Whether it was the three cyclists who died on Boise streets last summer or the robust public discussion about cycling that followed, most bikers agree that there is a different atmosphere on the streets.
"There is a noticeable change in 2010 from 2008—it's there, it's real, almost every time I get on my bike I see it, and as motorist, I feel it, too," said Kurt Holzer, a cyclist and attorney who worked on state biking legislation earlier this year.
Michael Zuzel, an assistant to Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and the City of Boise's point person on cycling, sat on a task force last summer to examine bike safety. He said the change on the streets was palpable even before the city came out with 71 pages of recommendations in October 2009.
"There was just lots more eye contact. You could see people thinking, looking at one another and anticipating what each was going to do," Zuzel said.
But despite a large number of new laws on the books in Boise and plans for more public education of both drivers and cyclists, Boise police are concerned about cyclists again this summer.
"I worry because there are more people cycling," said Sgt. Clair Walker, head of the Boise Police Department's bike patrol unit. "With the increased bicycle usage, people are just going to have to be a lot more careful."
In the wake of the deaths of Kevin Pavlis, Jim Chu and Thomas Bettger in the course of a month last summer, the city convened a cycling safety task force. It included law enforcement, legal and political representatives from the city, as well as the Ada County Highway District and the Idaho Transportation Department and suggested changes to city code, roadway engineering, public education, enforcement and encouragement of cyclists. The City Council jumped on several ordinance changes, quickly passing the state's first 3-feet-to-pass law, which requires motorists to yield 3 feet to bikes.
That law, as well as a prohibition on cyclist harassment and several new regulations for cyclists, went into effect Jan. 12, but are only now beginning to be enforced, as the weather warms up and more and more bikers take to the streets.
"The major component of these new laws is education," Walker said.
Walker and BPD Deputy Chief Jim Kerns acknowledge that many of the new Boise laws are difficult to enforce.
"The most difficult thing is being in the right place at the right time to observe it," Kerns said.
Walker said rather than telling his unit to write lots of tickets, he tells his bike officers to make lots of contacts along the Greenbelt and in downtown, where the bike patrol unit is concentrated.
To illustrate 3 feet to pass, Kerns uses a yard stick—he carried it to the Idaho Statehouse earlier this year to testify before the Senate Transportation Committee. Police acknowledge that it will be difficult to prove that someone violated the 3-feet-to-pass law, but that it's a good tool for education on the roads.
"We might write citations and not get convictions in court," Kerns said. "It will take a while to kind of get the feel of what 3 feet is."
Holzer, who advocated for a statewide 3-feet-to-pass law this past winter, agreed that it's more about education than enforcement.
"Across the country, 3 feet to pass is used much less as an enforcement tool than it is as an educational tool," Holzer said. "The goal is to say, 'hey look, here's what you need to be doing.'"
If you touch a cyclist with your car, that's a different story, but 3 feet sets a standard that drivers can adjust to.
"When I'm out and about, I have actually watched bicyclists being passed reasonably," Kerns said.
The new prohibition on cyclist harassment will also be an educational tool for police.
"A lot of motorists just don't believe, or know, that bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as them driving their car," Walker said.
Still, many cyclist-harassment complaints come from outside Boise city limits, Walker said, beyond Boise's jurisdiction.
The Boise City Council also changed many of its existing bike statutes from misdemeanors to infractions, bringing them into compliance with state law, and reinforced laws that require motorists to yield to turning cyclists.
Other new laws on the books in Boise this summer regulate cyclist behavior, including a new ban on reckless cycling.
"I think this reckless biking is going to be a good tool for us in the summer," Kerns said.
The law is not aimed at bike commuters but at riders who are actually endangering the public and/or themselves, by weaving or riding unpredictably, Walker said.
Of the three biker deaths last year, two involved drivers were convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, while the third was found to be not at fault because the cyclist was crossing against a red light into traffic, Boise Police spokeswoman Lynn Hightower said.
While Boise has taken the lead on bike safety, there was a short-lived effort to enact some similar laws at the state level, led by Boise Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk. He proposed a statewide 3-feet-to-pass law that would allow drivers to cross a double yellow line in order to pass a cyclist or pedestrian—a fix that Boise's 3-feet-to-pass law will need to become fully enforceable.
"We were trying to make the point that people cycle everywhere," said Werk, who worked on the state laws at the same time the city was considering its options.
