Mark Egge

Mark Egge

Anyone who has ridden a bike can relate to the child-like delight in mounting a bicycle and moving from one place to another. For the Dutch, cycling is a life-long enjoyment that serves a practical purpose (transportation) while also promoting public health and prosperity.

In Bozeman, too, biking could be a popular form of transportation—if only we had Dutch-style infrastructure to support it! If city leaders desire to see a meaningful increase in active transportation, funding the trio of projects described below from Bozeman’s 2017 Transportation Master Plan (TMP) would give Bozeman’s bicycle infrastructure a huge leap forward, connecting 26,000 city residents and 26,000 jobs within one mile of an efficient and comfortable biking corridor.

In many Dutch cities, 50 percent or more of trips are made by bicycle (compared to 4 percent in Bozeman). This is due neither to climate (Denmark lies far north of Montana) nor history (in the wake of World War II, the Dutch were as car-crazed as Americans). Rather, as the new book, “Building the Cycling City,” chronicles, current Dutch levels of cycling result from intentional decisions starting in the late 1960s to build cities with the infrastructure necessary to make cycling both useful (to get where you need to go) and safe (providing a comfortable, low-stress experience getting there). The surest ticket to growing Bozeman’s biking population is building similar infrastructure.

Currently, nearly all of Bozeman’s spending on cycling infrastructure is in the form of building bike lanes along new or reconstructed roads. Often, these roads are on the city’s periphery or busy with traffic, resulting in bike lanes that are either low in connectivity value, scary to use, or both (and invariably piled under snow in winter).

Rather than build bike lanes on every new street, a better approach would be to prioritize building a targeted network of useful and comfortable biking infrastructure that gets cyclists where they need to go.

Finishing and paving the Gallagator Trail would be a great place to start. Gallagator bicycle counts drop from 500-plus on busy summer days to mere dozens in winter when the trail becomes practically impassable to cyclists.

Installing a two-way cycle track (a.k.a. a protected bike lane) on the north curb of Babcock Street would open downtown to would-be cyclists preferring to avoid Main Street’s semi-trucks.

Finally, converting Black Avenue into a bicycle boulevard (a low-speed street designed for convenient biking with limited nonlocal driving) would give the corridor its linking spine.

Together, this trio of projects would connect Bozeman’s southern and university neighborhoods, MSU, downtown, the fairgrounds, and the Cannery District—all via comfortable and efficient year-round biking infrastructure equally suitable for novice and die-hard cyclists alike.

Bozeman’s strategic plan calls for increasing participation in active transportation—and for good reason. A 2017 study found that those who bike to work have a 46 percent lower risk of developing heart disease, and a 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer. Bicycling trips that replace driving trips reduce traffic congestion for everyone. Creating better infrastructure for active transportation will contribute to Bozeman’s health, livability and appeal, while allowing more Bozemanites to reclaim the youthful joy of moving on two wheels

You can help advance this vision by asking city commission to add TMP projects SP-11 (“Gallagator Trail Paving”), BL-21 (“Babcock Cycle Track”), and BB-2 (“Black Avenue”) to its capital improvement plan. Comments can be submitted to city commission any time by emailing Agenda@bozeman.net or in person during December’s city commission meetings.

Mark Egge is a Bozeman-based transportation planning consultant.