A Street Car Named Dumbo (White Elephant)


Boise Mayor Dave Bieter’s plan to have streetcars rolling in Downtown Boise by summer 2012 may be receiving some help from Sen. Mike Crapo to push it to the next level if Congress springs for the pork.

Team Dave’s plan is to have the first phase of a downtown streetcar system run a 2.6-mile loop along Main and Idaho streets between 1st and 16th streets. Additional expansion would connect to Boise State and 30th Street. In total, the streetcar plan would cost taxpayers between $40 million and $65 million with up to 50% coming from federal grants.
The remaining 50% would come from a new tax Team Dave is proposing – 30 cents per square foot on property in the area of Downtown. For example, the owner of a 15,000-square-foot building would pay about extra $4,500 a year for 20 years for the streetcar project. The so-called Local Improvement District (LID) needs approval of only a majority or perhaps 60% of PROPERTY OWNERS in the proposed District… most businesses in the area have “triple net leases” which obligate the tenant–not the property owner–to pay any new or increased taxes on top of their rent.

Team Dave’s streetcar plan is flawed for several reasons. Putting in a streetcar system in portions of downtown Boise would be a duplication of service. Currently, Valley Transit provides the same functional service the streetcar program would offer. Buses would not be replaced since the streetcar project would only operate a 2.6 mile loop in downtown Boise.

Secondly, now is not the time for another tax on already tapped out property downtown tenants. Finally, the value for the streetcar system is far from observable. Taxpayers would basically be paying $15 to $25 million per mile for the streetcar project.

When I called Team Dave’s office about “a street car named dumbo” (my little salute to Marlon Brando’s 1951 Film “A Street Car Named Desire”), the staff said that there was no formal research that could be shared about the project. That is, no research or analysis as to the potential feasibility, user desire, or impact of a streetcar service.

Rather than view the Treasure Valley transportation problem as a larger, more holistic issue, Dave is going nostalgia on taxpayers. Dave’s throwing his weight behind a transportation strategy that will provide limited relief to commuters.

Instead, TeamDave should focus on real solutions to the regional Treasure Valley transportation problem – relieving commuters of their near L.A.-type drive to and from work. Put the $40 million to $65 million into a strategy to reduce traffic congestion in and out of Boise during rush hour. Whether it is a train system between Nampa and Boise, or a massive hot air balloon consortium, taxpayer interests would be better served with ANYTHING other than a Rice-A-Roni streetcar system that would serve only small section of downtown Boise.

An expensive novelty item at best.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. I am confused…are you speaking of a new tax $.30 per sq ft, on commercial property or on residences??

    EDITOR NOTE-A LID is created in a specific area for a specific purpose.
    (Most common is for a few blocks to get curb and gutter or sidewalks) Owners adjacent to the improvement pay extra (new) tax.

  2. Very good Tim.
    The only thing I would add is to question if anyone at city hall has actually gone out on the streets at 10:00 AM or 3:00PM and looked to see how many people there are on the street? You could count them on your hands, forget your toes!The very best logic and common sense has been presented as to why this is a bad idea, and I truly believe that Dave Bieter will completely dismiss it and continue forward with his little “choo-choo”. It’s a helluva way to run a railroad!

  3. A Street Car Named Dumbo will probably turn into the Happy Hour Express. The proposed route goes by every bar in downtown Boise. Wait till guide books figure that out.

  4. Taxpayers need to demand to see the data, analysis and payback for a project of this magnatude.

    Launching a capital project of this nature needs to go thru the public rinse cycle. I God we trust all others need to bring data to the table.

    Emotions need to be removed and cold hard facts are needed to support a project like this.

    My personal “emotional opinion” in the absence of data say it won’t fly no matter how rosy the data is collected and presented.

  5. This case illustrates the stupidity of our government on a federal level. The locals can get federal money but only if they ask for it by a certain time and use it toward some form of transportation. The feds send the check with no regard toward actual need.

