Open Streets in Missoula, Montana

The following guest post was written by Alexandria Stokman at Sunday Streets Missoula.

After a summer of bands and beer, Missoula, Montana took a break from the traditional festival atmosphere to host an active, healthy, sustainable transportation event that celebrates Missoula as a bikeable and walkable community.

The City of Missoula Parks & Recreation, the Downtown Business Improvement District and Missoula In Motion worked together to create Sunday Streets Missoula. The most recent event took place on September 11, 2011, transforming Missoula’s main street into a car-free environment. Combined with riverfront trails, the space made a two mile pedestrian loop. It may seem to be a short distance compared to the 6.5 miles from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park during New York City’s Summer Streets, but quite an accomplishment for Big Sky Country, where pick-ups and SUVs fill our valley with countless vehicle miles traveled and road dust.

Modeled after the Ciclovía in Bogotá, Columbia, Sunday Streets Missoula is one of the most recent “small town” implementations in the United States. By repurposing streets to actively encourage multimodal use, Sunday Streets Missoula builds community while allowing citizens unprecedented access to their public infrastructure.

Along with cyclists and walkers, the street was filled with skateboarders, trikes, rollerbladers and just about every other type of human propelled movement. The day began with the “Missoula Mile” road race and continued with biking and walking events, and dozens of activities. From 10 AM to 4 PM, well over 6,000 people participated in over 60 activities that encouraged recreation, exercise, family fun, and sustainable transportation. The response from attendees has been extremely positive. “Great expression of what makes Missoula businesses, organizations, and community so strong and interconnected” was a comment from one survey respondent.

At Sunday Streets Montana’s June 2011 event, over 40% of participants biked and took advantage of the 2 mile Ciclovía route that coursed through downtown and along the riverfront trail system. As people leisurely walked across the Higgins Avenue Bridge, they were able to take in the panoramic vistas, or contribute to the chalk mosaic in the middle of the street. Most folks took advantage of the ability to go slow and see Missoula’s downtown from a whole new angle.

Many sponsors helped make the 2011 events possible, and now Sunday Streets Missoula has grown into what a city business leader calls “the most important event in our downtown.”

Interested in creating an Open Streets Event? Street Plans Collaborative is compiling information about North American open streets initiatives, and will include information about Sunday Streets Missoula in their guide set to debut in November. Click here for more information about their project.

Photo by Lewis Kelley, courtesy of Sunday Streets Missoula.