Missoula In Motion has launched a story-telling series called Commuters of Missoula featuring every day Missoulians that have incorporated sustainable transportation into their lives. Commuters of Missoula features individuals who are frequent bikers, walkers, busers and carpoolers as well as those who just do it once and a while!
Whether you're a winter biker or a once a month bus rider, we'd love to chat! Please consider nominating yourself or a friend
My name is Sierra and I live in the lower Rattlesnake, but I feel like it's
more like mid-snake… it’s the very upper part of the lower rattlesnake.
I work at Ecology Project International (EPI), which is on the east side of 4th Street just off the Milwaukee Trail. With my dog, Waffles, it takes us about 40 minutes to walk to work. It’s 1.2 miles.
I've been sustainably commuting in Missoula for eight years, but I started pretty much exclusively walking once I got Waffles. She really was the motivation. Waffles comes to work with me every day. EPI deserves a huge
WALKING WITH SIERRA (& Waffles)
shout out. There is such a welcoming atmosphere to animals. Allowing pets in the office is the reason I'm able to commute the way that I do. I don't have to walk home on my lunch break to take care of Waffles. She loves coming into work and she loves the walks!
Another reason I walk is, it's just such a pleasant way to start the day. I imagine how grumpy and chaotic I would be if I showed up to work having driven versus spending 35 minutes walking on a quiet street in the rattlesnake. I hate driving. Like, I really, really hate relying on a vehicle for so many reasons… It's expensive. It's inefficient. It’s bad for the environment. Parking is a pain. It doesn't bring me any joy! But walking is just such an enjoyable way to start the day; getting some exercise, getting outside, listening to music, listening to a podcast and carving out that very intentional time to get from point A to point B.
I think people think walking takes forever; that it’s exhausting or inconvenient. A lot of times when I tell people I walk to work from the Rattlesnake, their eyes get wide and they're like, ‘Oh, wow! That's a journey!’ But… it's really not! The reality is, it's slow, mellow, almost like a meditative state. It maybe adds an extra 20 minutes to my commute… but it's a delightful 20 minutes!
I really see walking as a form of self-care. I'm getting exercise, I'm getting fresh air, I am catching up on podcasts. I'm listening to my Spotify Discovery Weekly, new music. I call my parents or my sister during my commute. Most of the time it’s just me and Waffles, but some days I’ll walk with my partner when our timing works out. I look forward to the sunrises in the morning and the sunsets in the evening. The skies that I've seen because I take the time to walk is not something I take for granted…and oh my goodness! the number of Great Blue Heron sightings I would have missed without walking! In the summertime, I get to dunk in the river or in the Rattlesnake Creek on the way home with my dog and it’s such a nice way to end the day. It's really valuable time that you can use in a very recharging way.
If you are going to start a walking commute, my advice would be to get the right gear - warm winter boots, yak tracks, warm clothing, hats and gloves. I dress my dog in booties and a jacket, too. In the summertime, I like to work in my Birkenstocks. Even though they're comfy, they're not great for walking long distances. So I'll wear my tennis shoes and then I'll change into my Birkenstocks when I get to the office. You got to be comfy. I’ll plan accordingly with different backpacks. I have a day bag that can fit my laptop, my notebook, my lunch, my coffee mug, my water bottle, Waffle’s snacks, and all the things that I need. But if I need to carry extra supplies or something, I can bring my backpacking backpack, which has a lot of hip and shoulder support. And bring water and snacks and layers. I always have a green jacket at the bottom of my backpack. It’s a good, good layer. Having the right gear makes walking to work a safe and comfortable experience.
I would encourage anyone checking out Missoula In Motion’s website and reading the commuter stories to really think about what your commute would look like if you tried to use your vehicle less. I acknowledge that it's not possible for everyone, but you can get really creative with your commute! Look at your schedule and your routine and your habits and consider what it would look like to try walking or biking or riding the bus. It's like a little community, you know? I see the same people usually in the mornings and I feel like there's kind of this unspoken respect and admiration among everyone.
I love everything about my commute. It is a highlight of my day almost every day. I cannot picture what my life would look like without it. It is pretty integral to my routine. My life would look and feel really, really different if I didn't have my morning and evening walks. I chose to live in this community because I love the environment and the outdoors and the people, but you don't need to hike big mountains to experience outdoor exploration, exercise, and adventure. It can be a part of your daily schedule if you want it to be. There's no doubt, I feel super lucky and privileged that I'm able to commute the way that I do.
My name is Molly and I live by Expressway, off North Reserve. I work for the City Attorney's office, located in City Hall, which is downtown.
In the summertime, I drive most often, but my car canNOT handle the winter - it’s two-wheel drive, rear wheel drive, and a manual transmission. In the wintertime, the taking the bus and carpooling with my boyfriend are the best options for me. I feel safer because I know the bus will make it. And I know that the 4-wheel drive vehicle that my boyfriend has will make it… but my car will not.
RIDING THE BUS WITH MOLLY
Driving my car in the winter is so anxiety inducing. It's not fun in the morning when you're so anxious and then you get to work. It's really hard to unpack that anxiety. Having an option that is safe, like riding the bus or carpooling, takes that pressure off me to drive.
I started riding the bus and carpooling because of the City’s Sustainable Trip Challenge this past summer. I thought it was interesting and I also like a challenge. I'm very competitive, so I was like, ‘I can do that, no problem.’ Really, I had been wanting to because there's a bus stop right outside my apartment complex. I was like, ‘I wonder how long it would take me to get there?’ The Challenge was the push I needed to actually try; to test it out and see what it was like to take the bus. When I did the Trip Challenge, I saw it as a way to test run getting to downtown during the winter. My plan was if I can't get ride with my boyfriend, then at least I can rely on the bus to get me to work on time.
When I was first thinking about taking the bus, I started by looking up the Mountain Line website first and then trying to figure out their schedules. And then I went to the Missoula Motion office, and I got a printed bus schedule. Then I downloaded the transit app.
My other piece of advice is in the form of a story: I get to the bus stop, I'm on time, everything's great. I have my coffee in hand, I have everything I need. The bus pulls up and the bus driver says, ‘I’m sorry, but you can't bring that coffee cup.’ because it was a disposable Starbucks cup and it didn't have a twist lid. I had no idea! So I drank down three sips, opened it up, and poured it out. But because it was so full when I poured it out, it splashed back all over my feet and sandals. It's the most disappointing thing, you know. So, my advice to anyone new to riding the bus is: when you take the bus, make sure you have a twist lid on your drinks!
The Mountain Line drivers are all super nice. I love them. The bus can be confusing sometimes but the drivers are so willing and ready to be like ‘This bus is going here. You are going to want to get on this bus then transfer to this route.’ It can be confusing when it’s new, but they know because they do it every day.
When I take the bus, my favorite part is that I get to have a little reading time. Or sometimes I listen to podcasts on the bus because when you're sitting all day long looking at your computer, your neck kind of hurts looking down. In the fall I really enjoyed when I could look at all the beautiful trees changing colors. That was really cool.
I think a misconception people have is that they think the bus is not safe. I'm like, ‘Dude, it's a public bus. There are cameras and the bus driver.’
On my route specifically I've noticed it's a lot of professionals who are going to downtown, like myself. I’ll see the same few people every time; a guy who works for the County, there are several nurses, a couple of construction workers who are working out on Broadway and they get off at the stop there. There are also a few people who might be experiencing homelessness, but the bus might be their only transportation option right now. Our busses are free, and I think it’s fantastic!
If I could think of any improvements… it’s a selfish one, but I want more busses! (laughs) …but really I think they do a really good job.
I was born and raised in Montana and am happily working here in Missoula doing physical therapy. I love Missoula for all it offers, but its commute-ability was always a big part; wanting to live in a town that I could ride my bike to work and be near friends and not have to do a whole lot of driving. When I moved to Missoula, one of the attractions to this town is that it had really well-thought-out maps and bike routes to work and it's just gotten better and better each year. Bike commuting infrastructure and nice walking facilities, or free public transportation really are incentives for people to want to move here.