    It reminds me of when my wife worked for the Boise School district and she explained to me how there “technology budget” worked. She said that each school received x amount of dollars toward techno gadgets. If they didn’t spend all the money they were allocated, they would receive less money the next year. So it was spend spend regardless of need. That my friends is a failed bureacracy in a nutshell. No, Obama we really don’t need a choo choo train for our man-boy mayor. But we will gladly take your stinkin’ money because we don’t want to be the only ones not putting our hands out.

  6. No matter what it costs, team Dave and the council will go forward with this “trolley that no one will use”.

    I counted 3 people on a bus today at 5:45 PM. we cannot even fill the buses we have.

  7. Dean Gunderson
    May 29, 2009, 1:44 am


    It’s unfortunate that you didn’t get a hold of the correct personnel at City Hall. But it’s important to know that for such transportation-related projects (located anywhere within either Ada or Canyon counties), the studies’ source information can be found directly at COMPASS’ website. The research data for this particular proposal (it isn’t a project unless it gets funded) is found here:

    This multi-faceted proposal (the Treasure Valley High Capacity Transit Study) is evaluating the combined effects of three different aspects of transportation in the Treasure Valley: the Downtown Circulator (what you call the Streetcar Named Dumbo), the Multimodal Transit Center (which is proposed as a transit-anchor for the approximately 40-thousand workers who commute into downtown Boise every workday), and the I-84 Priority Corridor (that portion of the Interstate that runs from downtown Boise westward and must support the transportation demands of roughly 70% of those downtown commuters).

    At the above-referenced link, you will find over 110 separate documents that go into minute detail of every aspect of this long-range planning effort. Other than the agenda and minutes of every meeting that has been held, you will find over 100MB of illustrated documents that address this very subject from every perspective (including traffic models, cost analysis data, public input, and alternatives — including what happens if we don’t do anything, which is still on the table).

    Further, since this involves a mass transit service proposal, the public agency responsible to coordinate the study is Valley Regional Transit — the only state and federally recognized Regional Transit Authority for the two counties (not any one city — because, you know, it is perceived as impacting the whole region). This agency’s link to the study which served as the precursor to the High Capacity Transit Study is here:

    This effort (the Downtown Boise Mobility Study) dates back to early 2003 – and itself enjoys a lineage of deep research that dates back to the mid-1990’s (well before Dave Bieter entered local politics).

    It’s okay to disagree with the data, or assert that it’s flawed, or based on erroneous assumptions. But to say that because you spoke to “someone” (???) at City Hall who couldn’t provide you with the information you were looking for — and then just assume that no research is being done, or that the effort doesn’t take into account the effects on the larger transportation/transit scenario in the valley — is contradicted by the facts.

    It’s okay to express your frustration over what you think is politically motivated short-sightedness (or the drum-beating of a political opportunist) — but for the sake of the rest of us, don’t try and use your flights of fancy to dragoon us into believing your ill-informed opinion. Before you publish another “thought-provoking” guest post, do your homework.

    Or maybe the Boise Guardian (who actually published your piece) ought to know better than to publish something so far out on the fringe.

    Dave, do you hand out aluminum-foil hats to go with each of these guest posts — or does this just fall under the category of a “different slant” because your hands are full taking care of other business? Since I believe that transportation & transit are an important subject for every resident in the valley to know more about (all of whom deserve well-thought out objective opinions on this difficult subject), to say I’m disappointed with this piece, just doesn’t cover it.

    EDITOR NOTE–I will take the hit. COMPASS and Valley Transit are hardly credible sources of information, however. Also I hope you caught Mayor Dave on Channel 7 last night “confessing” he had no idea of what type of tax would be used or who would pay it. Senior Crapo met with him in D.C. and bought his pitch. Boise voters wouldn’t do the same, hence the end run with a LID. You apparently have “educated yourself” on the issue. Does this mean you endorse the street car project in the wake of this mountain of research you cite? Your opinion is as valued as Tim’s.

  8. The Mayor is Delusional
    May 29, 2009, 8:07 am

    This trolley thing gets a little more stupid with each passing day. The first I heard of it, it was supposed to run on state, and other roads, and work as a sort of commuter system bringing people into the center of town. That idea seems (I am crossing my fingers at this point) to have faded in popularity.

