Work on Downtown Boise bike lanes begins

Stretches of three Downtown streets will lose car lanes during a trial period.

sberg@idahostatesman.comApril 28, 2014 

Traffic will be more congested and there will be less parking on Downtown Boise streets starting this week.

Between Monday evening and at least Wednesday, crews will turn vehicle lanes into buffered bike lanes on Capitol Boulevard between the Boise River and Jefferson Street, and on Main and Idaho streets between Broadway and 16th Street.

In return for the inconvenience to drivers, riding bicycles through Downtown will be safer and easier. Painted barriers, plastic markers called candles and, in some places, parked cars will separate the bike lanes from motorized traffic.

Ada County Highway District, which maintains Boise streets, wants to know if people who go Downtown think that's a worthwhile tradeoff. In three weeks or so, the district's commissioners will decide whether to undo the bike lane conversion, keep it awhile longer or change it. Sometime this summer, commissioners plan to make a final decision on the Capitol, Main and Idaho configurations, which will be incorporated into projects to resurface Downtown streets.

"We're not set on one program," Commissioner Mitchell Jaurena said Sunday. "We may implement all of it. We may implement none of it. My life experience says probably somewhere in between."

Even though the new bike lanes are being installed on a trial basis, Jaurena said, the district will try to make the changes "look and feel as real and permanent as possible" so that people using the streets get a sense of how traffic flows in the new arrangement. Several hundred candles will be installed, and all lanes will have a new striping layout, district officials say.

The district proposed the bike lane conversion last month in response to a request from the city of Boise and its urban renewal agency. City planners and elected officials want to make Downtown more inviting to people on foot and bikes.

The district has received some 600 comments on the proposal, about two-thirds of which were in favor of the conversion, spokesman Craig Quintana said.

"However, 600 comments is just a very small amount of comments for a project this size, and it's a very small percentage of Ada County residents," Jaurena said. "We feel we need to have a more representative sample of opinions and what the impacts will be."

In a letter last week, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter encouraged the district to make the bike lane conversion permanent but do it only on Capitol Boulevard at first. Bieter said he's worried that upsetting traffic flow on three major Downtown streets on a temporary basis will negatively skew people's response to the project without giving them a chance to adjust.

"We also have concerns that the public notification window is far too short and is more likely to generate a negative response from users than a more measured public outreach program," Bieter said in his letter.

Starting Thursday, the district will host a survey on its website for people to say what they think of the conversion.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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