Downtown Boise needs more and better bike lanes.
That’s about the limit of consensus a group of 22 government, business and nonprofit representatives reached early this year. It’s progress.
Last year, by contrast, people argued for months over bicyclists’ place Downtown. Some said drivers should make room for cyclists. Others said cyclists shouldn’t take space that cars can use.
The controversy’s trigger was a series of bike lanes in place for five weeks on Downtown streets. Ada County Highway District, which controls public roads throughout the county, installed the lanes and promptly received thousands of polarized comments on them.
Today, most of the 22 stakeholders support some kind of dedicated bike lane on Capitol Boulevard. Most also supported bike lanes for Main and Idaho streets, as well as some sort of southbound bike corridor parallel to the northbound paths on Capitol.
The district’s commissioners are more interested in doing the bike lanes right than doing them soon, spokesman Craig Quintana said. Last year, the district had to make a decision on the Capitol Boulevard lanes by fall because it was resurfacing the street’s Downtown stretch. This year, the district faces no such prod.
In October, the highway district installed a single northbound bike lane on Capitol between Front and Jefferson streets. This spring, the district extended that lane south to River Street.
Most of the stakeholders are in favor of enhancing that lane by making it either buffered or protected. Buffered bike lanes have painted barriers and, sometimes, pylons between them and car lanes. Protected bike lanes have a greater degree of separation. Planters, curbs, medians or parked cars keep them from moving cars.
Nicole Nimmons was the only stakeholder who chose the “current configuration” option on the recommendation form members of the group submitted to Ada County Highway District. More space for bikes means less for cars, Nimmons, Boise State University’s executive director of parking and transportation, pointed out. As it’s configured now, Capitol shouldn’t lose a car lane to make room for a bike lane, she said, because that could cause even more backed-up traffic around the heavily used University Boulevard intersection.
Nimmons is in favor of a methodical approach to adding bike lanes around the BSU campus. The highway district is scheduled to extend Royal Boulevard across 9th Street to Capitol next year and put traffic lights on both 9th and Capitol to improve access between the campus and the Lusk Street neighborhood to the west, where developers are building four major apartment projects.
Nimmons said it’s worth a wait to make sure bike lanes are installed in a way that works with those changes.
NOW OR NEVER?
The most obvious locations for southbound bike traffic are 8th and 9th streets.
Both have problems. There’s concern about the safety of cyclists crossing Front Street on 9th and a potential loss of parking spaces in front of the 9th Street shops. Some people say 8th Street, which already has a bike-friendly design, wouldn’t be a good route for commuters and other high-speed cyclists because it crosses through the Grove Plaza, where lots of people mill about on foot.
A majority of stakeholders support bike lanes — either buffered or protected — on the right side of Main and Idaho streets. Again, though, a loss of on-street parking spaces is a concern for some. Some stakeholders suggested making parts of Main and Idaho shared routes designed for bicycle and car traffic to coexist.
Jeff Jacobs, a member of the stakeholder group and owner of Foot Dynamics in Boise, said the highway district and city of Boise should start the bike lanes conversation by establishing a pecking order for transportation methods. His preference is for pedestrians to be considered the top priority in Downtown Boise. He thinks it should be illegal for cyclists Downtown to ride on sidewalks where a bike lane is available.
So far, the highway district’s commissioners haven’t told staff members what to do about Downtown Boise bike lanes. Before they make a decision, Quintana said, they’ll ask the public and people who own businesses along the proposed routes for their thoughts. There’s no timeline for a decision.
In the long run, Jacobs said, the mix of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists will change, and the amount of space afforded each group should evolve with it. But now is the time to start working on the problem, he said. The more Boise grows, Jacobs predicted, the harder it will be to change travel patterns.
“Seattle and Portland would just kill to be Boise, Idaho,” he said. “Think how easy it could be to make the infrastructure necessary for pedestrians and cyclists and cars to all get along together. It’s not so overgrown and so grown up that we can’t make these accommodations, so why don’t we just stop and do it now?”