    Now we have the 1st to 16th via Main and Idaho lunacy-loop. Building on Cyclop’s point, has anyone gone outside and looked at the city west of 13th, or east of 5th? There is nothing for the trolley to do out there. I mean, the first building west of 13th is a Dairy. Think of that for a moment. Six blocks from the Mayors office, well inside the Trolley Lunacy-Loop, is a milk processing plant! They don’t need a trolley. They need room to maneuver 18 wheel tank trucks.

    Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that the milk plant is there. My point is that Boise is a poorly planned conglomeration of sprawling suburbs with a tiny little urban core. A trolley won’t change any of that.

    I could do without the sprawl but the fact that urban Boise is tiny suits me fine. The last thing we need is a big expensive rail systems to nowhere.

  9. Mr. Gunderson, I have done the research and read the “mountains” of studies performed. My conclusion? We can’t afford it! The concept of a LID on downtown corridor business owners will be catastophic at best. The voters certainly don’t want it. And the single largest problem? There is virtually no one downtown that will use it!!!

  10. There’s so much wrong with this article, I can hardly decide where to start. First of all, there is plenty of research supporting a trolley system and Dave referred to it last night on the news. Other cities have seen tens of millions of dollars in growth around trolley systems. It’s well-documented that having public transportation in place encourages development. Try Google if you don’t believe me.

    Secondly, not enough citizens of the Treasure Valley support mass transit to make it happen right now. Residents of Meridian, Kuna, etc. where it’s needed most, generally are not in favor of it. They’d never approve an effort. The trolley system is a good way to get people used to the idea and prove it works.

    $4,500 a year in new taxes sounds high, but that example is based on a massive 15,000 sq. ft. business. Let’s look at a more reasonable 2,000 sq. ft. space – new taxes would be closer to $600 a year. And this is just a proposed increase, not final.

    Arguing that Valley Transit provides the same services is ridiculous. Have you ever tried to take the bus to get from A to B downtown? Certainly doesn’t sound like it. Trolleys are much more efficient, faster to board and disembark, and stop at each stop much more frequently. And the expanded route would help alleviate traffic congestion for sporting events at BSU, something we could really use.

    The plan may not be perfect yet, but at least we have a mayor who is looking forward.

  11. If the Answer is Trolley, They Asked the Wrong Question
    May 29, 2009, 12:37 pm

    Mr. Gunderson is correct when he says groups like COMPASS and Smart Growth have produced some good planning related reports. I say “Planning Related” because a plan is no better than the degree to which it is implemented and enforced. And, in this valley, where every P&Z office and board of control hands out variances like candy on Warm Springs on Halloween, there is no planning.

    We could argue about why the previous sentence is true, but I think most people on this blog can agree that it is.

    Where I am going with this is that it is possible to accommodate the relative chaos that results from non-planning. The way to do it is by promoting solutions that can bend with the moment. The trouble is, rail systems are perhaps the worst of all possible options is situations such as this.

    Buses are much better in that their routes can be changed as demand changes.

    The Guardian once proposed a system of jitney cabs that would also be a good solution in that they could bend with the flow of the moment. They could take people down town as part of the regular commute, or to BSU on game day, or to the Idaho Center for the rodeo. Flexibility is key.

    Think of the stimulus that could be provided if they took the same $65 million for the folly-trolley and put it to other more innovative uses. Another example: They could provide a $3,000 incentive for qualifying commuters to trade in a gas guzzler for a new Smart Car. The result would be more than 21,000 smart cars that, unlike the trolley, people would actually use. Total fuel consumption would decrease substantially, with a corresponding increase in air quality and parking space.

    There are probably a hundred ideas better than the one in the previous paragraph. But there are probably a thousand ideas that are better than the trolley.

  12. Mike Murphy for Mayor
    May 29, 2009, 12:58 pm

    Let us assume for a moment that Mayor Beiter and the CCDC are 100% correct about what a trolley will do as far as acting as a catalyst for more growth Downtown.

    My question to the reader is: Is that what we really want?

