Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Treasure Valley needs to adopt mass transit attitude

As Rockefeller Center rose in 1930s Manhattan, a curious Nelson Rockefeller mounted a car bumper to gain better vantage from which to inspect his family’s massive construction site.

Not recognizing the scion of one of America’s wealthiest fortunes, an officious rent-a-cop rousted Rockefeller and gave him the bum’s rush.

The chastened Rockefeller returned a week later, cut holes in barricades, built public observation platforms, and distributed “Sidewalk Superintendent” buttons to passers-by, in one of that era’s most successful public outreach gestures.

The forthcoming underground bus terminal in Downtown Boise — shrouded behind impenetrable screening and chain-link fencing — rekindles this example of how to imaginatively stimulate public support for grand civic ventures.

The good folks at the Gardner Company who oversee this project present reasonable explanations why our new transit center remains hidden from public view (construction site liability, for instance, in this regrettably litigious age).

But cloaking in mystery Boise’s latest baby step toward improved transit — a central connection point for buses — represents a missed chance to foster greater citizen anticipation and support for better regional public transportation.

Like most of life’s aspects, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The new Grove transit center is the latest lost opportunity to change the conversation about how we navigate in the City of Trees.

On most fronts, Boise is doing just fine, thank you.

Downtown revitalization proceeds apace. Boise State grows. Medical capabilities expand. The arts scene explodes. Recreational opportunities abound. Millennials drive the craft beer and bicycling sectors. Residents love this place.

But on the Achilles’ heel issue of transportation, Idaho’s major metropolitan area lags far behind most other major American cities, including those in deeply conservative red states that stereotypically once equated public transit with Eastern elitism.

Direct East Coast air service remains more concept than reality. The last Amtrak train departed 15 years ago. Our beloved Boise Depot languishes largely as a forlorn backdrop for wedding photography. A couple of interstate buses putter off to Portland, Salt Lake City or Spokane.

Boise has intentionally placed most of its transportation eggs in one basket — the single-passenger automobile — a model most other cities are rejecting as inefficient and unsustainable. I know of no other major American downtown that’s as accommodating to the influx of one-passenger cars, and so deficient in alternative ways of getting around. It’s Boise’s daily transportation version of bowling alone.

We’re hindered by two current Boise realities. While enjoyable, they’re doomed to decline: It’s still reasonably easy to get around, and when you arrive, there’s ample free or reduced-rate parking for your car. But Eagle Road ... Franklin and the Connector ... University and South Capitol ... I-84 at rush hour ... are undoubtedly merely harbingers of the Treasure Valley gridlock to come.

While ValleyRide provides vital bus service to some parts of the city, it offers limited weekday service, switches off at 6:30 p.m., drops back to abbreviated Saturday service and disappears entirely on Sundays and holidays. Without adequate bus transit, you either drive ... or hoof it on shoe leather.

We applaud the progress that a new and efficient Downtown bus transit center represents. But as we laud our investment in new “hardware” — bricks and mortar — are we neglecting the right “software” to sustain it?

That “software” being a changed mindset that says it’s OK to ride the bus; public transit isn’t just for the poor and elderly; and that “those people” some legislators once derided in nixing a nearby transit center are, in reality, just everyday Boiseans who want to get around.

David Klinger lives in Boise.