The biggest difference between 2008, when Mayor Dave Bieter first pushed for a streetcar running through the downtown Boise core, and this year's effort to reconsider a so-called "circulator," which would move people along a T-shaped route downtown, is commuters may now have a bounty of destinations and a shrinking list of parking options.
Consider the mini-explosion of new downtown hotels, St. Luke's Regional Medical Center's massive expansion plans and a newly proposed downtown baseball stadium, let alone the recent opening of the city's new transportation hub, Main Street Station.
Boiseans seem anxious to weigh in on the latest proposed route—running east/west between 15th and First streets (the Linen District and St. Luke's), and north/south between University Drive and Main Street (Boise State and the new transit hub). Within minutes of launching a March 14 open house, citizens crowded into the lobby of City Hall to view the proposed map and ask a laundry list of questions, beginning with the most obvious: What's a circulator?
"We don't want to put any preconceived notion on whether it might be a fixed bus route or a streetcar," said city spokesman Mike Journee.
That said, Journee's boss will tell anyone who will listen that he definitely prefers a streetcar.
"He's not shy about it. Because of the economic development opportunity that a circulator would bring, he supports a fixed route," said Journee. "And he has definitely made no bones about his support for a permanently-fixed route. And that means rail."
Most open house visitors gravitated to a chart comparing the economics of streetcars versus buses. For example, the assumption is that construction of a streetcar system might cost $111 million compared to $23 million to fund a permanent bus service on the route. Presuming there would be no fare, the assumption is that as many as 1,400 people would ride the streetcar each day with 1,100 on a bus.
"We're hoping to bring the findings and the input from the open house to a City Council workshop sooner than later," said Journee. "That could be as soon as this spring."