I try to commute sustainably 3-days a week, and then I leave one day to drive. I run errands or make it across town for after-work engagements or pick up things that I couldn't with bike.
As a physical therapist, I'm always encouraging people: If there's one thing you do every day for your body it’s to try to get some form of cardio. Bike riding is my 35 minutes of mandatory cardio. I don’t have to be very creative about getting exercise, I get exercise every day that I choose to ride to work. I live on the northside, and I work on the south end of town at Alpine physical therapy, inside The Peak gym. It takes me 35 minutes and according to the commuter app, it’s around 7 miles.
One of the best things about Missoula is the bike trails. I can take them for about 80% of my ride to work. I used to think they weren't as efficient, but I thought after a while, they're safer. I can spend a little bit more time on my bike getting in my “mandatory cardio” with a bike commute and have less chance of getting whacked by a car.
I pick up the bike trail over by California Street and then hop on the Milwaukee. At first, I thought I would never use that Reserve Street overpass. I would just kind of bob and weave through 4 lanes of traffic. Then at some point I realized that's just idiotic. So, I rerouted to take that bike overpass, and it's a delight of the ride, really.
I also used to ride two miles down the shoulder of Highway 93, which I did not enjoy. It was one of those things you just kind of suffer through. Then they added the Bitterroot Trail and it’s fantastic! It was like Field of Dreams – ‘If you build it, they will come’. You see those people out there rollerblading with their cross-country ski gear on and a whole lot of people biking and walking. It’s really cool.
If you are thinking about starting to ride your bike to work, I’d say definitely get a helmet. And bike lights. Then do a little route planning. It’s nice to avoid busy streets. Figure out how long it’s going to take and give yourself extra time in case something happens.
I think some reasons people don’t want to ride their bike to work is, they are concerned about things breaking down and not having enough time to fix it. Also, just the unpleasantness of the weather, not wanting to have cold fingers or cold toes. The thing is you are going to get sweaty, and you are going to be cold. It’s just something that comes along it. I've always subscribed to the theory, ‘There's no bad weather, only bad clothes.’ What I would tell people is- have layers; things to take on and off. Leave enough time to fix a flat tire or call a loved one to come pick you up. I’ve had to “Strider Bike” myself to work when I had chain issues. I’ve had to roll up my sleeves and pant legs when it’s too hot. Just always give yourself an extra 10 minutes if you need to change things up.
Really, though, 95% of the time it's pleasant. I feel better about my day if I can ride my bike to work. I like the environmental benefits of not contributing to carbon emissions. It feels like I've gotten that small win of like doing something good for the environment and my body. It really is just a nice way see your town, get a little fresh air, and get your exercise in for the day.
My name is Margo. I live in the Riverfront neighborhood and primarily work from home, but I come here [C3 WorkLouge] probably once a week, just to get out of the house. It doesn't take that much longer to ride my bike than it does to drive. I guess, depending on where I am going, sometimes riding my bike takes a little longer, but most often I feel like I arrive in a much better mood. It feels kind of cool carrying my helmet or being like, “I walked here”.
Really there are probably far more active commuters or people who do bigger things than me… In the summer, I probably commute on foot or by bike 80% of the time. In the winter, it's probably around 40% of the time.
WALKING & BIKING
Sustainable commuting lets you see different sides of Missoula. Parking downtown is not that expensive, but it can be difficult, and it can take 5-10 extra minutes to find a spot. Riding your bike to the farmer's market on Saturday is way better than driving. I like feeling super cool, riding my bike home with a backpack and a baguette and flowers coming out of it. I really like riding down to events, like Music in the Park, too. There is something about biking and walking that feels really community oriented.
If I could give advice to someone just starting to use sustainable transportation, it’d be when you start walking, or taking the bus, or whichever mode you pick- the big thing to remember is time. You are probably going to have to build in more time. If you have to be at work at 8:00 AM, maybe driving takes 5 minutes, but walking, might be 30 minutes. Try different routes to see which one is fastest. In my neighborhood, there's a house that never shovels their sidewalk, so I learned to avoid that street. Give yourself time to find your route you like.
Maybe scenery could be a thing to. There are certain parts of town that are more scenic than others. Or maybe you like the bike path. I think those are the two biggest things for me: make the time and then find a nice route and know that you can change it up if you want to keep it interesting.
You all [Missoula In Motion] have a lot of great resources. On your website or your app you can do time comparisons like walking versus riding my bike versus driving, that kind of helps you get a gauge for going somewhere new. Recently I met a friend somewhere I'd never ridden my bike before so I didn’t know how long it was going to take. I get excited about using the resources that are available. I also really love the challenges (Clear the Air Challenge, Commuter Challenge, etc) It's cool to see the leaderboard and get excited about the difference you are making.
I started sustainably commuting mostly because of climate change and trying not to use fossil fuels. In a world where it's easy to feel hopeless about not being able to do anything about what's going, it’s just one little thing that you can do to help out. I feel like I'm giving Mother Earth a hug by not driving.
I feel like it's easy to get in like this mindset that it has to be perfect, though. I’m not going to lie, I drove this week, but it's just sort of like letting go of the idea of being a perfectionist with it. Just do what you can. It’s like the saying, ‘A lot of people doing a little is better than a few people doing a lot.’ "
"My name is Sarah and I work for ALPS Insurance, downtown. I commute in from the South Hills, which according to the Way to Go! Missoula Trip Planner, is 3.8 miles one way.
I recently bought a fat bike and I said to myself, ‘Look, if I get this fat bike I will make sure I ride it at least once a week’ and so that’s what I’ve been doing. I think people assume biking is is dangerous and that it takes too long. I’ve actually timed my commute and its only about 5 minutes more.
I invested in a really good light and a really good pair of pants that I can put over stuff to keep me dry. Having the right equipment makes a big difference.
BIKING WITH SARA
Like lobster gloves in the winter. The bike shop gave me silicone sleeves that go over your brakes to keep your hands warm. I initially thought it was silly and then I tried it and I was like, 'oh no that makes perfect sense!'
I really enjoy the freedom that comes when you commute by bicycle, whether it's going to work or even going downtown you can park right in front of where you want to eat, its super easy. It's such a fast, beautiful form of transportation. It's just nice to be out and see what's happening and see new projects being done. It's fun riding by the Montana rail link where they put the new park in and the community garden. It’s beautiful and cool to watch that happen and transform, right in front of me!
I really like the social aspects of cycling, too. I have a friend that works for Adventure Cycling and I've run into him several times and then we ride home together! That just doesn’t happen when you're driving! I love bikes. They're just awesome."
"I live in the Old Saw Mill district and I commute to Paxon Elementary School in the University district. I sustainably commute every day. Every. Single. Day. (big smile) I mean, there was one-time last year that it was really, really windy and snowy so I got a ride… but besides that, since 2015, I have sustainably commuted every day.
These days, it’s always by bike. I used to work up the Rattlesnake and live further away, so there would be days I would take the #5 bus when it was super-duper cold. If I get a flat, then I’ll walk home… and peppering in whatever else might happen... but yeah, these days I'm mostly biking.
BIKING WITH OLIVIA
I used to do it occasionally. I was really into biking, but I had a really crappy bike. I had to work really hard to go up hill. I went to a small college in Vermont- the college was basically the entire town- so there wasn't really anywhere you had to get to by car, ever. I feel like having that background, I really wanted to be biking everywhere I went. I lived in rural Vermont after that and it was not super conducive to biking. Then when I moved to Missoula, it was just really simple and easy so I decided to get better bike and just go for it.
I think people think it's going to make you late - like they don't have time to do it. But, depending on the lights, I feel like some days I get to work faster! For instance, the idea of finding a parking spot downtown? I go to farmer's markets and I see people trying to find a parking spot downtown and being backed up at traffic lights, I think “Where do you think you were going? I know you're just gonna sit there for a while.” People think that driving is going to be faster and it's just not.
There are so many other benefits. You automatically get exercise. Also, it’s a chance to be alone in your head and clear your mind. Biking is a great outlet to let it go of a bad mood. I also really like the sustainability of it. I like seeing the stats – even just looking at this year’s Commuter Challenge and seeing the difference two weeks made?! It’s insane!
