Fairview Avenue has the dubious honor of being the second-worst road in Ada County when it comes to crashes.
Eagle Road is the worst.
Sections of Fairview from Orchard Street to Linder Road see from 13,000 to 35,000 vehicles daily. Nearly 400 crashes occur annually in that 8.5-mile stretch, with five fatalities reported from 2007 to 2013.
Its plentiful problems congestion, crashes, gaps in bike lanes and sidewalks and trouble with access have long frustrated drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, business owners and traffic engineers.
The Ada County Highway District and the cities of Meridian and Boise are exploring changes on the Orchard-to-Linder segment.
The public and business owners are most skeptical about a proposal to replace center turn lanes with medians, which limit across-traffic left turns to intersections. The proposal to install medians has prompted a business group to form in opposition.
But with a proven track record of reducing crashes, medians have become a central part of road agencies safety and management plans. Last year, the Idaho Transportation Department installed raised medians on Eagle Road within Meridian, reducing crashes without major effects on businesses.
ACHD is proposing plenty of other solutions for Fairview, too: consolidating and reducing the number of driveways; updating signal timing; installing bus pullouts; adding pedestrian crossings; and closing the gaps in bike lanes and sidewalks.
There is not a silver bullet to repair the safety issues; it requires a combination of elements, ACHD senior transportation planner Jeff Lowe told officials from Boise, Meridian, Ada County and ACHD on Thursday.
The Orchard-to-Five Mile segment has the most significant need, Lowe said, and will get tackled first. The agency plans to design the project this year and next, with construction in 2016 and 2017.
City officials on Wednesday supported making improvements but wanted to know more details. They encouraged ACHD to work with the business owners and the public, who will get a chance to voice their opinions at a public hearing later this month.
BUSINESSES ON BOARD, SORT OF
Peterson Auto Group owner Mark Peterson serves with other Fairview business owners on ACHDs Fairview Avenue stakeholder committee.
We liked a lot of the ideas that were proposed, he said. The medians are the problem.
Of 1,270 comments received in an online ACHD survey from April to July, 782 opposed the medians and only 23 supported them.
There are already medians on Fairview. They are just located near the intersections, where they should be, Peterson said. Placing medians midblock will limit left turns and U-turns, making it difficult for customers to get to businesses, he said. And if access is too onerous, people go elsewhere.
About two dozen businesses have formed the Fairview Business Coalition to communicate their vision and concerns.
We are gaining new members every day," said Peterson, who represents the group.
The coalition wants ACHD to implement other improvements first, including driveway consolidation, sidewalks, bike lanes and signal timing. If those improvements dont improve safety and access, then medians should be discussed.
We all know that we have got to come up with something. We just want to make sure it is done right, Peterson said. Whatever time it takes to do that, we need to take that time.
Craig Bruneel of Bruneel Tire Factory, which has a store at Mitchell and Fairview, fears that ACHDs plan is a solution in search of problem.
He worries that ACHD wants to transform Fairview Avenue from an urban business corridor into a commuter corridor, dedicated to getting people from one end of the county to the other.
If they turn it into a corridor just to let people go through, then the businesses will just dwindle, Bruneel said. The challenge is will (the changes) make it a bad place to go?
MORE MEDIANS TO COME
Last fall, the Idaho Transportation Department installed 6-inch-tall concrete medians on Eagle Road from Franklin Road to Oakhampton Drive, just north of Chinden Boulevard. ITD didnt install medians on the northern section, which runs through Eagle, because the city and business owners didnt want them.
ACHD has talked to many of the businesses along the section with new medians and the consensus is medians have not killed any businesses, said ACHD spokesman Craig Quintana.
The medians have not been in place long enough for ITD to record meaningful crash data. But crash results from medians ITD installed in 2006 and 2007 on Eagle Road between Franklin Road and Interstate 84 show that turning crashes in that segment dropped from 27 in the five years prior to three in the five years after medians.
Fairview is very different than Eagle Road, Peterson said. That is a high-speed highway. The accidents there were dangerous accidents. Eighty-five percent of accidents on Fairview were zero to minor damage. They are not high-speed crashes.
For decades, Boises Broadway Avenue (also U.S. 20/26) and ParkCenter Boulevard have been the only other major streets in Ada County with long stretches of continuous medians and limited left-turn access. But that might be changing as ACHD sees crash-reduction benefits.
Last fall, ACHD installed an extended median on Overland Road west of Cole Road. State Streets plan calls for medians over the next 20 years. Franklin Road between Ten Mile and Black Cat roads is getting medians, too.
The industry standard, encouraged by the Federal Highway Administration, is to put them in on all major arterial roads expected to move large volumes of traffic in the near future, said Quintana.
Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428, Twitter: @CynthiaSewell