In an effort to get more input from more motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, the Ada County Highway District held what transit planners saw as a critical open house March 13 on some newly proposed changes to roadways in Boise's downtown core. The main changes would switch some of Boise's one-way streets into two-ways, in addition to the removal of a lane of traffic in others to add in a buffered bicycle lane.
BW reported in 2013 about ACHD's initial proposals—known as Downtown Boise Implementation Plan, or DBIP—to switch some of downtown roads from one-way traffic to two-way traffic, but after the Capital City Development Corporation and the city of Boise brought in urban planner Jeff Speck to create a so-called "walkability" analysis, ACHD has taken some new factors into account.
“We thought some of the recommendations were worth taking another look and bringing out to the public and that’s what we have here tonight,” said Matt Edmond, senior transportation planner and bicycle and pedestrian coordinator at ACHD.
At Thursday evening's open house, the public was handed two sheets of a paper, a fact sheet and a sheet for their comments. The second floor room at the US Bank Building was filled by large placards identifying all the proposed changes and tables covered in giant maps of downtown so people could place stickers on specific locations and note their concerns.
And the public was not hesitant to give their opinions. What started off as a small crowd grew in minutes and soon the room was nearly full. Tables in the center were covered in pens so people could fill out the comment sheets, which many did. At one of the tables, two men were debating the pros and cons of adding new bicycle lanes.
“Honestly I feel like bike lanes are more dangerous than not,” said Brian Vaughn, who cycles every day. Vaughn feels that placing cyclists in a separate lane keeps them out of the mind of motorists, hence creating a stronger potential for accidents. However, Vaughn was swayed by the argument of fellow citizen Jim Pace.
“My wife is usually riding 5-8 miles an hour and she’s scared to death of sharing a lane with cars,” Pace said.
The two men concluded that the bike lanes provided a safe passage for those who are not generally comfortable with cycling and prefer to travel at slower speeds. As for Vaughn, he reaches speeds of up to 20-30 mph and feels it’s safer and easier to ride alongside traffic.
These two men weren’t the only ones who held this opinion. Margaret Harvey, board member of Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance, is in support of the bike lanes for similar reasons.
“I think it’s great timing with Boise Bike Share going in this summer,” Harvey said, “We’re going to have a lot of people who are really interested in riding bikes, but are pretty apprehensive.” Harvey feels people may be reluctant due to safety issues,and bike lanes will ease their concerns.
Equally on board is Boise Bike Share Director Dave Fotsch.
“I anticipate a lot of casual users using bike share and so this will make them feel more comfortable,” Fotsch said.
Though exactly when Boiseans can expect these new changes to be implemented is still undetermined.
“I would say we wouldn’t see anything earlier than this summer,” Edmond said, “but even if we move forward, we may not see anything this year.”
The changes decided upon last fall, however, as a part of the DBIP, are going to be put into place this summer and fall. Those include morphing 11th and 12th streets into two-way traffic.
With this new addition, Fifth and Sixth streets would also be going from one-way traffic to two-way. This comes with some concerns for many.
“Nobody wants to be stuck in traffic and we all know intuitively that if you take away lanes, you’re going to have more congestion,” Edmond said.
ACHD acknowledged that each suggested change had its own ups and downs. On each of the placards illustrating the changes, a list of trade-offs and benefits told the public exactly how things would change for them.
“You get some more convenience from having a two-way street; people can get to where they want to go a little easier,” said Craig Quintana, chief information officer at ACHD, “but the trade-off is you lose some through-put.”
There are a lot of ideas in the works this year for changing the appearance of transportation in Boise, one of which is the Gardner Company’s underground transit hub, which is already having some effect on the decisions being made by ACHD. This will be notable on Capitol Boulevard, where ACHD would place a bus lane.
“That’s how they [the public] would access that underground transit facility,” Quintana said. He believes that the two plans can work together, depending on what form of transport ends up being chosen.
“Currently the city of Boise is doing a downtown circulator study and that could lead to a bus rapid transit route or it could ultimately lead to a street car, and until that route is known, particularly if we’re talking about rails in the road, that could have a definite impact on this,” Quintana said.
Here are some of the proposed changes that the ACHD is putting before the citizenry:
- Remove one vehicle lane south of Fulton Street and north of Front Street
- Add a buffered bike lane
- add some additional parking on Capitol
- Remove one vehicle lane west of Fifth street
- Remove parking on north side between Fifth Street and Broadway Avenue
- Add a buffered bike lane
- Remove one vehicle lane west of Fifth Street
- Reconfigure the on-street parking between Capitol Boulevard and 10th Street
- Add a buffered bike lane
- Convert Fifth Street to two-way travel
- Possibly add shared lane markings for bicycles within the travel lanes
- Convert Sixth Street to two-way travel