Starting out- especially in the winter, I feel like it’s important to remind yourself that it's really not that long. You're going to get there. You're going to warm up. You're going to be fine. I remind myself that I can handle being cold for 20 minutes. (big smile)
It’s also really important having the right like gear. Missoula In Motion gives out bike lights for free, so no one has an excuse to not have lights. Then get used to the side streets of Missoula. It’s super fun to zig zag your way around town and know exactly where you're going. I don’t understand when people drive to the gym to ride a stationary bicycle. Get out! Be a little explorer!
When people say, “I could never bike.” I say,” OK, then try something different! Walk! Use the bus! The bus is free. It's free!” For me though, I just love being on my bike. I feel like if you're in a car, you can space out a lot more and not notice what the clouds are doing, not notice, “oh, that tree had leaves yesterday and they've all blown away now.” I just really like having the opportunity to look at what is around you.
If you are going to try to start commuting by bike, I’d suggest starting off by going where it’s really low commitment- like the store or the Roxy. And go easy on yourself. I sometimes hear people say, “I only did it once this week and told myself I was going to do it all the time.” I think the idea that it has to be all or nothing is flawed. Even if you do it twice in a month, that's still twice! That's still money saved, CO2 diverted, calories you burned. It’s okay to just do it sometimes, just give sustainable commuting a try!
BIKING WITH CANDY
"My name is Candy and I live in the 3rd and Reserve St. area. I commute to the Westside, Monday-Friday. I would say I sustainably commute about 90% of the time. I usually will only drive if I have something else that I need to do that day, like buy groceries.
My job is Paratransit Scheduler. Mountain Line is a great company to work for! I have been doing it for almost 4 years. The people I work with are great! The drivers are great! There are always fires to put out; someone running behind, traffic, or someone gets delayed, then you need to move stuff around so everyone is on time, but it’s really an awesome job.
I have been sustainably commuting ever since I started working at Mountain Line 4 years ago. I like it because it is some chill time before you get into work and you arrive in a good state of mind. Then if it has been hectic, you have some chill time on the way home, too.
I was motivated to start riding my bike because I was tired of driving. I guess it’s something I believe in- being sustainable and I was tired of driving, truthfully.
The benefits I’ve experienced from sustainably commuting have been saving money, feeling more relaxed, and seeing cool stuff. We just saw a fox this morning right down California Street! There are always deer on the trail. There is a big buck that is often standing at the corner. It’s pretty cool especially in the morning; seeing the sunrise on Lolo Peak. Stuff that you just wouldn’t see if you were in a car. And the people! Riding home from work it’s fun seeing everyone and their dogs. It’s a whole different thing. People in cars can seem so aggressive, but on the trails, it’s always ‘Hi! How ya doing?’ just really friendly.
I think one misconception people have about biking to work is that it takes too much time. It’s easy when you do it every day. My helmet’s right there. I have my pack; it’s not a big deal. The lights are on my bike. I just jump on and go. For someone that wants to start doing it, you have to get a bike and the right lights and helmet. ‘Now I have to figure out what I’m going to wear. Now I have to figure out how I’m going to carry my stuff to work.’ I think just getting started might be something that detours people, but once you get it, then it’s 5 minutes and you are out the door.
If I had any pointers for people who are just starting to ride their bikes to work it would be to try it on a day off before you actually start. Give yourself a trial run to make sure you have all of your gear together so that you aren’t stressed about being late for work. And then you can figure out how long it is going to take you, how much time you need to allow. I think that’s a big thing.
Make sure if you are biking that you have the lights and the helmets. Talk to a bike shop because they are really knowledgeable and they can give some pointers on what you might need.
If someone is not used to biking in town, my biggest thing would be to check in with you [Missoula In Motion] get your route down, and do it with someone. I think that is one of the biggest deterrents, ‘Russell is so busy. I don’t want to bike down Russell to get there.’ I think people don’t always realize it that, ‘oh, there is a trail running right by my house!
Really, I just want to encourage everyone to try it. Get in touch with you guys [Missoula In Motion] and then give it a shot. It’s easy. It’s healthy. You meet great people doing it. You get to know the people that you pass on the trails every day. 'There is so-and-so on their run. And there is so-and-so walking their dog’. It extends the feeling of what is your neighborhood."
How often do you sustainably commute?
"I ride as much as I can. I live in 44 Ranch and commute to Frenchtown.
I don’t [commute by bike] all the time. I pick certain days to do it. Over the past
6 years I ride just depending on the week. In months that are appropriate
to commute by bike, weather-wise, it would probably average out to about
once a week. For the 6 years, I have tried to ride out there as much as possible."
Why did you start commuting by bike?
"Lower carbon footprint. I'm really trying to do the best that I can to not burn a ton
of gas. And I save money."
What advice would you give to people just starting to commute by bike?
"Wear a helmet and understand hand signals. Those are the biggest things. If you are riding in
traffic then you need to abide by traffic laws and use turn signals the same as anyone else.
What are some misconceptions people have about biking to work?
"A misconception that people have about biking to work is that it is not safe. I think that’s the biggest one that I hear all the time, ‘Why would you ride on Mullan?’ or ‘Why would you ride on Frontage Road? There is no shoulder.’ For the most part, you are in with traffic, you are a part of traffic, and they [vehicles] do a good job navigating around me and giving me space."
What are some improvements you would like to see?
"I would like to see more paths out to distance areas. When you are looking at Frenchtown, Alberton, or Seeley - those faraway places- it seems like all of them have their own paths, but they don’t connect to a major metropolitan area. I would love to see extending paths out there. The Bitterroot trail is a great path to ride on, but it’s probably the busiest road in terms of scenic riding so it’s not as fun as maybe a Seeley road would be. If there was a road heading up to Glacier, people would take advantage of those avenues. Even Frenchtown has a path all the way to the end of Frontage road, but there is no connector. To me, if you want more commuting and movement you have to provide large avenues for people to be able to commute from further away places."
What do you love about your sustainable commute?
I love think-time before I get to work. The time to preprocess all the things that are happening before you get there; it’s 2 hours a day where you are kind of with yourself and your thoughts. That is my favorite part about it.
BIKING WITH RILEY
BUSING WITH TRAVIS
"My name is Travis Hoffman, Advocacy Coordinator at Summit Independent Living. I live in the Franklin to the Fort Neighborhood, in central Missoula. In a typical, non-covid world, my daily commute is two or three miles across town to SW Higgins. I have an accessible vehicle so I typically drive myself to work. But in the event that I can’t use my vehicle like if it’s in the shop from hitting a deer, for example, I take advantage of the bus route that is right outside my house. Route 2 and 6 are very close to me as well. I’m able to easily take my wheelchair to those stops and utilize Mountain Line. Depending on where I’m going and how many bus transfers it entails, I will sometimes walk. If it’s just five or six blocks, that’s not too bad if the weather is nice.
I personally don’t use paratransit because it’s just easier to take their fixed routes. It’s fully accessible and goes pretty close to the places I need to go. Missoula, for Montana, is pretty progressive in terms of thinking about how to get people around town whether it be for fun like to eat out at a restaurant, to a movie, to work, or to school. If you’re not able to drive or if you want to cut down on your driving, chances are you’ll have a bus stop within walking distance, or rolling distance if you use a wheelchair or whatnot, to where you live or where you work or where you shop. It’s pretty convenient. Obviously, Missoula has some outdated infrastructure which makes some of the bus stops hard to get to and inclement weather can impact that, but for the most part, it’s a pretty accessible and pretty easy to use system that will get you in the vicinity of wherever you want to go.
Being a person with a disability and thinking about all the obstacles that are out there for transportation, a lot of people don’t drive themselves so they rely on the bus. But when doing so, you’re confined to when the bus runs and on the days the bus runs. Attending evening functions is sometimes hard if the bus doesn’t run late into the night and on the weekends the bus doesn’t run as often or on Sundays so attending church is not an option. Expanding services where and when it’s lacking, would certainly be an improvement to many users, especially to those who lack other means of transportation, which a lot of people with disabilities do. And there’s still certain sections of town where there’s new development coming in and some revitalization happening like on Brooks Street near Walgreens and CVS for example, that are underserved. So I think some of those underserved or unserved portions of town, it would be good to increase capacity or switch up some routes to get closer to those sections of town.
