City Government

Air Quality Talk Will Create Hot Air

Plan on a lot of HOT air when folks discuss BAD air at a “Town Hall” meeting Tuesday at 7p.m. in the council chamber of Boise City.

Experts from all the local planning, air quality, and highway agencies will each give presentations. If they follow the usual protocol, the politicos and bureaucrats will spew their wisdom and then offer citizens a mere three minutes to respond or offer their own ideas and assessments.
Remember the air has turned sour during THEIR respective watches. Today’s leaders have failed miserably when it comes to controlling the rate of growth and subsequent pollution problems. The politicos have been busy trying to increase population while our air and traffic woes have worsened.

Oh sure, we will hear that increased density will make it possible to have trains, light rail, buses, and more bicycles. “Get the sinners out of their gas guzzlers, admit global warming is bad, stop building highways, live near your job, walk to Costco for those 48 rolls of toilet paper and 12 loaves of bread.”
Our best guess through a lot of reading tells us that if we are able to get an above average percent of commuters to ride mass transit, we could POSSIBLY attract 6% of those who now drive. That means the air and roads would still be 94% as bad as ever despite spending BILLIONS of our tax dollars.

Here are some GUARDIAN growthophobe points to ponder:

–ZERO POPULATION GROWTH would be the place to start. In addition to the obvious biological issue, local governments and businesses need to rethink GROWTH. Stop spending public money to attract more people to the valley. No more advertising, tax breaks, and “top 10” lists. We are not lacking for people, cars, and air pollution in the Treasure Valley.

–LARGE EMPLOYERS like the state, feds, Micron, HP should aim for some tax breaks and provide some bus service for employees. Eastern Idaho has one of the biggest bus systems west of the Mississippi to haul workers out to the Idaho National Engineering Lab from Pocatello, Blackfoot, and Idaho Falls.

–RIDE SHARE VANS like the commuter rigs administered by the ACHD just running around town offering rides to all comers would be great.

–RIDER DATABASE matching riders with drivers operated by a public agency would cut traffic and emissions. Like the old bulletin boards on college campuses “Male seeking ride to Portland for thanksgiving…”

–REGISTERED RIDER program. Establish “bus stop shelters” where commuters can wait with prominent I.D. tags and destinations visible. Motorists can offer rides to anyone if they choose to do so. Riders would be registered to assist in identifying them in the event of problems.

–ALLOW PUBLIC vehicles to offer rides to any citizen. Parks, public works, cops are all running around with single drivers much of the time. Liability is no different than for a bus. During the Vietnam War it was policy that ANY American driving a vehicle had to offer a ride to any OTHER American regardless of rank.

–DESIGN ROADS to expedite traffic flow. Most of ACHD efforts are aimed at ”traffic calming” rather than moving cars smoothly. Most roads are built for the primary purpose of retailing…Fairview, Overland, Milwaukee, Eagle, to name a few. We have no LOOP, CROSSTOWN, or BYPASS roads.

Nothing wrong with bike lanes, more fuel efficient vehicles, etc. But few people can afford to go out and buy a new car just to reduce pollution. If every new car emitted 80% less pollution tomorrow, it would take years to get rid of all the “old smokers” on the road today.

Try the innovative GUARDIAN ideas and stop begging people to move here.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. While researching a fast food franchise I wanted to purchase, I was shocked to discover that despite all the advertising, marketing, and branding that occurs through large sums of monies via royalties, the actual growth in sales is directly proportionate to population growth, nothing else. I would suspect this is true for many industries, that being said, I think it is doubtful that any voices to slow growth will be seriously considered, too much money relies on population growth.

    When bellies are full and the people have their milk and honey, elected leaders can plunder. When bellies are empty, revolution and change is near. Just look at the French Revolution, it had more to do with famine than a revolt against the class structure.

  2. Let’s not forget Canyon County. Forget, for a moment, the traffic between here and there. What about all the pollution that is created in Canyon County. Do you think it never strays beyond the county line? Aren’t the prevailing winds generally in a eastward direction!! Canyon County needs to recognize their part in this problem and therefore their responsibility in helping control it.

  3. You would think they would at least offered free BUS rides to and from this meeting. A first step-baby one.

  4. And may I add that there are a lot of younger people and older people and handicapped people who can’t drive but still need to go places. There are solutions to these problems and it doesn’t have to include light rail or a renovated bus system. There are a lot of clever people out there. Find a way for me to get to downtown Boise from Eagle without my adding to the one person per vehicle problem. Please. Wish I could ride a bike but there are a lot of us who are not able. Ride share vans sound like a good deal – communicating a need for a ride shouldn’t be too complicated since so many people have access to the Internet. Work on this folks. The air is getting horrible.

