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Charting the Course: A Circulator for Boise?

"A workshop disguised as a wedding."


When the idea for a downtown streetcar came up in 2004, and then sparked again in 2008, public outreach was "relaxed," as Assistant City Engineer Jim Pardy put it. Then, the plan was for a fixed-rail streetcar to operate in an east-west rectangle from St. Luke's to 16th Street. Stymied by lack of funding and no small amount of public skepticism, city leaders shelved the project before recently bringing back the idea of a "circulator." which could have either wheels or rails.

On Sept. 10-11, the Boise Public Works Department hosted two two-hour workshops, complete with blueprints depicting possible routes. The Rose Room's ceiling beams were laced in satin--complete with string lights and paper lanterns--and an organizer called it "a workshop disguised as a wedding."

Forty Boise building owners, tenants and residents spread out at the tables, ready to delve into the proposed routes.

Nick Baumann, an electrician at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, came to the meeting because his 16th Street office is next to one of the proposed routes. He said a system like this is "overdue."

"I wish we were talking about a Boise-to-Nampa [circulator]," he said. "But maybe this will get it started."

Possible routes presented in the east and west areas of downtown include connection on State Street from Ninth to 16th streets; a route on Jefferson from Ninth to 16th and back down Bannock; a similar route from Ninth to 16th on Idaho Street, rounding around Main as well; and connection to the Linen District. Other routes include circulation to Boise State University via University Drive.

Each route included goals, like connecting key activity centers and serving high population and employment density.

Pardy, the city's project manager for the circulator, said the mode of transportation--whether it's rubber tires or rails--won't be decided until the route has been selected. He was happy with the participation over the workshops.

"There were some intriguing thoughts that came up," Pardy said, "Like the River Street option. There was an interest in some of the routes we didn't think would be very favorable. ... At the end of the day, our jobs should be very easy because the right route should just come to the top. We're engineers, we're not very [politically] opinionated."

Craig Quintana, of the Ada County Highway District, stood nearby, listening to the break-out groups discuss the routes.

"No matter what the city decides, it's still our roads," he said. "We'll need to make accommodations to the roads, whether the circulator is on rubber tires or needs a rail."