Air quality and traffic congestion are important things for Missoulians to think about. If people were to carpool more or ride public transportation more, it would help Missoulians in many ways. A lot of people with disabilities walk places either on sidewalks or on the trail system, and with a lot of traffic and congestion, it’s hard for people to cross the road or find gaps for traffic to stop for them. So thinking about it not only for the environmental benefits of less cars on the road, but how it also makes it easier for people to get around who use active forms of transportation such as walking or biking."
“I grew up biking as a kid. There were a bunch of red pines in a cornfield near my house in Minnesota and me and all the neighborhood kids would hangout and bike around. Biking for fun is something I’ve always done. It wasn’t until I moved away from home that I realized how many other options there were to get around besides driving. I used the city bus when living in St. Paul quite a bit as well. Fast forward to today, the one time that I wasn’t able to bike to work I didn’t feel like myself. It’s turned into something I identify with.”
BIKING WITH ERRIN
“I went to Hamline University in St. Paul and there was a speaker once named Julia Butterfly Hill. She wrote a book about living in one of the redwood trees and came to talk about that book. Julia spoke about bringing tupperware whenever she goes out to eat so she doesn’t have to use styrofoam and other ideas like that. It sparked this question inside of me where I asked “what are the little things that are within my power that I can do to be as sustainable as possible”? I thought about it and bought a bike in 2003 and I still have 'Speedy' There are all these different schools and campuses in St. Paul and you can take classes at different Universities so I biked all over the place. Ever since then I’ve tried to get jobs that are within biking distance. I lived in Minneapolis and I biked 22 miles a day to go to a job in St. Paul. It was mostly on a bike path, which was amazing. I also commuted by bike when I was in the Peace Corps in West Africa. I biked in the Sub Saharan African desert for 11 kilometers just about every day. Biking in the snow and in the sand are really similar”.
“Now, I live really close to Willard High School and I work over by Southside Walmart. I use the bike path mostly all the way there- I just have to get across the Reserve and Brooks intersection which can be tricky. I switch it up. Sometimes I turn left onto Reserve, depending on the snow and then I go straight across on S. Reserve. And then sometimes I take Dore and go on 39th for a little bit. In the mornings I leave my house at 7 and at that time Reserve Street feels pretty manageable. But on the way home I use the bike lanes on 39th. The new bike lanes on 5th and 6th are really great and have been well plowed this season so far”.
“I get a lot of questions from people of “how can you do that?” or “I wish that I would do that!” and I think so many people have these misconceptions about biking or walking or busing that they think it’s out of their reach. I always suggest just start somewhere, just go for it. I told my coworkers for the Commuter Challenge, just do it one day and I got a lot of positive feedback”.
“Another thing I hear a lot from people is that they don’t want to show up somewhere wet or disheveled. I reassure people that it just takes a little bit of planning. In my classroom I have an extra set of clothes just in case I land in a mud puddle. I wear more flexible clothing so I don't have to change all the time. People seem to think it takes a lot of time out of one's day but it really doesn’t. They also look at me so shocked and say “What time do you leave in the morning?!” And I usually say “probably the same time as you do”! In Missoula I feel like I can generally get places faster by biking than by driving. And I don’t have a fancy bike, I have a bike that’s 17 years old! You don't have to have the best of the best to bike more often”.
“When it’s super dumping I wear rain pants and a rain jacket which I usually get from secret seconds. When I won the Commuter of the Year, I was so excited to get a brand new rain jacket for the first time. I also wear ski goggles when it’s really bad out. And I wear a backpack and have a rack with panniers. Since Speedy, my bike, is so old, the places where the screws go to hold on the rack have worn so I can’t put a lot of weight on it anymore. I carry my backpack now because I’m doing remote school so I need to bring my laptop with me most places”.
“I actually live in the neighborhood of somebody that I worked with at a previous job and she always bike commutes. She plays music and I will sometimes hear the music on the trail and I will get so excited to have some music for a portion of my ride. She really likes Counting Crows. There’s a lot of people that walk their dogs in the morning that I've started to recognize and say hello to”.
“At the end of the day it’s really nice to have some activity to just kind of let the day go. When you’re driving it still feels fast and requires a lot of your attention but if you’re ridesharing or biking or busing you have time to just kind of decompress and reflect upon how the day went and focus on what you’re going to be doing next. I think you’re more intentional with your time”.
“At Meadow Hill we have three core values which are community, engagement, and leadership which I teach during the introduction with all of the new students. I go through ways that I’m part of my community and I use biking as my example. I get to see people that I wouldn’t normally see in the morning, and I see deer. I get to feel what it feels like to be a part of Missoula rather than just alone in my car”.
BIKING, BUSING AND WALKING WITH RACHEL
"I grew up in Potomac right on the Blackfoot River so we were pretty dependent on driving places. When I lived in Oregon I had a commute, I lived about 30 minutes away from my job. But since I’ve been back in Missoula, I’ve lived close to everything. I used to live on 5th Street and work at the University so I would take the bus pretty frequently or bike or walk. I would drive sometimes but four years ago, it became a news year resolution, I said “I’m not going to drive to work
anymore”. And I haven't since. I care about the environment and I hate parking. I have a little 2-door Honda civic and it’s a great car but I wanted the challenge and wanted to combat the laziness and compliance of driving. I couldn’t ignore how easy it was to not drive. I have free busses, I can walk, I can bike. I don’t need to drive”.
“I just bought a house on the Northside and it’s wonderful, I love it so much. I work for Destination Missoula so that’s about a 20 minute walk from my place. I can also catch the bus, which is about a block and a half from my house and get dropped off at the transfer center. Or I can walk or bike. I take the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks and feel like I’m going to die every time, no matter how many times I’ve done it! There’s a little mental game I’ve started to play to get over it like “okay remember to breathe on every 3rd pedal”. I’m glad it’s there but it’s such a rough bridge! I have a cute little cruiser which is very tippy. I also work at Big Sky Break Out on the Northside on the weekends which is about a 2 minute bike ride or a 5 minute walk. The bus I take is Route 3 which is once an hour so I really have to be on it in the mornings. If I miss the bus though, luckily I can just walk and only be a few minutes late to work. Thankfully all my employers have been really accommodating and flexible and appreciate that I use sustainable modes.”
“In the warm weather I bike a lot more- it’s faster and feels really good. In the cold weather I pretty exclusively bus. I will walk depending on if it's a nice day. I usually go home for lunch because I have two cats so I like to give them some attention. So I’ll take the bus to work and then I’ll walk home and back to work and then I’ll catch the bus back home again. I put my bike away in mid-September and I’ve been busing pretty consistently since then and it’s been really fine and comfortable with COVID and all. Route 3 isn’t too crowded, I think the most there’s been has been maybe 10 people. If it were a lot more crowded, I’d be a little more nervous but that hasn’t happened. There are a lot of people that ride the same bus route as me and there isn’t necessarily a lot of conversation but there’s that recognition of being regulars and knowing where our stops are which is really nice. There have been several times where it’s just me and the driver. I just relax and read my book.”
“I love working with international students and people. It really just fills me up. I remember I was interviewing for a job at Portland State University and when I met with the Director he gave me some really good advice. He said, “leave work at work. This field, the burnout and compassion fatigue is so high. You have to be able to put it down and know that there are other good people in the field who will help support the students and if you do that, you will be able to contribute longer.” That really stuck with me. What I love about a commute in the morning is it gives you that time to wake up and sit with your thoughts. And the end of the day you have time to debrief so when you get home you’ve had time to come down. Busing, biking and walking provide that time and I love that.”