The state laws failed when a lobbyist for the logging industry raised objections from truckers--objections that were contradicted by a trucker who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee, but that held the day.
Werk said he plans to meet with loggers, truckers and other interest groups in the interim and to watch how Boise's ordinances are received before bringing new versions of the cycling bills next year. He plans to expand a statewide anti-harassment statute to include cyclist harassment of drivers.
Other local agencies are involved in improving cycling conditions in the Treasure Valley as well.
The Downtown Boise Association and Capital City Development Corp., Boise's redevelopment agency, have worked to install more bike racks downtown in the last year. CCDC is considering a plan to establish two-way bike traffic along Eighth Street as well.
The Ada County Highway District, which controls the roads in Boise, has several bike-related plans in the works, said ACHD spokesperson Robbie Johnson.
The highway district is rolling out new signage for bikes, directing riders to the Greenbelt and along bike routes, including Hill Road and Parkcenter Boulevard. The expansion of 10 Mile Road from Franklin Road to Cherry Lane includes bike lanes and will be a rare example of bike lanes crossing a state highway, Johnson said. ACHD is also working with the Idaho Transportation Department to widen Swan Falls Road south of Kuna, a popular destination for road bikers.
And as Ada County roads are chip sealed roads this summer, the agency will widen the outer lanes as much as possible to allow for more room for cyclists, Johnson said.
At the state level, ITD Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator Maureen Gresham, who started the job in January, is in the early phases of a statewide cycling education campaign that will support local efforts.
The City of Boise plans to revisit bike safety every two years, to make sure it is progressing with the task force recommendations. But full implementation requires cooperation and agreement at the state and county levels so that bike regulations are consistent from Idaho Falls to Boise to Coeur d'Alene.
"We'll certainly be willing to share our experience and rationale," Zuzel said.
The state already has progressive cycling laws, allowing bikes on sidewalks and establishing the Idaho Stop, in which bicycles treat stop signs as a yield and stop lights as stop signs.
But much of the new legislation targets aggression. Holzer said there will always be drivers who bear unreasonable anger toward cyclists but that the level of aggression on Treasure Valley roads has been defused.
"The people who were a little frustrated before have stepped back," Holzer said. "There's more smiles and waves and less one-finger salutes."
Threatening a Cyclist
It shall be a misdemeanor for any person, maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass or cause another person to crash, stumble, or fall because that other person is walking along the roadway or operating a bicycle along the roadway, to: threaten, by word or act, to cause physical injury to the pedestrian or bicyclist, or throw or otherwise expel any object at or in the direction of the pedestrian or bicyclist.
—Boise City Code
Riding on Sidewalks and Crosswalks
A bicycle may be operated upon a sidewalk and upon and within a crosswalk, except where prohibited by official traffic control devices, except when the number of pedestrians using the sidewalk renders bicycle riding on the sidewalk unsafe because of the risk of colliding with one of the pedestrians, in which case the bicycle rider must dismount and walk the bicycle to an area where safe riding may resume.
Any bicyclist riding upon a sidewalk, or across a roadway upon and within a crosswalk, shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible warning before overtaking and passing such pedestrian. The audible warning may be given by the voice or by a bell or other lawful device capable of giving an audible signal to the person or persons being overtaken and passed.
A bicyclist riding upon a sidewalk, or across a roadway upon and within a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.
A bicyclist riding on the sidewalk shall not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and move into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.
—Boise City Code
3 Feet to Pass
The operator of a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle or pedestrian on a highway shall leave a safe distance, but not less than 3 feet, when passing the bicycle or pedestrian and shall maintain that distance until safely past the overtaken bicycle or individual.
—Boise City Code
Cars Turning Left and Right
The driver of a vehicle within an intersection intending to turn to the left shall yield the right-of-way to a bicycle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.
When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street, or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at an intersection, alley, or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken the bicycle and has sufficient clearance to safely turn without requiring the bicyclist to brake or take evasive action to avoid a collision with the vehicle.
—Boise City Code
Reckless Operation of a Bike
A person who uses or rides a bicycle on a sidewalk, street, roadway, highway or any public or private property open to public use, carelessly and heedlessly, or without due caution and circumspection, or at such speed or in any other manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property shall be guilty of reckless bicycling and, upon conviction may be sentenced to jail for not more than six (6) months or may be fined not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or may be punished by both fine and imprisonment.
—Boise City Code