Downtown Boise's one-way streets face big changes

Business owners are in favor of adopting a two-way grid. A network of lanes and shared routes is aimed at helping cyclists.

sberg@idahostatesman.comOctober 28, 2013 

Ruth Abel is looking forward to taking 3rd Street both to and from the Connector or WinCo.

Abel lives at the corner of Idaho and 3rd streets, and she doesn’t like the one-way alignment that governs most of the traffic in her neighborhood.

“Everybody gets confused in that area,” she said. “They go all around to get where they’re going because of the one-ways.”

Third Street is one of several Downtown one-ways slated for a two-way conversion starting next year. A transportation plan called the Downtown Boise Implementation Plan also calls for two-way conversions of 4th, 11th, 13th and Jefferson streets.

Ada County Highway District, the city of Boise and the Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency, collaborated on the Downtown plan over the past year. The first phase of projects is in design; work is scheduled to begin next summer or early fall. The projects, whose total expected cost is around $8 million, will be phased in between now and 2019.

“Doing all these projects at once would be an inconvenience to the Downtown area,” spokeswoman Christine Myron said.

The projects’ year-to-year order is based on priority of needs, availability of money and an effort to minimize disruptions, according to the plan. For example, the plan calls for fewer Downtown projects in 2015, when a project to improve the Broadway Bridge is underway.

TWO-WAY CONVERSIONS

Many Downtown business owners aren’t fans of the one-way grid. They say the system makes it harder for customers to get to them.

“In general, two-way streets are much better for retail, just because you’re not having to go multiple blocks to come back to a location if you missed it,” said Karen Sander, executive director of the Downtown Boise Association.

The inconvenience causes irritation, Sander said, and sometimes shoppers just give up on stores they planned to visit.

Besides being easier to use, she said, two-way streets slow down traffic, meaning drivers and passengers have more time to see something they want in stores as they pass.

Judy Victory, a barber, works at Your Image Barber Styling on the east side of 13th Street, one of the most confusing roads in Boise. The street is two ways between Front and Main streets, becomes northbound one way until it hits State Street and then turns back into two ways.

Victory hopes turning 13th into a two-way street will encourage more traffic — and potential clients — to pass Your Image.

“It could be a benefit, sure,” she said.

Chris Haunold, owner of Idaho Mountain Touring, said all of Downtown’s retailers, including his store at 13th and Main streets, stand to benefit from two-way conversions.

“Anything that the city or Ada County can do to make it easier to shop Downtown or come into Downtown to do business is a huge bonus, because there are so many other places for (shoppers) to go,” Haunold said. “I hear time and time again from people that don’t regularly come Downtown that they avoid it because of perceived problems with parking and the one-way street grid.”

The two-way conversions will have some drawbacks. They will slow down commuters. They will reduce parking; the Downtown plan predicts the loss of 192 parking spaces from the projects as streets accommodate new turn lanes, bike lanes, roundabouts and more.

Another complication: Timing traffic lights on two-way streets is more difficult. Myron said the timing on traffic lights would likely change for peak and non-peak traffic.

BIKES, SIGNALS, ETC.

Haunold also is looking forward to the Downtown plan’s envisioned network of bike-friendly routes. Those changes include bike lanes on stretches of Jefferson, Bannock, 5th, 6th, 10th, 11th and Grove streets, as well as designated routes that cars and bikes are supposed to share throughout the rest of Downtown.

A big part of Haunold’s business is renting bikes to people on their way to the Boise River Greenbelt. Haunold figures the bike lanes and shared routes will make their trips easier and safer.

“If they don’t have the option, most people won’t use alternative transportation, so you sort of have to have it in first,” Haunold said.

Other projects in the plan include installing or changing traffic lights in several intersections, new street-scapes and mini-roundabouts at 3rd and Bannock streets, 12th and Bannock, 14th and Jefferson, 3rd and Jefferson, as well as on Grove Street at 10th, 11th and 12th streets.

Sander sees the Downtown plan’s two-way conversions as just the beginning. After they’re done, she said, other one-way streets, such as 6th and 7th streets, could be converted.

Sander said a few corridors, particularly 9th Street and Capitol Boulevard, should always remain one way to help commuters get through Downtown quickly.

Myron said more two-way conversions are possible, but only after experts analyze the effectiveness of the first few rounds of conversions.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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