“Considering the environment has become such a part of my thinking that I almost don’t even think about it any more. My parents met in Barrow Alaska in a dry village which was 500 miles away from the nearest road so they rode snowmobiles everywhere. My dad was always super outdoorsy and connected to nature. He was a teacher and an elementary school principal in Potomac so as soon as school was out he would get in his van with his dog and canoe and go to Canada for 3 months and backpack everywhere. And growing up on the Blackfoot River and having that as my backyard really influenced me. And now the people I surround myself with are pretty conscientious about our waste. I was one of the first Soil Cycle customers to sign up and I have a big vegetable garden. Living on the Northside has been such a wonderful community to be a part of. Like I actually know my neighbors and I have really, really cool neighbors. Knowing and living in a community makes you think about how your actions impact everyone else. When you know the people and feel connected to your neighbors, you want to do better for them. Plus I know I’m going to feel better at the end of the day if I bike or walk or bus. I’m going to be sitting in an office for most of the day and I really don't want to sit in a car and deal with parking.”
“If it’s the autonomy piece that people are so attached to with cars they have to realize that there can be other things besides cars that provide autonomy. Like you can have autonomy with a bike, you can use your feet! But cars are just so ingrained in the American psyche. Like you think about how it’s presented culturally in so many coming of age things. For example you get a car at 16, you see the commercials of the dad giving his daughter a new set of car keys. Getting a car is this huge symbol of growing up and being your own person in America. When talking with friends or coworkers I try my best to use positive reinforcement and explain to them why it feels so great not depending on my car. Getting people excited about something, helping them realize all the ways it improves my day.”
“I live in midtown, near the Southgate Mall and take the Milwaukee or Bitterroot trail just about everywhere. One of the reasons I probably ride my bike a lot is because my dad has always rode bikes. Him and I ride on the Bitterroot Trail quite a bit.I just bought my condo in the fall and I had my eyes specifically on that one. I‘d looked at other condos in other places and there are lots available out on Mullan Road. I specifically chose my place in large part because of its central location. But I totally get that finances come in to play and can really dictate where folks live. I looked for condos downtown and they were way too expensive. But there are still places around town that are near bike paths that are more affordable than directly downtown. I think midtown is going to continue to develop. I really value how easy it is to get to places like the new Bridge and Dram Shop.
BIKING/RIDING THE BUS WITH KRIS
I’ve been primarily sustainably commuting since 2006. The decision was based mostly out of convenience. Where I’ve lived and where I’ve worked, there’s usually an easy way for me to partially use a bike path, partially use a big wide sidewalk or partially use a broad shoulder. If I hadn’t had that, it would have been more difficult for me to bike for sure. I was trying to be active and I enjoy riding my bike. My advice to encourage others to bike and walk more, is to find paths and routes that lend themselves to fewer cars and less traffic. When I try going back to driving, it actually feels like more of an inconvenience.
During the winter, as soon as there’s ice, I choose to walk rather than ride my bike. I also started to ride the bus a lot, especially when zero fare started. My girlfriend and I worked together and she rode the bus so in the winter time, I was like “okay, I guess I’ll ride the bus too.” It’s really how we first got to know each other. It was an opportunity to be in the same place and connect and talk.Also, when I rode the bus from my old place, I met two older woman that I got to know. We always ended up on the same get on point and the same get off point. I hadn't ridden the bus for a while, in over a year probably, and when I did again, sure enough, I saw one of them again. I got to catch up with her and she said “Oh yea, Sharon asked about you, she was wondering if you sold your house. Biking and busing builds community I think. You have the choice of chatting with who’s sitting next to you or putting in your ear buds and just zoning out. Plus, my uncle Mark drives the bus I ride.”
BIKING WITH PATRICK
“I live on the edge of Westside, over by Draught Works, and I work in the Florence Building. I’ve primarily biked or walked in Missoula since I’d say 2008. I’ve always just enjoyed biking- even when I’ve hated my job and had horrible days at work. Sometimes the best parts of my days have been biking to and from work. I don’t hate my job anymore but ya know, it’s just a good reset. Plus, it’s just a good town. You run into people you know on the street, you have good conversations with people".
"I think distance plays a big factor for a lot of people. It’s too far to walk and it seems too far to bike. I take hundreds of people on 300 mile bike trips and we often do a bike to work day on the ride.
The premise is everyone wears work clothes and we go ride 75 miles. If you can ride 75 miles down the California coast in your work clothes, you can bike to work when you get home. At a certain point biking or walking or taking a different form of transportation just becomes what you do!
“So we have this bike- it was an impulse buy at a bike shop in Seattle. It’s a cycle truck cargo bike and has a lower center of gravity front wheel and then a platform and when you turn the handle bars the platform stays level. My wife and I ride with our dog on the front. Anytime I take that thing out, people just smile and they point and they laugh. Sometimes I feel like I’m on a parade and it’s kind of silly but it brings people joy. They love it and she loves it”!
“She just kind of balances up there. When I take the bike out of the shed, she gets so excited. If I’m using it just to go get dog food or chicken food and I don’t bring her, she gives me the stink eye”.
RIDING THE BUS WITH ROCKY
“I go by the nickname Rocky. I live in the Westside neighborhood and I serve as a foster grandparent at a pre-school on Stephens so it’s the number 2 or 11 bus to downtown and then the 7. I do not have a car. I gave up my car in 2008 principally because well, I had three fender benders that year, and then I drove out to Seattle to visit my daughter and burned out the transmission. I’ve only driven once since that time. I’ve taken the bus consistently for the past 11 years. I really believe that public transportation is important".
“When I was moving out here from the Twin Cities, I came out and drove around and looked at a couple of options and found a place and thought, ‘This is a really nice place.’ And, furthermore, on my way there, I actually had to move out of the way so the bus could get around me, and I thought, ‘Well, hey, that’s handy!’ I really didn’t get a license that was worth anything until I lived in Minnesota, even though I got one when I was in high school, but that was in Missouri. You had to pass a written test, but you didn’t have to take a driving test! It cost 50 cents for my first license.”
"There are whole bunch of people, especially my generation, who are just spooked about riding the bus. The senior van, I take advantage of that a lot. For instance the first Thursday of the month is when Albertsons has their senior citizen discount day, 10% off your full purchase. I also use the senior van occasionally when I go give blood over at the center on Reserve. I suggest getting to know your bus driver by name and introduce yourself. I try to do that too, especially with the new crop we’re getting in, we’re always getting new drivers"
“Most of the drivers are so good and so reasonable. I really enjoy them. Randy of course, I get such a kick out of him. He’s actually been to Santa Claus school. I kid you not. His wife actually made his costume because if you buy them new I guess they cost something like 30K. When Halloween is here I dress up as the Queen of Autumn and he was dressed in this wild shirt one time with the circles around it. I’m very fond of the bus drivers. He’s just a great old friend”
WALKING WITH DANNY
"When we were looking for places to live, we just looked at neighborhoods that were walkable or bikeable, sort of subconsciously. We knew we didn’t want to deal with driving every day. It’s a big hassle and so we looked in neighborhoods that were closer in. For about 10-15 years, I’ve lived in cities, New York City, Washington D.C., where there’s great public transportation. I could never really fathom going to an existence where I’m driving back and forth every day and having to navigate traffic. I guess that sort of set the baseline for me- where life shouldn’t involve a morning commute and an afternoon commute. The decisions we’ve made since then have reflected that. My wife is from New York City so she’s not even that good at driving. I get stressed out when I’m in the passenger seat with her”.
Any advice for new sustainable commuters?
“Oh my gosh, yes! Spikes. Micro spikes [for your shoes]. Also, do it once, whether it’s planned or if it’s an emergency. For instance if your car breaks down or won’t start at the end of the day so you have to walk home or something like that. It’s kind of interesting because you realize that 2 miles, while it can seem like a lot because maybe you have to pass through two neighborhoods, is actually quite doable. And then you get home and you feel good because you’ve just walked two miles! Plus, there’s nothing more peaceful than listening to a podcast and walking”.
Has anything interesting happened during your commutes?
