Next year, a few hundred feet of new road will put a major wrinkle on one of Boise’s heaviest-used and most complex stretches of pavement.
The Ada County Highway District plans to extend Royal Boulevard to the east, across 9th Street and a triangular piece of city-owned grass to Capitol Boulevard. The changes come as four new apartment buildings with 541 units just west of Boise State University will increase auto and pedestrian traffic at the river crossings next to campus.
The implications of this project on drivers are obvious. One of the longest regular lines of cars in Boise is on the two left-turn lanes from 9th Street on to University Drive and Boise Avenue, just south of Royal.
The highway district plans to put traffic lights at Royal on both northbound Capitol Boulevard and, to the west, southbound 9th Street. That should lighten the traffic load at the corner of Capitol, University Drive and Ann Morrison Park Drive, the district’s engineers say.
But what about drivers going through that area? Will they have to make extra stops?
In April 2011, the last time the Ada County Highway District did a traffic count at the corner of Capitol and University Drive, 32,432 cars went through the intersection in one day. Capitol is also a major corridor for cyclists traveling between Downtown and the Bench.
Nicole Nimmons, Boise State University’s head of transportation and parking, said she’s confident timing the lights at Royal with the ones at University and Ann Morrison will avoid excessive stops.
“Now, if we get to the point where they’re not being timed correctly, you can bet that I’ll be calling them and saying, ‘You need to re-study this,’ ” Nimmons said.
ALCOHOL AND COLLEGE KIDS
Safety is the other reason to worry about heavy traffic, especially when a lot of cars are crossing paths with people on foot and bicycles. That’s certainly the case on Capitol Boulevard, and it’s one reason Boise Police Chief Bill Bones likes the Royal Boulevard project.
As he moves toward establishing a Downtown Boise station, expected in September, Bones worries about hundreds of new apartments in four complexes under construction on the west side of Capitol in the Lusk District Neighborhood.
Many, if not most, of the people who stay in those apartments will be BSU students. They’ll cross Capitol and 9th Street several times a day to move between home and class or other activities on the campus, which lies east of Capitol.
Sometimes, college students make bad decisions. Maybe they’ll jaywalk — or run — across traffic instead of waiting for a crossing signal.
“And when you throw alcohol in the mix and potentially younger people, I could see some evening problems there,” Bones said.
SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Bones suggests several partial fixes. First, he’d like to see a barrier, possibly a row of bushes or something else that looks nice, in the median between 9th and Capitol. That barrier would have openings at the Royal Boulevard and University Drive crossings.
“The trick will be getting the students and users to go to Royal instead of running across the middle of the road,” Bones said. “I don’t want to see us lose a student or anyone else crossing that street, and we’re going to have a lot more people trying to do that.”
Nimmons likes that idea. In fact, she sees a secondary benefit. Besides funneling pedestrians through authorized crossing points, she said, landscaping barriers could enhance people’s view of the Statehouse at the end of Capitol Boulevard as they travel downhill off the Bench.
Bones also suggested putting warning signs and better lighting on the stretch of Capitol Boulevard near the BSU campus. He said his officers will start cracking down on drivers who speed through the intersections near the BSU campus, as well as jaywalkers.
“We don’t want to write tickets, but we’ve got to get people to be safe,” he said.
Finally, Bones wonders if it’s time to rework the entire intersection of Capitol, University and Ann Morrison. He’s worried that no matter how much attention his officers focus on safety there, it’ll always be dangerous for pedestrians because it has such a complex layout. To walk from the Lusk District Neighborhood to campus, people have to cross 9th, Capitol and Boise Avenue.
A NEW CORRIDOR
On March 5, Ada County Highway District held two workshops on campus to discuss ways to improve the stretch of Capitol Boulevard between Rose Hill Street and the Boise River. “Inadequate pedestrian and bicycle facilities” and “a need for increased connectivity to better serve the Bench, Boise State University and Downtown Boise” are a special area of focus for the district, according to its website.
District staffers have thrown out a variety of options to make life easier on pedestrians and cyclists. They include a range of bike lane types, crossing signals, crosswalks and medians. The study is slated to wrap up in August, with detailed proposals to come later.
Meanwhile, Boise Parks and Recreation is planning a sidewalk on Capitol just north of the Boise Depot, as well as streetscape improvements between Federal Way and University Drive.
Efforts to contact a representative of the Lusk District Neighborhood Association were unsuccessful.