Is Bozeman really bicycle-friendly?
When a cyclist died on Frontage Rd. in June after swerving into traffic, my phone began buzzing with messages from people concerned that the victim was my significant other. It could have been, considering he commutes to Montana State University via Frontage Rd. most weekdays. It was a terrible tragedy, but the incident reignited a controversy among commuters and recreational cyclists alike, regarding the city’s commitment to bicycle, pedestrian, and motorist safety.
“We should be looking at moving people,” says Rebecca Gleason, chairwoman of the Bozeman Area Bicycle Advisory Board. “We have plenty of space here. We’re choosing to use it to park cars, drive cars, and add lanes so we can have more cars rather than using the space for pedestrian, bicycle, or transit facilities.”
In 2012, the League of American Bicyclists designated Bozeman a bicycle-friendly city, but a casual ride through town reveals an inconsistent and hazardous cycling infrastructure. For example, Baxter Lane has a well-marked bike lane along much of the road, but it disappears and reappears willy-nilly. At the traffic circle near the northbound continuation of Ferguson Ave., the bike lane diverts cyclists off the road, onto a sidewalk, and back into the road again—despite a city ordinance prohibiting anyone over the age of 15 from cycling on sidewalks. City Commissioner Carson Taylor was clearly troubled after watching a video of a cyclist riding the traffic circle.
“When Ferguson is extended to Baxter, they should fix that,” he said. “That’s absurd."
Taylor says Bozeman’s challenges stem from inadequate planning when the first real-estate boom hit. Patchwork development resulted in an on-again, off-again jumble of bike lanes, paths, and the occasional multi-use trail.
Bike lanes became more prevalent after Bozeman adopted a “complete streets” policy in 2010, requiring road designers to consider all users. But fully connected bike infrastructure is still absent, and if the patchwork of bike lanes seems like an unpredictable maze, Bozeman’s privately owned trail systems—maintained by homeowner associations (HOA)—aren’t much better.
Riding the trails west of N. 7th Ave. is particularly troublesome, with ruts and gopher holes large enough to cause a crash. These trails aren’t meant to be technical—just easy paths to get people from one area of the city to another. But there are no maintenance standards, and since these trails are privately owned, the city has little authority to compel HOAs to fix them. “It doesn't make sense for HOAs to own and maintain parklands,” says Kelly Pohl, Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) associate director. “It would make more sense for the open space to be publicly owned and maintained.”
Taylor is pragmatic about the Bozeman bike problem: “If it could be demonstrated that more people would ride if there were better infrastructure, then the city would make it more of a priority,” he said. “In order to do more, there has to be more public pressure.”
Luckily, Bozeman will be updating its transportation plan soon, and the public will have an opportunity to apply that pressure, Gleason says. “It will be a great opportunity for people to give input on needs for bicycle infrastructure.” Learn more at bozeman.net.
Road Rules. Remember that bad bike manners contribute to the challenges of integrating cycling into Bozeman’s transportation plan. Cyclists riding on the roads are required to follow all standard traffic laws. Here are some common infractions, all of which affect the safety of cyclists and motorists trying to share the road.
Riding against the flow of traffic
Ignoring stop signs or traffic signals
Riding on sidewalks
Wearing headphones while riding in traffic
Not wearing a helmet
Texting while riding
Not paying attention or being aware of cyclists
Not checking mirrors before making a right turn
Stopping for cyclists in the road (bikes are traffic—treat them that way)
Crowding cyclists, even if giving extra space is possible