“I was noticing today, whenever I commute with him by stroller, without fail, someone will stop me or someone will comment and say “oh you’re such a good dad”. And this doesn’t really have anything to do with commuting as much as it does about parenting but no one ever does that to my wife. I get congratulated all the time for just existing as a dad. One morning I was on the way to work, and there’s a McDonald’s at the bottom of the lower Rattlesnake and I stopped there because I wanted to get one of their breakfast sandwiches and one of their coffees. He was having a bad morning, blow out diaper, cranky, it was a little rough. I just wanted to get him out of the house and I was sitting there, he was probably asleep at this point and I was on my phone, with my coffee just like trying to stay sane and a guy came up to me and said “you are doing such a great job”. I was like I’m sitting here browsing twitter, sipping a McDonalds coffee, like drinking it over him, and I’m getting congratulated? My wife will be changing his diaper in the middle of a movie theater and no one will congratulate her. Just sitting here, before you arrived, I got congratulated by one guy for doing a good job. It’s unfair. That has nothing to do with commuting but it’s something I notice on my commute.”
What do you love about your commute?
“Honestly, you arrive to work a lot happier and you arrive back at home a lot happier. It makes me more productive and it makes me a better parent. I feel a difference walking with him in a stroller versus driving and arriving back home. I feel more ready to do stuff. More active."
CARPOOLING WITH SHAREEN
"When I first moved to town I lived off of Stephens and I walked to work. And then I moved to Miller Creek and I was just driving to work. Then two things coalesced for me to try using a sustainable mode. One was the Commuter Challenge, ya know, just wanting to try it. I looked on your website and found lots of options of people to potentially carpool with but I also knew my neighbors directly across the street from me also worked at the University. So we tried it for the week and I said “is this working for you, can we keep doing this?” So we’ve been carpooling every day together, it’s so easy and convenient. Plus, being new in town, I learn a lot from them about Missoula
and things going on on campus. I also get to enjoy the drive so much more. I get to look out the window and see the beautiful mountains and the beautiful river. Plus, I don’t lose my car! I would seriously often forget where I had parked my car 8 hours earlier. The other thing is my son is taking a break from college so he’s been using my car. By carpooling with my neighbors, we have no need for a second car. It’s been helpful on many fronts.
But it is nice to know that if they’re plans chance or if they go out of town, I can go online and see other carpool options. I checked it out and was pleased to see there were quite a few folks willing to carpool in my neighborhood. It does require a little more planning because I can’t stop at the store or run an errand after work but for the most part it’s very convenient.”
WALKING & BIKING WITH SINI & HEIKKI
Sini: "We’ve just used walking or biking or running since we moved here at the end of September. When we came here we decided not to buy a car here. At the time, our son was 9 months old and he didn’t enjoy sitting in a car at all. So when we moved here we decided to live 9 months without car because Missoula was advertised as a bicycle friendly city. We bought bicycles from Missoula and we brought a stroller from Finland that can be converted into a bicycle trailer. Here in town we have not used a car at all but we have rented a car when we want to go on longer trips.”
Heikki: "The trail in Missoula is very good and that has made it possible to live here without a car. Getting to University I think is much faster by bicycle than by car. And because the trail goes along the river, it’s really beautiful and relaxing. What I like very much for example is the bridge over Reserve Street because one time I tried to cross Reserve Street in another spot and it didn’t work at all. Without that bridge we would be much more stuck. And you can actually get pretty far! I’ve run all the way to Lolo. Even though it goes along the highways it’s still very beautiful. And through the winter, I was really surprised how well the trail stayed clear. But when you cannot get to your destination along the trail, it is just a nightmare. The sidewalks are really bumpy and not often clear of snow in winter. And you cannot even imagine cycling on those bike lanes with a baby in the trailer, it's just too dangerous."
BIKING WITH HEATHER
“I live on the Westside, and I commute to work which is just across the California Street Bridge. So I get to cross that bridge every single day, multiple times a day. I originally started commuting because my son got his drivers permit in 2004 and he started using my car. I’d been to Amsterdam and I loved how they rode their bikes over there and I was like I’m just gunna start riding and see how it goes”!
“Now my only drives are when I’m taking the pets to the vet or doing a big Costco run. I’ve even done Costco on the bike. It’s actually good self-control for going to Costco! I think a lot of people think it’s faster to drive but personally, I haven’t found that. Our system is really wonderful. Even over the past few years, all the connections we’ve made. You really can get from one place to another without hitting major roads. I don’t know if everybody realizes that”!
“There are so many benefits. The peace I feel riding across California Street Bridge every day is one. I see the heron and all the little ducks and the eagles sometimes and it’s just so enjoyable and great for my mental health. I love biking in the winter actually because I have to focus on staying upright on my bicycle. I just focus and think about staying safe on my bike and everything else disappears. And I do have a stressful job so it helps me release all of my stress from the day”.
“I live in the Rose Park neighborhood and commute to the River Trail. Before we had our son, I was biking 9 months out of the year and walking the other 3. On my commutes, I’ll listen to podcasts or talk to my friends or family. It really helps my sanity and I experience so many mental health benefits. Now that we have a son in day care 2 days a week, the car is coming out more often. We just started day care last week so we’re gunna see if there’s something we can do to bike him to day care or take the bus.
BIKING/WALKING WITH ALLISON
In general, we just don’t like having to drive. I find myself getting a little cranky when I do. When I’m on my bike or walking it’s just so much more pleasant. We are a two car family but one of them is 26 years old so we’re just gunna keep it as long as it lasts. My husband and I often carpool when getting out to trailheads. We’ll drive to the rattlesnake all together and my husband will go on a run and I’ll walk with our son and then we’ll switch off and I’ll run and he’ll walk.
Missoula is just so beautifully walker and biker friendly. We chose to live where we live because we can get to a lot of places by walking or biking. We’re not far from Ace Hardware and we’ve made sure that our eye doctor and our dentist are within walking distance. When I’m walking and biking I’m always amazed at how polite and aware most drivers are of pedestrians and bikers. I really appreciate that.”
Right now, my struggle is sustainably traveling with a kid. The daycare we use is near the Good Food Store and it just feels like a little bit of a distance for a bus route or a bike trailer but maybe that’s my challenge. If I do it once maybe I’ll realize it actually works and how easy it is. Maybe we just need to stretch ourselves a little bit by taking the bus or using the bike trailer once a week. We’ll start there.”
“I live on the south end of town so it’s about 3 miles, 6 miles round trip. Most of it is on the Bitterroot Branch trail which goes right by my house plus 4th street which is pretty quiet. I counted it one day, because you do then when you’re biking, and I cross 16 roads. So I cross a lot of streets but I’m not on a lot of streets sharing the road with cars. But ya know, I’ve been kind of astonished, it’s maybe 5% of drivers that don’t stop for bikers. I think that’s really great.
BIKING WITH PAT
Around 1985, when I bought my bike, I bike commuted in Missoula all the time. And this was when the bike infrastructure was nothing like it is today. Then I moved away, out to Seattle and bike commuted there and then to D.C. and bike commuted there. Same bike has been with me across the country. And then I came back to Missoula and life just kind of happened and I just wasn’t biking as much. And honestly I just got into a habit. Ya know I had a place to park and driving just became my habit. Now our parking pressure at work has increased exponentially so there’s a lot of incentive not to drive. And then there was the Commuter Challenge and we had someone in our office organizing our team and I was like “huh, why am I not on my bike?
I needed that little incentive. Missoula is a place with incredible athletes, ultra-marathoners, bike racers, Olympic athletes, people that are just incredibly dedicated to being active, but I think most of us go to work, go to school, take care of kids, take care of family members and run errands. So if a gift certificate to Five on Black or competition with another office will get you on your bike, I think that’s great. I know I need that nudge and I imagine other people do too. In years past actually when the Commuter Challenge would end, I would go back to driving! But this year, I was committed to continue biking. I’m trying to make biking my norm.
I was biking all through September and I looked at my dashboard one day and was so impressed by how many days I had biked! Offering a way to measure your trips and reward yourself-- it seems so simple but it was just enough to get me over the hump and keep motivated. To challenge myself. And I know how much better I feel. The other day I had been sitting at my desk all day and I was really looking forward to my bike ride home. I felt so much better.
