Our View: Downtown Boise bike lane project needs tweaks, teamwork


May 29, 2014 

It is time to call the buffered bike lane project in downtown Boise what it is: a step in the right direction that needs continued work and outreach. What we are seeing today along Main, Idaho and Capitol is a test run to be evaluated June 4 when the folks at the Ada County Highway District will decide whether to end the test, continue as is or revamp things before moving forward.

To use a trail analogy minus the horses, we desire a more multiuse Downtown that manages to be safe and friendly for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, truck delivery drivers and the folks who live and conduct business in the area.

Governmental stakeholders should rethink how to sell this. The cycling-only focus obscures that this affects everybody and will require adjustment from all stakeholders - including public safety agencies to police and protect.

We get that, and we know Mayor Dave Bieter and the folks at ACHD get it. But so far the message has been received by many as a "bike thing" that stirred passion and polarized discussions: bikes vs. cars, "gridlock" vs. livability. Just as bikes are the preferred option for some, vehicles are the only option for others. The price for having the "fourth-highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the nation" does not need to be alienating motorists who perceive diminishing Downtown access.

ACHD has received "unprecedented" public opinion response: nearly 9,000 survey responses, with 55 percent against the bike lanes. Emails have been running 70 percent against. A letter congratulating ACHD for conducting the test - and signed by Bieter and Council President Maryanne Jordan - contained a comment about the negativity: "If the District stopped every project that receives significant negative feedback, many would not proceed."

Well, this project won't ultimately succeed without more collaboration and tweaks:

• What will it take to win over motorists? Start touting the statistics that car traffic has not suffered during the test.

• Devise seasonal flexibility. When fewer people ride bikes in winter, can stretches be opened for cars?

• Solve the problem for loading zone trucks that have to cross the bike lane to deliver goods.

• Safety improvements: "Buffer lane" cyclists are farther away from car mirror detection.

• Better communicate the return on investment for making the improvements.

• Could a painted green bike lane accomplish desired results without the buffered bike lanes?

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