Seeing Through The MIST Of The Multi-Modal Fantasy Land Missoula Transportation Zealots Envision For Us

by Travis Mateer

I got curious about the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation after seeing this Facebook page (that hides its followers) downplay negative social media responses to the Higgins corridor redesign project. Social media is NOT representative of public sentiment, the person commenting as MIST declared. Who is this person? Is it the guy who panhandled Missoula for a better speaker system last year?

The reason I think MIST is the Executive Director of Free Cycles is because the two organizations share the same address and phone number, so duh. I guess the person running the MIST Facebook page COULD be a staff member of Free Cycles, or a volunteer, or an intern, since the organization employs/solicits all three. And now they can ROCK OUT with a better sound system, thanks to the generosity of local businesses, like Flippers.

Free Cycles should ALSO be appreciative of Missoula County for forgiving its debt, since living in a Fantasy Land can be like playing Monopoly when you land on the COMMUNITY CHEST. From the link (emphasis mine):

Missoula County forgave nearly $150,000 in loan debt owed by two nonprofits on Tuesday, saying they provided a community benefit.

Free Cycles saw more than $87,000 in debt forgiven while Homeword had roughly $62,000 in debt forgiven. Both loans were provided by the county years ago through its Community Development Block Grant revolving loan fund.

Before continuing, I should explain that I’m not totally against creating fantasy lands where the joys of multi-modal forms of transportation, like passenger trains, can be experienced. For example, here is an aerial picture of MY train station where the back of the structure is being set up for a concentration-camp-styled holding facility for political dissidents who ignored the writing on the wall, so to speak.

While my vision is clearly a nightmare scenario that would NEVER HAPPEN HERE, the vision of MIST, as it relates to passenger rail, is quite different. From the link:

One of the more exciting transportation projects brewing and simmering in the Missoula area is the return of commuter rail- right through our downtown. Imagine being able to walk or bike to the Depo at the end of Higgins, catch a train to Seattle, catch up on some sleep or reading on the way west, and then return to Missoula; all without the hassle or carbon footprint of flying or driving. The north end of Higgins offers an opportunity to focus the concentration of transportation services on one location. Examples include a bike share, a bus stop, taxi drop-off, and ride share. A train hub can be an excellent catalyst.

Here is where some of my multi-modal disdain is coming from: I believe the Higgins lane-reduction scheme is a foregone conclusion because there are light-rail plans that connect to the passenger rail vision that recently brought a Ukrainian train operator, virtually of course, to a train-pushing summit in Billings. I am skeptical of these plans because I believe they are part of a much larger transformation happening that will REDUCE the freedom of individual mobility afforded by vehicular transportation.

I know many multi-modal supporters are good people with sincere beliefs. But some can be a little condescending in how they think about public sentiment, like John Wolverton, a multi-modal man who once belonged to BWAM! (Bike Walk Alliance for Missoula). Here’s some commentary and you can decide for yourself on the quality of the insights from this bicycling advocate:

Now, as exciting as John Wolverton’s use of language like EMPIRICAL GAUGE might be, it’s not all that difficult to find smart sounding language that SUPPORTS the use of social media in determining public opinion. From the smart-sounding link:

Social media platforms provide a new way of representing and measuring public opinions. There has been a significant increase in the adoption and use of social media by both the general public and particular subpopulations, such as government sectors, enterprises, and celebrities [14]. In past decades, social media-based public opinion (SMPO) analysis has been conducted in various fields, including social science [15], politics [16], education [17], medical science [18,19], marketing [20], transportation [21], finance [22], knowledge sharing [23], and disaster management [24,25], showing high interest and considerable effectiveness. A specific form in which users both access and share opinions and perceptions is showing a greater transition in social media platforms than perhaps at any previous point in history. A huge amount of opinion data is freely available to researchers, and it shows a more comprehensive picture with higher cost efficiency. Using social media as a data source for public opinion collection can subvert some of the underlying methodological limitations of traditional surveys [10,26]. For example, representative sampling [27,28], the hierarchical nature of opinion formation [5], and difficulties in obtaining time-series data [29] can be eliminated by using social media. Anstead and O’Loughlin [16] suggested that a public and collective stage has been formed in social media mainly because of its conversational nature. McGregor [5] found that social media offers a more temporal-sensitive channel for obtaining and gauging public sentiment toward particular policies and events as the opinions posted when a policy is released and an event occurs are recorded on platforms and cannot be changed. Salleh [30] suggested that social media can not only show a better understanding of public perception in a more scientific manner but can also be helpful in forecasting future political trends and shaping society’s worldview. These advantages motivate scholars to use social media as a data source instead of survey polls.

Now that we’ve given the methods of determining public opinion some thought, let’s take a look at an anecdotal opinion from a downtown business owner. I wonder, how should one consider the qualitative nature of gauging political retaliation for speaking out publicly on local issues? Because, and I know this from personal experience, there can be fallout from saying critical stuff, like this:

Particularly unhappy are a cross-section of business owners with properties on the popular through-way that cuts through downtown Missoula. While most of the public polled by the team working on the corridor expressed more support for the project than opposition, at a rate of about 2-1, business owners were pretty equally divided between those that support the redesign and those against it.

Scott Billadeau, co-owner of Pangea and Liquid Planet, spoke Wednesday on behalf of the businesspeople who don’t support the project. He railed against the process used to make decisions about the roadway, taking special exception to the recent outreach performed within the business community.

“Now at the very end of the process they’re finally coming to us who actually live and work on Higgins,” Billadeau said. “That is really upsetting. It’s really infuriating actually.”

Another Higgins business owner, however, cast a different opinion of the proposed changes.

“There is wide support for this,” Alex Gallego maintained. “Once these things are in place, the business community is going to thrive and it’s going to be more attractive, more people are going to want to visit this area.”

So, just a few NIMBY naysayers going NAH NAH NAH to the change that they will supposedly, one day, financially benefit from? Or is this sentiment a reflection of a more wide-spread discontent over the methods being used for engaging and gauging the public appetite for this particular change along Higgins, and the larger changes coming this project portends?

I’ll keep asking these questions and you can help by making a financial donation to my about page.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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1 Response to Seeing Through The MIST Of The Multi-Modal Fantasy Land Missoula Transportation Zealots Envision For Us

  1. John Kevin Hunt says:

    I wonder if it’s consistent to, on one hand, contend that massive generation of fake social media posts by millions of foreign bots has no significant effect on U.S. POTUS elections, and on the other hand also maintain that social media posts provide a proportionately accurate representation of public opinion? Arguably, it’s probably a great deal more representative of public opinion than the public input meetings (not public hearings) conducted during draftng of master plans.

    Light rail would be ridiculous in Missoula; a trolley route would make sense. Ss far as losing our individual freedom to drive automobiles anywhere and everywhere should — and will — come to an end. They won’t disappear, but will be AI and drivers will have only semi-automomous control most of the time in the nG network of the not-distant dystopian future.

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