The other thing I’ve noticed in the last few years is more people are using the bike paths. Whether they’re pushing a stroller or walking or just hanging out, I always pass other people. I like that on the Bitterroot Branch there is so much diversity, not just the hyper athletes but there are people of every silo in Missoula. It’s sort of a more accurate cross section of Missoula than what you get from the Missoula promo videos and ads. I appreciate seeing people just doing their thing. I saw a women the other day on an old one speed going about 1 mph and she was just chugging away and I thought that’s great, I’m so glad you have a safe place to do that. And I like seeing the same people you wave to each day.
There are definitely some cold, wet and windy days but when people say ‘you’re not going to bike today are you?’ That gives me even more motivation to do it. I almost enjoy it more the more inclement the weather is. Sure, there are some slight inconveniences. Like on days when I know I have to run a lot of errands. And then you have to factor in the helmet hair. Like ‘wait a minute, I have a meeting with a funder at 4pm, can I do 2 errands in between? By then I’ll have serious helmet hair…’ Sometimes my schedule or the weather just isn’t favorable to biking and that’s ok. I do it whenever I can!
The bike I’m using now, I bought in 1985. It was the first bike I ever bought and I’m still riding it. I was bike commuting back then here in Missoula. Back then, there was little bike infrastructure, you really had to be a defensive bike rider. So this bike is 34 years old. It’s older than many of my coworkers! It has the oval shaped sprocket that was supposed to be super-efficient. It was some crazy gimmick that turned out to be bogus but that bike has been vandalized in D.C., and gotten me up hills in Seattle. And it’s about 400lbs. It’s funny because I’ve gone biking with friends and they put all the bikes up on the roof and then they get to mine and they struggle because it’s so darn heavy! But it gives me a heck of a workout.
Biking felt like a way to sneak in some physical activity and get into shape. It’s a 6 mile ride to and back from work so it’s not like some epic mountain ride that I can brag on Facebook about but I thought just get on your bike, just try it. The other day I was just not feeling up for biking but I told myself “just get on your bike, just turn the pedal and let things happen”. And I start to notice and appreciate so much about my route. There are little single tracks off the bike path where I get my mountain biking in. I see deer in the morning and Hickory and 4th Street have the most gorgeous trees. I also do a lot of writing for my job so it’s my chance to work out stuff. It gives me that physical break from sitting in a chair, staring at my computer. You get new insights. It’s a nice coda after your work day and in between the rest of your day. Plus you just feel better, you feel stronger.”
“We live in Potomac, up the Blackfoot, and commute to three different neighborhoods in town. My husband works downtown, our kiddo goes to school in midtown and then my office is just off Mount. Every morning we all pile in together. Usually my husband drives in the morning and we get to his office, swap out and say our goodbyes. Then I drop our son off at school and head to work. I usually keep the vehicle at work because I’m kind of the errand runner in the family.
When we first moved to Potomac, we were in major transition. We had a new baby and he struggled in the car. It was really tough, so at first commuting was a moral support thing - we were going through the challenges together! Plus, the idea of driving two vehicles into town 4 or 5 days a week was ridiculous financially. Eventually our son grew out of it and we’re all still together and we’re all still carpooling! Starting that new routine with that transition was super helpful.
The other piece is that when you have small children and work, time with them is kind of limited and that’s really a bummer. There is an unintended, yet beautiful benefit from carpooling which allows us all to spend an uninterrupted hour together everyday. Some of the conversations we have are super fascinating. Our son is only 3 but I can imagine as he gets older, it’ll be a time for us to really connect. On the way into town, we plan our days. On the way home, we talk about the highs and lows of our days. By the time we’re home there is some separation from our work lives and our home lives and we can just be a family. It does require a little more planning and preparation but overall the positives far outweigh the challenges.”
“I live near the Orange Street Food Farm and commute to campus by bus or bike pretty much every day. I take the purple line all the time. Before that, I was just relying on my bike but I recently developed some tendinitis, I’m in in the ceramics program at the University, so I couldn’t ride my bike any more. Taking the bus is great because it makes me walk more than I normally would. It gives me more of workout. I use the app a lot which tells me where the bus is in real time. That’s super helpful and I’d recommend people getting that, especially if they're just starting out.
RIDING THE BUS/ BIKING WITH
Nothing all that interesting happens on my bus rides but I will say I’ve ridden the bus in multiple cities and it seems that the bus drivers in Missoula are by far the nicest."
BIKING WITH ELIZABETH
Elizabeth (Mom): “As a family, we mainly bus and bike. We’ve kind of scaled it back because of our lives right now but whenever we can, we get on the bus or ride our bikes. One benefit we experience is my mood. And my kids mood. If they’re outside and riding their bikes rather than being cooped up, they’re much happier. I remember when we were biking a lot, there were these little epiphanies that they would say. I remember Astrid being able to voice this thought of “I just love the smells you smell, the things you hear, the things you see.
A couple years ago we made a pact that we would see how many days in a row we could bike to school. After 40 days I got them a little prize and then after 60 days I got them t-shirts from Missoula In Motion and glasses that had a bike on it. Part of the reason we did that was selfish. I was training for an adventure race and needed to put some miles in. Instead of elevation, I was training with weight. I was hauling these guys around 60-90 miles a week. And I just wanted to bike every single place we went and just got into this routine of doing it. I’ve been in the habit of doing it since my first daughter was really little. I bought the bike trailer when she was a year old. So selfish reasons at first and then I just loved it. I felt so strong. My girls would cheer me on from the trailer like “you can make this hill mom”! And then they started biking on their own. We are quite a team. I tell my kids you have to give energy to get it back."
Astrid (daughter): “I bike to school almost every day. I love that you just feel free and that you can go anywhere. If the parking lot is full, you don’t have to worry about it"!
I’m working from home now but prior to this I took the bus #4 from East Missoula. I pick it up at the end of my street and get off in front of Albertsons and walk across the bridge onto campus. The bus works really great for me. Before they built the new Missoula College campus, that parking lot used to be a park and ride lot. I would drive there each morning so I didn’t have to buy a parking pass or spend the time looking for a parking spot. But when the park and ride wasn’t an option I looked into the Mountain Line bus and it’s worked great ever since.
The #4 is usually a pretty full route. It’s mostly all the same people that ride that route every morning and every afternoon. I’m actually really missing riding the bus because I miss these people. I want to know how everyone is doing, ya know they're my friends! I miss taking the bus and I miss all that walking.
I’ve been teleworking since March 16th. My department has always been really great about me working from home here and there and have always given me remote access so even if I’m not in the office or out of Missoula, I can work. I feel really lucky that I can work from home but there are definitely challenges. I worked for about a week, actually I don’t even know if I made it to the end of the week, before I needed to go into my office and get some of my office equipment. Our IT department gave me an extra monitor, I brought my office chair home, my contoured keyboard, and my super funky stand up mouse which is better for my wrist. My home isn't set up for working from home so I had to do that. After I did that, my direct supervisor went to the office and got all her stuff too. It makes a big difference.
I’m part of the student services office in the College of Forestry. Within our team, we have a weekly meeting to check in, hear what’s been going on, make each other laugh a little bit and just keep in touch. Processes are constantly changing so we have those weekly meetings to stay on the same page. It’s also just nice to see other peoples faces. Plus everyone brings their dogs onto the video which is fun.
What I've done is try to stick to my routines as much as I can. I still set my alarm every morning, granted it’s a little later than normal because I don’t need to catch a bus and walk onto campus, but I still get up, get in the shower, do my hair, do my makeup, put work clothes on. I’m trying to keep my routine as normal as possible on my work days because if I don’t, there’s no way to differentiate between waking up on a Saturday and waking up on a Tuesday morning. Keeping a routine helps me maintain two different modes to switch between. And I still set times throughout my day to take breaks. When on campus, I would walk around the oval. While at home, we’ve got a baseball diamond across the street so I take the dogs and spend 10 to 15 minutes to get up and get moving.
For the most part working from home has worked really well. It’s really nice having the dogs around so often. This guy stands on the arm of the chair until I pick him up.
