Guest Opinions

Protected bike lanes aren’t new or novel. Chinden Boulevard had them in the 1970s.

Don Kostelec’s photo showing where the protected bike lane once ran on Chinden Boulevard.
Don Kostelec’s photo showing where the protected bike lane once ran on Chinden Boulevard.

Have you ever wanted bike lanes on Chinden Boulevard to safely get to the grocery store, access the Greenbelt or travel to a friend’s house? Wouldn’t it be great if those bike lanes were physically separated from the five lanes of highway as drivers barrel through Garden City?

Don’t worry, folks, Chinden already has them!

Well, sorta.

Their presence is lost on the public and our government agencies.

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the removal of the controversial Downtown Boise protected bike lanes. That 2014 pilot project was treated as some type of new-wave thing for bicycling infrastructure that had to be tested.

Except they weren’t new. We’ve had protected bike lanes in Boise since the early 1970s.

A protected bike lane is physically separated from the road, usually at curb level. What we see today in Ada County are unprotected bike lanes located adjacent to motor vehicle lanes, separated only by a line of paint.

When I worked at ACHD and commuted by bike a decade ago, I looked at the weird asphalt strips behind the sidewalks on Chinden and wondered what they were. These strips of asphalt have a second street curbing on the right-of-way line, which is a street-design anomaly.

Were these strips were meant to be bike lanes? Up until the Idaho Transportation Department resurfaced Chinden in 2017, the old curb cuts were aligned with this strange asphalt strip rather than the sidewalks. In the early 1970s, when Chinden was widened west from 31st Street, it was not standard practice to construct curb cuts for sidewalks since federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements were not yet in place.

In the Idaho Statesman archives, I found where Bill Sacht, the district highway engineer for what is now ITD District 3, stated in response to a Sept. 4, 1974, letter to the editor that Chinden included “a paved area between the back of the sidewalk and the right-of-way which can be used as a bicycle path.”

The 1976 bike plan for the Boise area confirms this. It lists Chinden as an existing “Class I bike lane, extending through Garden City, from Fairview Avenue to 46th Street.”

In the early 1970s, the U.S. transportation profession migrated toward building bicycle infrastructure physically separated from motorized traffic. Countries in Europe also moved in that direction. The U.S. called them Class I bike lanes, and routes such as the Greenbelt were included in this classification.

Things changed.

Road-design practices were soon overwhelmed by the “vehicular cycling” movement, where such riders lobbied to share vehicle lanes with motorists. These are oftentimes the most confident riders you see on the road, but they represent a small portion of those who ride bikes. Vehicular cyclists controlled the bicycle facility-design conversation for nearly four decades, and protected bike lanes like those originally build on Chinden were shoved aside.

The Netherlands and Denmark continued on with protected bike lanes as a standard, and as a result are the safest countries in the world for bicycling. They also have some of the happiest motorists, according to studies, because of this reduction in conflicts between modes.

Chinden likely marked what was the first-ever streetside protected bike lane corridor in the Boise region. Research reveals Fort Street and Protest Way had some form of protected bike lane, including a Greenbelt-like pathway on one side of the street. In 1974, ACHD Deputy Director Herb Mayer reported to the Boise City Council that “the district will build an 8-foot bike path on the north side of Fort from Reserve to Sixth.” The 1976 plan called for physically separated bike lanes on State Street. Imagine that.

Today, protected bike lanes are still treated as a recent discovery. The latest ACHD Roadways to Bikeways Plan update has a decision matrix to help determine where they should be built. The city of Boise and CCDC are constructing protected bike lanes on Capitol Boulevard that will soon be complete from Front Street to Bannock.

Let’s re-establish the protected bike lanes along Chinden Boulevard. The people of Garden City deserve it.

Don Kostelec is a transportation planning consultant and road safety advocate who travels primarily on foot, by bike and by bus in and around the Boise area.