  5. There used to be a type of a ride-share database maintained by ACHD. Don’t know if there is anything left of that or not.

    We need policies that encourage flexible schedules when possible, the option to telecommute from home when feasible, and the possibility of policies like working four 10 hour days where applicable.

    There were at one time programs to encourage employers to provide bus passes in Boise or bus discounts.

    We need not just more bike lanes but tax breaks for employers who provide showers and bicycle parking indoors.

    There are a number of countywide and Boise City transportation plans written in the 1970s-1990s that encompass some of these types of ideas that are small increments, which can add up to major reductions.

    An inventory of what is currently in place in the Treasure Valley and employers with innovative policies would be a good place to start.

  6. All great suggestions. How can we get the pols to pay any attention to them, though, when they so rarely pay attention to anyone except those who shovel in the big bucks?
    As for the meetings: I’d bet you half a tank of gas (would be a full tank, but at today’s prices …) that about the only thing that will result from the meetings will be a lot more air pollution — in the form of political B.S.

  7. Sharing rides with strangers may have worked 20 years ago but, sadly enough, not today.
    Publicly owned vehicles giving rides to the public would be met with “horror” by the city insurance guys.
    The solution is to get this damned bus system working!
    The first step is to organize the system, using existing equipment, to establish longer operating hours and regular, dependable stops. This could be accomplished in a matter of days! I would suggest that for the first 120-180 days of the “new” system, ridership would be FREE! Just the novelty would encourage ridership.
    Over time, implement the “surface subway” system that was discussed here many months ago.
    Now the kicker.
    In my opinion we will NEVER make any headway with a transit system until we make it so bloody expensive to park downtown, people are forced to use the bus! Couple that with regular terminal stops at the big employers and I believe we would see significant increase in use.
    We also should not lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with 3-6% of the population at best!
    There are a lot of legislators that will have a real problem with throwing money at such a small portion of the population.
    Bottom line is that we simply have to do SOMETHING!!

  8. The Watcher
    Nov 27, 2007, 6:29 am

    While I applaud the Guardian for pitching alternative solutions none of them, even if intensely pursued, will amount to a hill of beans in terms of air quality or congestion.

    ZPG and bus service for employees won’t make a dent to the extent you could meaningfully implement any strategy. ACHD despite their constant striving to push the limits on how bad a government can be (and succeeding!) has an excellent rideshare program (Commuteride). I’m sure it could be improved but not such that you could see substantial change.

    They have a “registered rider” program to facilitate ridematching. To think people will hinge their travel plans on someone picking them up at various stops is unrealistic…people need reliable transport. The following statement “Most of ACHD efforts are aimed at “traffic calming” rather than moving cars smoothly” is just plain false (I am NO defender of ACHD I just don’t like wildly inaccurate generalizations).

    Want a model to go after? Portland has increased population AND kept vehicle miles traveled FLAT while enjoying a healthy economy. That would require a substantial improvement in public transit and some decent urban planning though…are Treasure Valley leaders up to the task?

    Readers may please commence the spin on why Portland is a failure and not a valid model for “rural” Idaho.

    EDITOR NOTE–You hit the nail on the head asking if leaders are up for decent planning (solutions). Based on the past, the answer is a resounding NO.

    ACHD complaints are indeed substantial with commercial access, cut through abatement, speeders and bumps, stop signs all over the north end, bike lane management, etc. ACHD doesn’t do a bad job, the demands placed on them exceed abilities.

  9. I do not think we can only depend on the government to improve air quality. It will take a concerted effort from individuals, the business community and lastly the government. My solutions listed mainly involve the business community.

    I agree with Cyclops comment about parking. Many downtown worker do not pay the full amount of their monthly parking bill. They are subsidized by their employer. A quick fix would be for employers to subsidize employees who find alternatives. Examples: full or partial payment of monthly bus pass, gift certificate from local bike shops.

    The banking community is under enough scrutiny these days and they will be reforming the way mortgages are qualified. They can influence where people live by involving commute mileage in the loan calculation. The house that is $30,000 less in Nampa may not be cheaper when figuring gas and wear & tear.