"I'm just finishing up week 2 of telework, and before I started I happened to see a twitter thread with some really great advice in it. I wish I could find it again and share it, or at least credit the person but sadly I haven't been able to.
Here are the things that have helped me the most:
1. Keep your routines as much as possible. Specifically, get up at the same time. Shower. Get dressed in clothes that aren't just PJs. (There's wiggle room here.). As much as you can, do your normal morning routine.
2. If you're someone who is used to commuting, do something to simulate the commute. If you think about it, that time is often when you switch from "home" to "work" mode. You think about the things on your To Do list and get yourself mentally ready for the day. Personally, I've been going for a walk and will keep doing that as long as we're allowed to. I walk out my door, decide which direction to go, decide how long I want to take and then set a timer on my phone for half that amount of time, to remind me to turn around. That way I don't have to watch the time, I just go and then turn around when it goes off. When I get back, I do change into lounge-pants. I find them more comfortable and less distracting, and I think that's okay.
3. If you can set yourself up with a standing workstation, do. Take sit-breaks as needed, but a standing workstation will keep you from losing yourself in your work and forgetting to get up for movement, food, water, etc.
4. Take breaks. Get yourself some tea. Walk around. Stretch and move. Do mini squats or whatever works for you.
5. Take a lunch break. I've always been a working lunch sort of person, but right now I'm making the effort to step away. I go for a walk for the first part of my lunch break, then I come back and eat my lunch before hopping back online.
6. Consider simulating your commute again after you log out for the night. Again, I go for a walk and will keep doing that as long as we're allowed. It just helps me wind down and log my brain out of work the way I logged out of my computer.
7. Consider doing the same sort of food-prep you normally do. If you make a big set of meals at the weekend, to take to work, do that. It saves time and mental energy on your lunch break, which is really nice.
8. Fight the urge to sleep in too late and roll out of bed straight to work. It will be a very attractive idea, but it doesn't lend itself to good focus and productivity. Also, skipping showers may seem fine if you're on your own, but when you let yourself get gross, you feel gross mentally too. Same with oral hygiene.
9. Don't add too many new things to your routine at once. That'll get overwhelming fast. Focus on the most important things and then gradually add on.
10. Don't try to do everything perfectly from the first day. Start with the most important tasks and add in new tasks as you get more comfortable with your new routine. Trying to do it all at once can be too overwhelming.
11. Be gentle with yourself. It's not easy adapting to such different routines, especially when coping with uncertainty, anxiety and even grief. Try to be kind and gentle with yourself, emotionally and physically.
12. Reach out to friends. Set up skype or zoom calls. Even phone calls. Make sure your friends know you care about and value them, even if you can't see them right now. Same with family.
13. Consider giving yourself a day or two to really sit in your feelings about the situation we're in. Let yourself feel that grief and anxiety. Acknowledge it. Don't run from it or keep pushing it away for too long. That may bring on an unavoidable breakdown, and you don't need that. Most of all, take care of yourself and your family. It's okay to binge watch tv or play video games or read a lot or whatever helps you escape for a bit. Don't be too hard on yourself or others for those pursuits.
14. Help others if you can. Helping friends, family and even strangers who are vulnerable can be very helpful to our own mental and emotional well being. Check in before you do your grocery shopping and ask if you can drop anything off for them so they don't have to go out themselves. Helping can make us feel better and protecting our vulnerable loved ones is especially important."
How long have you been commuting this way and how often do you sustainably commute?
Forever! Okay, actually, over the past 25 years in all of the places I’ve lived. Unless winter interferes, I ride my bike, but I’ve walked, bused and trained to work. I’ve never had a commute where I drove every day. In fact, I never even owned a car before this past year.
What are some benefits you've experienced from choosing sustainable transportation?
I once made a rough calculation of how much money I DIDN’T spend, by not owning a car. Over twenty years, not having car payments, insurance, gas and maintenance, saved me well over $100,000. So that’s a benefit, but I also think it’s a much nicer way to start a day going for a walk or a bike ride than it is sitting in a car or sitting in traffic.
What are some transportation improvements you'd like to see?
I think Missoula has a great trail system, and I appreciate that snow is cleared from the trails as quickly as it is cleared from roads. I would love to see on-street bike lanes separated from traffic by more than a line painted on the road. Installing that infrastructure is expensive, but I believe Missoula will get there!
BIKING WITH TIM
We live in East Missoula and I commute to St. Pats 3 days a week all year round. Whenever we move, we tried to live within a 5 miles radius of where we work. When we moved to Missoula, we literally took a map and drew a 3 miles radius around St Patrick Hospital. We wound up living about 3.8 and 3.7 miles away from our workplaces. We really wanted to position ourselves so that commuting by bike was always a reasonable option. Once you start pushing past 5 miles then it becomes a little more difficult and a little harder of a decision to bike everyday. It’s not as easy to just pick up and go when it gets beyond a 5 mile commute. When we were in Hamilton, we lived 4 miles from the hospital, and my ride was quite a bit easier because it was all back roads. Not as much interactions with other cars, stop lights, intersections, etc.
Route 200 from East Missoula is fine. Once you get past the railroad death trap, there’s actually a sidewalk that runs all the way into town. In the winter, it’s usually not plowed when I’m going to work at 6 in the morning but that’s totally fine, I don't expect it to be. With the bike I have it’s actually pretty smooth riding on snow. The overall commute is pretty easy.
I really enjoy cycling and I really enjoy being able to incorporate not only transportation but exercise. Like today as I was biking into town, I didn’t have to feel guilty about not going to the gym or getting a workout in because I was using my bike. Killing two birds with one stone.
When I talk to people and they say “oh my gosh, I can’t believe you do that”, I try to reframe the conversation and ask them “well how long does it take you to drive X amount of miles”? For me, if I were to drive to St. Pats, find a parking space, walk to the door, it would literally only save me a few minutes, maybe 5 at the most to drive. Plus, biking saves me money and prevents additional wear and tear on my vehicle. The inconsistency and uncertainty of having to find a parking spot is really stressful and can take lots of time. When I bike I don’t have to deal with that.
How long have you been using the bus to commute?
Claire: “I’ve been commuting on the bus for a long time. For probably 5 or more years.”
Logan: “Since it became free for me. It’s cheaper to do this and my car broke down not too long ago so I decided to just get rid of it.”
RIDING THE BUS WITH LOGAN
Claire: “I refuse to get my driver’s license because I’d prefer not to own a car. The buses are free and they’re already running so it makes sense.”
What are some benefits of taking the bus?
Claire: “I’ve experienced more free time and its good people watching. I recommend getting the app and getting a paper map just in case your phone is dead or the internet is down. I was nervous when I took the bus for the first time. I did it alone. I wanted to just get out of the house so I decided to take a bus downtown. I just walked around downtown by myself. It was awesome!”
What’s the weirdest story from your commute?
Logan: “Umm, one time when I got on there was a woman who had a messenger bag full of Guinea pigs that she was trying to give away. She tried giving them away but nobody wanted them. I thought about it but I could not take care of a Guinea pig. It was just the weirdest thing.”
In general, I’ve chosen to live in places where I didn't have to rely on my car. That was always intentional. The house I recently bought, I was really patient for because I wanted to be on the bike trail. I prioritized that and waited. I would say I like to roller skate the best. Skating just feels simpler. I can throw them in my backpack and take them anywhere. And sometimes I’m going just as fast or faster, than bikers. I also sometimes wear them into the grocery store and people won’t realize until they look at me and say “Kari, you look taller today”.
“I feel the most whole when I skate. I think because I learned to do it at such a young age. I don’t know what it is, but it’s just such an integral part of my identity. I feel so fully connected when I skate. Sometimes when I’m skating, people will cheer for me. In my first year here, I joined Hellgate Roller Derby. At one point, it was summer time and we all went out, I don’t know maybe 20 or so of us, and we were all skating around and people were cheering us on and applauding from their balconies. I think it’s a nostalgia thing for some people. People will stop and smile and cheer and then I get all these emotions from making them happy. We have this connection like, “I know you skated as a kid and you’re flashing back to those moments”. There’s this weird shared interaction that I get from skating.