is a slow and time-consuming process,” admits Alex Phillips, a former BABAB member.

Although BABAB does review subdivision plans, it can only make recommendations. It’s up to the city to enforce the bike path requirement for subdivisions. Some cyclists believe the city has been too quick to grant exceptions. And while bike paths and routes are being added, the current system is dysfunctional.

“Bozeman is not a cycling-friendly town with respect to the disjointed bike paths…” explains Brenda Winkler, a local cyclist. “They do not make commuting around town, to schools, to do errands and such, very bike-friendly.”

More paved roads give cyclists more options. But for every mile of newly laid asphalt comes more traffic. And many roads have been paved, not redesigned to accommodate car and bicycle traffic. The newly paved roads have become what Tom Greason, a longtime Bozeman cyclist, calls “high-speed thoroughfares with no shoulders for cyclists.” Not to mention that many of the road additions come with rumble strips, which makes it impossible to ride on the shoulder. (Rumble strips make minced rubber out of skinny tires, so roadies must ride on the white line or in the lane, which infuriates drivers who wonder why cyclists are “hogging” the road rather than riding on the shoulder away from vehicular traffic.)

Shoulder debris also keeps cyclists riding on the road instead of the shoulder. Greason and fellow cyclist Doug McSpadden have petitioned the county to regularly sweep the main cycling arteries around Bozeman. While the county has been receptive, it’s still a matter of finding the dollars and resources at a time when both are stretched thin because of explosive growth.

Does the city intentionally slight cyclists? Probably not. Bicyclists just ride under the city’s radar most of the time. City employees don’t see dollar signs when cyclists complain, whereas they see the value of keeping business owners and developers happy. “It’s a matter of where the money is,” says Jerry Coffey, a former BABAB member. “The people in the city get things done if money’s an issue.”

Coffey, who spends so little time driving his car that he’s found his car battery dead from lack of use, cites a hole dug in the Linear Trail, a trail he often uses to commute by bike. A repair job left a huge mud hole, making the trail impassable for bikes for more than a week. “If there’s a problem for cars, they repair it immediately,” Coffey says. “If it’s about bicycles it festers.”

The days when Donna Taylor could safely ride her bike on Interstate 90 in the dark with a “little flashlight in my teeth, so when I looked behind me I’d flash the car” are long gone. The hope is that as Bozeman continues to grow — including the cycling population — the city and county will realize that it pays to pay more attention to cyclists. Taylor is thinking of buying a road bike after years of shunning the street, but because of the infrastructure and attitude problems from motorists, she’s thinking long and hard before she takes to the road by bike.
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