Our Community

Boise Council president slams ACHD over bike lanes

Five hours after Ada County Highway District shut down a series of buffered bike lanes in Downtown Boise, Maryanne Jordan let the district know what she thought of the decision. 

On its surface, Jordan's email asks the district to save the bike lanes, at least until a work group has a chance to figure out improvements. But the president of Boise's City Council left no doubt about her frustration with the highway district. She took particular issue with a phrase ACHD Director Bruce Wong used in recommending a long-term solution for Downtown bike lanes.

"Wong stated that you should convene the stakeholder group and see 'what demon emerges', then decide where you go next," Jordan wrote. "With that approach, how can we possibly believe that there is any sincerity in this stakeholder effort?"

For years, Jordan and the rest of Boise's government have chafed at having to work through the highway district to implement their vision for the city's transportation system. Typically, the city has asked for streets that are more friendly to bicycles and pedestrians. The district has focused its work on drivers, trying to make their trips shorter and safer.

At the city's request, the district installed buffered bike lanes on Downtown stretches of Capitol Boulevard, Main Street and Idaho Street about five weeks ago. Commissioners said they'd give the lanes a month, then decide whether to keep them.

The fact that the district put the bike lanes on a timer didn't sit well with City Hall. Boise Mayor David Bieter asked the district to spend time on informing the public about the coming lanes, then install them on a permanent basis.

On Wednesday, some of the highway commissioners talked about deferring to Boise's wishes because the streets in question are in Boise. Commissioner Jim Hansen made a motion to save the bike lanes for now. He said there hasn't been enough time for people to get used to using the bike lanes, and undoing them now will undermine the information putting them in place has yielded.

Commission Chairman John Franden supported Hansen's motion. He said he couldn't see the harm in keeping the bike lanes at least until August, when the district plans to begin the several-year process of resurfacing Downtown Boise streets. 

But commissioners Mitchell Jaurena and Rebecca Arnold blocked Hansen's motion, saying they didn't believe the lanes were right for Downtown Boise and that a group of government, business and public people should work up a better solution.

Crews are scheduled to begin removing the bike lanes this weekend.

Here's the complete text of Jordan's Wednesday night email to the highway district, a copy of which she sent to the Statesman:

Dear Commissioners,

Since your website does not provide individual email addresses for each of you I am utilizing your tellus service to communicate my thoughts about today's meeting.

First let me thank Commissioners Franden and Hansen for their willingness to continue the project and improve it based on the input we have received. They showed a willingness to make the tough decisions and work together to move Boise forward.

The mission statement of ACHD, the goals of TLIP and your complete streets policy all claim to desire to work with cities to fulfill their visions. Today's decision did nothing to demonstrate an adherence to those policies. ACHD has spent tax dollars to install the bike lanes and gather unprecedented public input. Instead of retaining your investment and using the input to improve the facility you decided to just rip out a piece of infrastructure that has been gaining increasing support and to set up a stakeholder group to evaluate the input.

Trouble is, in his presentation to the commission, director Wong stated that you should convene the stakeholder group and see "what demon emerges", then decide where you go next. With that approach, how can we possibly believe that there is any sincerity in this stakeholder effort?

Based on the existing investment, the opportunity to improve it without spending the tax dollars to tear it out only to possibly reinstall it at some future date, and the unfortunate remarks made by your director during his presentation, I am requesting that the commission reconsider its decision and delay the removal of the existing lanes pending the opportunity of the working group to make improvements.

MORE ABOUT ACHD

Ada County voters created the countywide highway district on May 25, 1971. The Ada County Highway District began operating on Jan. 1, 1972. Before the ACHD, roads were built and maintained by separate city and county street departments.

ACHD collects property taxes from all property owners in the county. It maintains and operates approximately 2,100 miles of roads and bridges in Ada County (state highways and the interstate are the responsibility of the Idaho Transportation Department) with a $93 million annual budget and about 300 employees.

Periodically, some cities and some residents say they want more control over their own roads.

About eight years ago both Eagle and Boise explored creating their own road departments or changing state law to give cities more control over the ACHD. Neither scenario happened.

Dissolving ACHD would require a countywide vote.

The Idaho Legislature made dissolving the district more difficult after a Boise neighborhood leader tried to get rid of ACHD in 2002. Idaho law used to require just 25 signatures to force the county commissioners to hold a public hearing on dissolution, and then the commissioners had the final say. In 2002, commissioners voted to keep ACHD.

Under the current law, dissolving ACHD would require a petition with signatures from 10 percent of voters in each of the three Ada County commission districts — southern, northeastern and northwestern. If that threshold were met, the county commissioners would hold a hearing to decide if the question to dissolve the highway district should go to the voters.

— Cynthia Sewell

  Comments