    Do we REALLY want to continue down the path of “Boise Angelesization”, or do we want to preserve what is left of our oft touted – and rapidly diminishing – quality of life.

    In essence – Do we want to continue down this path to becoming a “Big” City (We know Hizzoner, the CCDC and the Developers DO), or are we ready to say: Enough Already!

    I say: Enough Already!

  13. A LID is not an “end run” but rather an established and proven method for funding infrastructure projects within a specific geographic area. They have been used to improve sidewalks, sewers, and other items for years. This is no different…bigger, but no different.

  14. Tom Anderson
    May 29, 2009, 4:17 pm

    There is already a cheap, fast, easy transportation solution for going a few blocks downtown. The techical term for it is ‘SHOES’.

  15. Dean Gunderson
    May 29, 2009, 5:28 pm

    Dave has asked whether I support a streetcar in Boise — and the simpliest answer is yes & no.

    No such single intervention will repair the damage that was done to downtown Boise during the 60’s and 70’s — when tremendous amounts of solid, mixed-use urban development was plowed under to build surface parking lots (in a truly vain attempt to grab federal urban renewal dollars). If you have time, track down the November 1974 Harper’s Magazine — in it you will find a precient article titled, “Tearing Down Boise” (written by L.J. Davis). Davis speculated then, that Boise may be the first American town to literally tear itself down in an attempt to secure federal money to re-make itself.

    There’s nothing new under the sun — especially in politics.

    But, back to the main question. The current proposal includes two separate (though connected) routes. One that runs east/west and connects every large employment center in the central business district, and extends just far enough west to include the closest extant residential stock to the district (the west end). This westward expansion is contemplated to take immediate advantage of that housing stock — instead of having to wait for re-development to build all the housing downtown Boise needs. The second route runs north/south and connects BSU to the central business district. Combined, these two routes would cover an area that currently must absorb the traffic generated by approximately 60,000 commuters on an average weekday (40,000 for the downtown, and another 20,000 for BSU). All of whom must currently drive in (during the morning) and drive out (during the afternoon). It doesn’t have to be this way.

    The reason the probable costs for the Downtown Circulator vary between $40M to (upwards of) $70M is due to the way the routes may be serviced — the higher figure would only be encountered if the north/south route connecting BSU were serviced by streetcars (the 9th street bridge, and possibly the Broadway bridge would have to be re-constructed to support the steel rail system).

    The way the proposed routes are serviced isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition — the east/west route could be steel-wheel on steel-rail, and the north/south route could be rubber tire on pavement (or both steel — or both rubber tire, for a greatly reduced construction cost).

    It seems a lot of people are fond of pointing to the VRT buses (which they never take) and opining that “there’s nobody on those damn things”, so spending any tax money on this “public taxi service” is obviously a waste of resources. But take a moment and ask yourself why there’s such poor ridership (and it really is poor for some routes, and on others — like the morning bus routes on State Street — the buses run at over-capacity every weekday). Any transit system (any system, rail-, bus-, or rocket-based, cannot operate efficiently — or attact ridership — when operating with 30-minute headtimes). One of the key aspects of the proposed routes is often overlooked — it being the reduction in headtimes to 8- to 10-minutes.

    Downtown Boise is the only urbanised area in the Treasure Valley where there are more jobs then there are homes for people to live. This jobs-housing imbalance causes a lot of problems on the transportation network, combine it with the way we’ve haphazardly laid out our subdivisions (with no local roads or connectors actually connecting up), and we’ve cooked up the traffic jam mess we’re currently living in. There are only two areas in Boise where this poor street layout doesn’t exist — the Northend and the Westend (where the proposed streetcar would run) — which both have a regular grid of streets. Not surprisingly, these two areas were laid out at a time when there was a streetcar system running through them. Huh, go figure.

    I am more intregued by the possibility of re-introducing the level of transit (and the amount of housing) that existed in downtown Boise during the original streetcar era, than I am with how a new transit system would be configured (steel wheel, or rubber tire). The advantages to everyone should be obvious (reduced traffic on the Interstate, improved air quality, and more affordable housing closer to where a lot of people work).