  10. Watcher asked for it and here it is. The Portland model and why it is not a valid model for Idaho, the short version.

    One must do a little historical due diligence with respect to the so-called Portland model. The Oregon state government was involved as far back as 1970 with Senate Bill 100. It is unlikely that the Idaho state gov’t will get involved with land use planning any time soon.

    Then there’s Oregon Ballot Measure 37 of 2004 which was a backlash to the years of strict land use regulations. So what we think of when we think of Portland is something that was created in the 70s. The unintended consequences of Measure 37, which itself was an unintended consequence of strict land use, are just beginning to come to light and it’s not a pretty sight.

    How would you anti-taxers like your tax money to be payed to developers not to develop land in the same way we pay farmers not to grow crops?

    Regardless, the topic was air quality and we need to focus on realistic goals. As I’ve said before, emissions tests for 2C, vapor recovery fuel nozzles and closing the loophole for light trucks and SUVs are three such realistic goals. If you want to think more grandiose, then electric or hydrogen powered cars are a good start. Hell, anti-gravity cars powered by blender sized Mr. Fusion devices are about as realistic as strict land use planning in Idaho.

    In other words, herding cats would be as easy a task as herding humans into a smaller and denser area ’round dees parts.

  11. I agree we need to do something. However, let’s keep this in perspective. Even with the increase in population, the winter AQ now (at least as measured by sight and smell) is much better now than in the 70s and 80s. I can remember days and days of smelling the sugar beet factory and dense fog. Part is due to a decrease in the number of strong long-lasting inversions. Part is due to a cutback in the number of wood stoves for heat. Part is due to lowered emissions per vehicle. I remember seeing a picture of Boise in the winter in the 30s. A black pall hung over the city from coal furnaces. We have come quite a long way.

  12. Dave, Dave, Dave…..when are you ever going to learn. The only thing that will ever solve the valleys problems is a TRAIN! Only then will all be well.

    These folks will just keep having their meetings and puffing their chests until they force it on us.

  13. Mr. Guardian… I appreciate the fact that you are making some suggestions. Many folks have a tendency to just wring their hands and demand that government take care of all our problems! (As if a “government solution” is something we all are entitled to, and won’t impact any of us… just the other guy.)

    HOWEVER… you say, “Get the sinners out of their gas guzzlers, admit global warming is bad, stop building highways, live near your job, walk to Costco for those 48 rolls of toilet paper and 12 loaves of bread.”

    I’m trying to decide if you’re serious, or if that should be taken tongue-in-cheek… or a little of both.

    “Get the sinners out of their gas guzzlers.” Is there something wrong with that notion? (By the way, we’re all sinners!)

    “Admit global warming is bad.” Might it be good? (By the way, I’m skeptical about humankind being the cause of global warming… but I’m pretty sure we’re causing the valley’s bad air. And I’d be shocked and awed if global warming didn’t come up tonight at the bad-air discussion.)

    “Stop building highways.” Sounds good to me. More pavement isn’t the answer, or L.A. would have the fewest traffic problems. (I can’t imagine a fellow growthophobe would be in favor of MORE highways!)

    “Live near your job.” Again… what’s wrong with that notion? My dad lived literally within eyesight of his office when I was a kid growing up in Boise. At 3.5 miles (by bicycle), I’m currently as far as I’ve ever been from work.

    “Walk to Costco for those 48 rolls of toilet paper and 12 loaves of bread.” Frankly, that’s the only one that seems obviously facetious. But it illustrates how so many citizens tend to view transportation choices as an all-or-nothing deal. Sure, it makes sense to drive a car to Costco for that big shopping spree… but what does that have do with getting your sorry carcass and sack lunch to work 5 days a week? Is your need to go to Costco a couple times a month a valid excuse for ignoring any transportation option besides your Ford Expedition, for all your other trips as well?

    Government and business can put incentives in place, to encourage people to make socially-responsible transportation choices. But as several other folks have pointed out, in our free society, ultimately it comes down to individual choice. As long as the vast majority of INDIVIDUALS are unwilling to adjust their personal habits (or feel that they’re already doing as much as they can), nothing will change in any significant way.

    EDITOR NOTE–As usual, you make great sense. My post was indeed “a little or both” tongue in cheek and serious. Sorta like going to the doc and he says the sugar is a little high, you need to exercise, cut down on fats, and don’t smoke. EVERYONE knows it, but seldom do they actually follow through.

    Finally, I think there is some middle ground to be had on cars, bikes, buses, etc. Clogging roads and “making it painful” helps no one.

