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Downtown Boise's Report Card: A, A, C, B, D, D, A

Jeff Speck ranks Boise's blocks on walkability

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It's as simple as A, B, C; but it won't be in that order.

"If you had a tape recorder next to me, this is what you would have heard: 'A, A, C, B, D, D, A...,'" Jeff Speck told Boise Weekly, wrapping a weeklong downtown Boise walkabout. "I went north to south, east to west, Boise State to State Street, 15th to Third and back again."

Speck was still putting all of his letters into a block-by-block graph of Boise, which will ultimately become the city's report card and, quite literally, a roadmap for the city's walkability and livability.

"Most people who do what I do focus only on safety of walkable streets. I orient my work on that, but with equal focus on usefulness, comfort and interest. So, as I walk or ride from block to block, it's: A, A, C, B..."

Speck, hired this month by the Capital City Development Corporation to perform a detailed walkability study for the city's downtown core, told BW that he'll be walking around Boise again right after Labor Day, but he'll also be holding his comprehensive study and talking to "anyone who will listen" about Boise blocks--some good and some bad.

"You think you know a city, but you'll look at my map--and I call it a 'street frontage quality assessment'--and you'll see certain patterns emerge that you didn't expect," Speck said. "The letters become colors and, for example, you'll see some dark areas that are interrupting areas that have a bright trajectory. Those are target sites. And by filling those holes, you can complete a network."

Speck was candid that his expectations for Boise weren't too high before arriving for his walking tour.

"Quite honestly, I was not that hopeful that Boise would be the kind of place that could keep its millennials from going to Denver or Portland," he said. "Now that I've been here, I feel entirely the opposite. Boise has what it takes.

"And here's the thing: Given the impediments that your downtown streets here currently impose--including all of the one-way streets--it's a bit befuddling to me that things are as good as they are, but this gives me every reason to think that you can successfully attract and keep millenials here," he said.

Speck added that the Ada County Highway District's new proposals to change at least six one-ways into two-ways (BW, News, "A New Direction," June 19, 2013) is part of the solution.

"And I think there will be a great public relations outcome if they were to trumpet it to the skies," he said. "I feel like they're being needlessly cautious about it."

The proposals are scheduled to be considered by the ACHD board on Wednesday, Aug. 28.

"That's the exact day of my 50th birthday," said Speck. "I can't imagine a better present."

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