Archive for April 22nd, 2007

by Jay Stevens

As you can imagine, this Earth Day weekend is one of Missoula’s highlights of the year, with a bejillion things going on, all of it fun. On Saturday there was the Clark Fork River cleanup, a bicycle festival at Bonner park, and a screening of the global warming documentary, “Five Planets: Montanans at the Crossroads of Global Warming.” (Awesome flick, by the way, and deserving of wider viewership. Montana PBS? You listening?) On Sunday was the Earth Day celebration at Caras park, with live music, food, booze, and sustainable living demonstrations and information. And there was the weekend-long powow at the Adams center.

In short, Earth Day is an important weekend in Missoula. That’s fitting, of course. Many in Missoula are dedicated to sustainable living concepts, trying to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, and searching for a way to have a small impact on the environment. I suspect as global warming worsens, Missoula will be a place to look to for answers on how to live.

One of Missoula’s strengths in this regard is its citizens’ use of bicycles. There’s a decent trail system (which needs more work) and a load of bike lanes (more are desperately needed), a surprising number of Missoulians (including yrs truly) bike year-round.

And then you hear something like this:

The driver of the car, one witness said, seemed to intentionally veer out of his way in order to ram into the bicyclist riding on Toole Avenue, launching her 15 feet into the air, before speeding off down the street.

According to witnesses the driver, Anthony Dailey, purposefully veered into Stacie Ann Dewolf. He was drunk at the time and faces vehicular homicide charges, which has a sentencing of up to 30 years. (And this blogger is urging Missoula authorities to ask for the maximum.)

Anyone who bikes regularly knows how dangerous the streets are. I’ve had a few accidents myself, one of which you may remember. Drivers, ensconced behind glass in a climate-controlled environment, coffee in hand, music on, are psychologically and emotionally removed from the street. They don’t pay as much attention as you wish they would. And worse still, many of them, so far removed from the reality of the street, don’t reason well. Some of them cut bikers off or push them off the road because bikers sometimes delay them a few seconds. That is, they endanger the lives of bikers over a few seconds.

I’m not saying that’s why Dailey struck Dewolf. He may not know. Maybe it was an impulse. Or a moment of rage. The point is, is that Dewolf didn’t have a chance against Dailey’s car. None of us do against any car. And that’s a bit of a bummer when considering if you want to commute by bicycle. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would like to bike more often, but are terrified – and rightfully so – of the streets.

I don’t know the solution other than to expand the bike trail system and keep motorists apart from cyclists as much as possible and especially in high-density traffic areas. Still, every cyclist eventually uses a street.

The point here, is that a lot of folks – especially the climate change haters – say that true climate change reform will mean lifestyle changes. And that’s absolutely true. One of the institutions that will have to change is our car-dependency. Right now cars have the advantage. Our streets and cities are designed around the car, especially the sprawl on our cities’ edges. We need sidewalks and city blocks and bike lanes and trails and living density. We need to change our perception of how we see our streets and roads.

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