    The two clear advantages a streetcar system has over any other mobility service is its fuel efficiency (nothing beats the operational economy of steel rolling on steel), and its zero point-source emmissions (it being electrified, and Idaho being one of the few states that still has access to relatively inexpensive and plentiful hydroeletricity). There have been arguments made by some that since a rail-based technology represents a large up-front investment, it’s less likily to be abandoned in the future by “less enlightened” politicians. Of course, Boise is where such ideas go to die — we have already proved that we’re willing to tear up such an investment. Let’s not use such logic in trying to justify one configuration option over another.

    In my way of thinking, an electrified bus system (with cantenary wires) is the most solid investment we can make with today’s level of political committment, and today’s physical infrastructure. There’s a big gulf between where we are now (and the correct steps we can take today towards a more sustainable and resilient future), and a future where valley residents will once again be able to enjoy walking (or taking the streetcar, or riding a bike) to work while enjoying clean air and clean water.

    And ultimately, if your job is to paint a beautiful picture — you have to use the paints you have on your palette, and not frustrate yourself (and others) over all the colors you wish you had. BSU and the downtown have to be better connected, downtown needs more workforce housing, our air quality has to be improved, and we have to reduce traffic on the Interstate. The Treasure Valley High Capacity Transit Study is the only effort that is trying to tackle all these issues at once.

  16. Chryssa, you have got to be kidding! Maybe you have the ability to “toss” around $600.00, but I believe that is a 3 month supply of food to a single mother of two! Why don’t you ask them what they think about the “choo-choo”? I am starting to believe there is some mysterious gas that is emitted in city hall. That is the only logical reason for so many “nutso” people to be in one place at the same time!

  17. If the Answer is Trolley, They Asked the Wrong Question
    May 29, 2009, 10:46 pm

    Once again Dean turns Mies van der Rohe on his head and proves that more is less.

    Regarding the statement, “The advantages to everyone should be obvious (reduced traffic on the Interstate, improved air quality, and more affordable housing closer to where a lot of people work).

    The proposed trolley only runs from 1st to 16th on Idaho and Main, and passes no residences of any significance. The people that come to town will still have to get here via some other means, and that means cars on the interstate. The Folly-Trolley can, and will, have no significant beneficial impact on commuter traffic.

  18. Blazing Saddle
    May 29, 2009, 11:17 pm

    There seems to be a rule, of sorts, that says, sooner or later, , if they stay in the game long enough, every politician will make a career ending blunder of major proportions.

    The main hope on the part of the citizenry is that the blunder will not cost them too dearly in the form of taxes. In this sense, sexual indiscretions are far superior to capital foolishness.

    Our best hope is that Bieter will Coles his way back into the private sector before he commits us to the Trolley.

  19. I worked downtown for about 30 years until about 5 years ago. I drove in, parked on public or private spaces and left when my day was done. Everything I would want to do downtown on my lunch hour was in walking distance. Do people actually circulate downtown and would they use the trolly? I love rail transportation but can’t see how this downtown loop at the cost entailed would benefit the city of Boise or its downtown workers.

  20. “#
    Jon says:
    May 29, 2009, 3:22 pm

    A LID is not an “end run” but rather an established and proven method for funding infrastructure projects within a specific geographic area. They have been used to improve sidewalks, sewers, and other items for years. This is no different…bigger, but no different.”

    I am still not clear about this LID process. Do the folk who are to be blessed by this new tax have a vote on the issue or are their votes drowned by those of folk who do not have to pay this happy new tax??

    EDITOR NOTE–One more time. A LID is for a specific area (near the trolley for example). There is NO vote. Property OWNERS only sign what amounts to a petition asking to pay (via a lien on their tax bill) their portion of bonds sold by the city. In the case of downtown, there are only a few property OWNERS, but many RENTERS who are obligated by the terms of their leases to pay, but they get no voice in the deal. Bieter is vague about sticking the rest of us with a tax because there is so much (perceived?) voter opposition.

