Boise’s redevelopment agency, Capital City Development Corp., is looking for ways to make Front and Myrtle streets more friendly to pedestrians, bicyclists and businesses.
The agency has awarded a contract to a New York traffic-engineering firm, Sam Schwartz Engineering, to provide planning alternatives for the five-lane thoroughfares. specializes in transportation planning and has seven U.S. offices.
Front and Myrtle create a dilemma for Downtown Boise. On one hand, they handle a high volume of east-west traffic and provide convenient access on and off of the I-184 Connector. The streets connect key employment centers, including St. Luke’s Hospital, Boise State University and Parkcenter Boulevard.
On the other, Front and Myrtle hinder north-south travel and are“a perceived impediment to public safety, economic health, and quality of life along the corridor,” the CCDC’s request for proposals said. High traffic volume and speeds coupled with long traffic-light cycles discourage bike and foot traffic.
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25,000 to 40,000 Vehicles traveling daily on both Front and Myrtle streets, according to Capital City Development Corp.’s request for proposals
The traffic lights on Front Street operate on a 65-second cycle, said Matt Edmond, project manager for the agency. That cycle doubles to two minutes and 10 seconds during peak traffic for vehicles and pedestrians crossing Front, far longer than ideal, he said.
Edmond said the consultant may suggest slowing traffic, which often flows at 35 to 40 miles per hour.
“I’d say 25 miles per hour might be more appropriate,” Edmond said. “We’re trying to find the low-hanging fruit where nobody will have a bone to pick. But, obviously, some things might be more controversial.”
We want to make the corridor part of the Downtown fabric so it’s not so much bisecting Downtown north and south.
Matt Edmonds, CCDC project manager
The Idaho Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over both streets. The city agency has power only to formally request the department to adopt proposals.
Such proposals may include reducing the number of lanes while preserving Front and Myrtle as high-capacity thoroughfares, he said.
“I don’t think anybody serious is proposing to remove lanes from the west end of Front Street,” where it approaches the Connector, he said. “There’s definitely a capacity issue there.”
However, the east end of Myrtle, approaching Broadway Avenue, “sees about half of that traffic.”
Scot Oliver, executive director of Idaho Smart Growth, a nonprofit advocacy group, said some business interests are concerned that Front and Myrtle discourage development facing the thoroughfares, which are normally dsirable in a bustling downtown. For example, the businesses in Bodo, the commercial district sandwiched between the two streets, face inward to 8th and Broad streets rather than outward to Front or Myrtle.
“That was a design choice developers and banks or somebody made,” Oliver said. “They didn’t have to do it that way.”
With the exception of Bodo, Front and Myrtle are the last places in Downtown to develop, Edmond said.
“I don’t know if that’s because of Front and Myrtle,” Edmond said. “But we have a lot of offices and residential developing. There will be more foot traffic. It’s incumbent upon us, the city of Boise, ITD and ACHD [the Ada County Highway District] to figure out how we can better tie those things together.”