Blog post by Nate Conners and Ben Williamson
The first Wilderness and Civilization trip of the 2013-2014 school year involved a day of biking with Bob Giordano. Bob is the founder of MIST, Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation, as well as the owner of Free Cycles, a grass roots community bike shop. The Wilderness and Civ class was fortunate enough to be able to see Missoula through the eyes of a very involved community member, and a leader in the sustainable transportation field. Bob explained many ideas and concepts from ways to regulate car traffic, to ideas that would promote bike and foot travel, as well as alternative materials and surfaces that would be better for the environment. Bob has a vision to shift our city landscape from a rigid, mundane, and unnatural design to a more natural and organic scheme. In a sense, Bob wants to incorporate the naturalness of the wilderness into urban design. He sees a need to blend wilderness and civilization to promote human connection and unity. It was truly a pleasure to be able to spend so much personal time with someone who is such a local visionary.
One of the first topics we discussed was the implementation and use of traffic circles and round-abouts in the Missoula area. These would be an alternative to stop lights and stop signs, and are generally considered safer and more efficient, but also save on electricity and some city planning. One such example is the round-about on Higgins and Beckwith, near the University of Montana campus. This has been an extremely successful use of a round-about and has had a great impact on the local area. Prior to the implementation of the Higgins and Beckwith round-about there were about three accidents and one fatality a year. These were associated with the traffic light that used to occupy the intersection. Since the round about was installed in the Fall of 2009 there have been no fatalities or collisions at the intersection. Round-abouts are also noted for their ability to force cars to drive more slowly in the surrounding neighborhoods, and the communities reaction to this particular round-about has been very positive. Bob believes in a traffic system that flows naturally, yielding and shifting, similar to the fluidity of a river. The current stoplight system, in which drivers are continuously stopping and speeding encourages irrationality and ensuing “road rage”.
Another topic that was discussed was ways to make Missoula more bike friendly. There are several types of bike lanes including buffered (bike lane separated from the street by parked cars), cycle track (a bike lane that is essentially on the sidewalk, but is separated from pedestrians) and conventional bike lanes that are right next to the car traffic on the street. Bob talked to us about how a city can use these bike lanes to make transportation safer for both bikers and cars. In a city like Missoula, in which biking is often a primary means of transportation for many students and workers, it is important to have a safe system in which both bikers and drivers show respect for each other.
Bob also discussed several projects that the city of Missoula is undertaking. One of which involves the construction of a second round-about on Toole Ave. There is also a push to turn 5th and 6th St into more accessible and safer commuter routes. Bob is also advocating for the construction of plazas and piazzas around downtown Missoula, similar to the squares and courts that dominate many of Europe’s cities. He believes that a city must have meeting places for its citizens. One of my favorite quotes of Bob’s was, “There is no democracy if there is no conversation and connection.” He thinks that a city with meeting places devoid of cars fosters relationships amongst people. It could push people out of their everyday bubble and allow people to interact spontaneously with each other.
On one of our stops during the bike rides we stopped at a new park being constructed off the bike path near Osprey stadium. Near the parking lot, a bike rack section was being built. The surface that the bikes will sit upon is not concrete or asphalt, rather it is a psyllium based material that is as strong as asphalt, but is a much healthier and environmental friendly material. Pysllium can be used a binding agent along with crushed granite to form a permeable pavement. This surface is a healthy and renewable surface, without the toxic and oily runoff that occurs on asphalt tops. Bob believes that this material is a viable option that should be implemented on many of the pathways and sidewalks around Missoula.
Finally, the Wilderness and Civ class had a chance to see Free Cycles and help set up for the Festival of Cycles event held at McCormick Park on Saturday September 14th. Part of the event entailed giving away over 50 children’s bicycles to the Missoula community. Along with giving the bikes away, Bob will teach the family how to maintain the bike. A bike is only good for as long as it is in good condition. Bob is passionate in teaching people how to do upkeep on the bikes they own. Many kids in the Missoula community will benefit from Bob’s passion for alternative transportation.
All in all, it was great day filled with intellectual discussion, good ideas and lots of biking and sun. A great way to start off the 2013-2014 field trip schedule.