  14. curious george
    Nov 27, 2007, 6:56 pm

    Don’t plan on going to this one…

    But here’s a cheerful thought. The demographic experts project that the Valley will grow from the current population of ~600K people to roughly 1M people within the next 25 years (ball park estimates only).

    If we could focus all of our efforts in reducing our communities’ carbon footprint by improving air quality alone (no recycling, no energy reductions, etc. – just actions that improve our air quality) – the change that would have to occur is monumental.

    Not only would every new person moving to the Valley (all ~400K of them) have to live in such a way as to produce 50% less pollution emissions – every existing resident (living in their older homes, and still working at their current jobs) would have to reduce their emmissions by 33%.

    Put in another way. Each and every one of us would have to drive 1/3 fewer miles from here on out – and every new person moving to the valley would have to drive 1/2 as much as each of us does right now.

    The end result of all this belt tightening will be a net ZERO improvement to the valley’s air quality – nothing will improve, the air quality just won’t get any worse than it is today.

    This assumes that cars will be just as polluting as they are today, but it also assumes that the additional electrical generation needed by those extra 400,000 people won’t degrade the air quality either (Fission, Solar, Hydro, Wind?). We would have to count on improving vehicle technology alone, to realize any air quality improvement.

    The only mechanism capable of reducing our emissions’ “footprint” is by changing our land use patterns. And, not just for all the new comers – every existing residential subdivision would have to become more walkable and less monolithic in its use. No more exclusively residential neighborhoods – every neighborhood will have to have some level of office, retail, and service uses retro-fitted into it.

  15. George,your logic, and math, are perfect! Now, when are we going down to the north end and tell them that 500 of those homes are going to be turned into retail-commercial-and office spaces. You would hear the screaming from Missoula!

    In reality, I am afraid that horse left the barn a long, long time ago

  16. Cyclops,
    I live in the Northend and I have all I need within walking or biking distance (Grocery,hardware, medical,etc..). No need to change that area.

    Bown Crossing is a perfect example of what George is talking about.

  17. Mike Murphy, (Cough, Cough) Bull Moose Tenor
    Nov 28, 2007, 9:04 am

    I once saw an Idaho State Police vehicle with one of those “Buckle Up” bumper stickers. What made this one different was the ultra fine-print that read: “It Makes It Harder For The Aliens To Suck You Out Of Your Car That Way”. Pretty damned funny!

    And makes a helluva lot more sense than those found on SUV’s (occupied by lone individuals) that urge: “No Blood for Oil”, “Coexist”, and so on, Ad Nauseam.

    Until we discontinue rewarding the utilization of these infrastructure straining, resource wasting, Uber polluting vehicles and begin rewarding those who use sane vehicles and alternative transportation, nothing will change.

    For God’s sake… The City Owned (spare me the CCDC distinction) Parking Garages can’t even bring themselves to enforce the “Compact Car ONLY” Parking Spaces. A Non-Policy Sorta-Secretly Mandated by Councilwoman cum Mayor Tertling-Payne who lives in the Washington Mutual Bank Building adjacent to the City Centre Garage.

    Spaces which were “invented” back-in-the-day to reward conscientious citizens with choice parking spots, and are now just a way to “Up” the number of parking spaces available on the books.

  18. Boise Banker
    Nov 28, 2007, 9:35 am

    I think curious george has some good points but I highly doubt it will take 25 years to hit the million people mark here in the valley. I suspect it will happen 5-10 years sooner than that. At least we should try to plan for things that way. Heaven forbid we actually get slightly ahead of our growth patterns. ACHD, city planners, P&Z won’t know what to do if they aren’t playing catch-up all of the time.

    I know there will be advancements in technology (automobile wise as well as others like solar/renewable resources) that will help those who are early adapters and our older technologies (70’s-90’s vehicles) will be fazing out as they need to be replaced. This will help reduce the carbon footprint of all residents here, not just the new ones moving into the area.

    Air quality will always be an issue when you have a metro area nestled in a narrow valley. Its just geology and physics. Unless we just level all of the foot hils for a 30 mile radius. That might help and it would give more development land. Hooray! (sarcasm)

    Hopefully if we can’t improve our air at least we can try and not make it worse as the area grows. I think that should be one of the top priorities. The unfortunate part is politicians only care about what will be noticed when they are in office and not about the people 5+ years down the road. That is someone else’s problem.

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