  21. The only trolley I really want is the one that takes you to the Land of Make Believe.

  22. ” Do people actually circulate downtown and would they use the trolly? I love rail transportation but can’t see how this downtown loop at the cost entailed would benefit the city of Boise or its downtown workers.”

    What if they moved all the overpriced parking facilities out to the ends of the rail system…

    Another question…what do they plan to charge for a ride on this toy?

  23. “Property OWNERS only sign what amounts to a petition asking to pay (via a lien on their tax bill) their portion of bonds sold by the city”

    And if the property owners do not desire this toy or a new tax…if they do not sign, does the scheme die?

    EDITOR NOTE–Probably. That is why Team Dave cultivates the business community so deeply.

  24. Excuse me for the simple minded questions, but I just got my property valuation, 20% higher than my actual resale value, and have been advised the city does not count distressed sales in one’s area when figuring tax value so my tax value bears no relationship to any resale value on my home. As this scam exists, I find myself asking a lot more questions about anything involving taxes…the folk with the biggest hit to their homes values pay the biggest bite in taxes

  25. Blazing Saddle
    May 30, 2009, 11:05 am

    Rats. I’ve got this Gunderson nut stuck in my mind like cow dung on the bottom of a boot.

    According to Gunderson, “The two clear advantages a streetcar system has over any other mobility service is its fuel efficiency (nothing beats the operational economy of steel rolling on steel), and its zero point-source emmissions (it being electrified, and Idaho being one of the few states that still has access to relatively inexpensive and plentiful hydroeletricity).

    Dean buddy, steel rolling on steel IS pretty efficient, provided you don’t have to start, and stop, and start, and stop, all day long.

    The energy it takes to overcome the inertia of starting and stopping these dinosaurs from two centuries back more than offsets any benefit of the low coefficient of rolling resistance.

    And, there is the issue of Idaho having access to, relatively inexpensive and plentiful hydroelectricity to power the folly-trolley. – NOT -.

    Idaho Power, the utility that will power this mess has been more than 50 percent coal fired for the last 10 years. Their last two, power plants were gas fired. And, all of their future generation will come via sources other than hydro, for the simple reason that all the good spots for dams have already been built.

  26. Can anyone explain how the federal dollars get released? Do we have to match the transportation funds that come from the feds? I have no problem wasting federal dollars for novelty trains that might actually be kinda fun to ride. My problem is with raising taxes and using OUR money for these pet projects. Guardian do you know?

  27. “Folley Trolley”! Very clever! Maybe we should call it as it is. The “Bieter Folley Trolley” or “BFT”! I like it! Short and to the point!!

  28. If the Answer is Trolley, They Asked the Wrong Question
    May 30, 2009, 10:32 pm

    Ownership is important. Bieter Folly-Trolley it is.

    Long live the death of the BFT.

  29. Dean Gunderson
    May 31, 2009, 1:19 pm

    Mr. Nice,

    Federal Transportation-related dollars are mostly tied to each 6-year-cycle transportation act. The current act is due to expire this Fall, and the reauthorization process has already begun for the following 6-year cycle. Which is why there are so many “big ticket” requests being floated now, even when local communities are still trying to assess the impact of the shift in federal funding as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (which has a number of transportation-related projects in it).

    Communities with senatorial ties to the federal Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (or leverage in its Surface Transportation Subcommittee) are trying to outline their wish lists now — in hopes of securing an earmark (read “pork”) in the next act. Unfortunately for Idaho, Senator Crapo stepped down from this committee several years ago, and there are no Idaho ties (or leverage) for any transportation projects in this Democrat-led committee.

    Here’s a link to the Committee’s latest discussion related to the future of the act.

    Without an earmark, all communities’ projects listed in the act will be evaluated based on the strength of their argument — essentially the project’s ability to successfully run the gauntlet of the federal environmental review process. This isn’t an easy path to take, especially for smaller communities like Boise who must cast their lot in with requests from communities like New York & L.A. — whose projects could benefit millions of people.

    This is why it’s always amusing to me the amount of local furor generated (albeit from a small contingency) when a local agency (or politician) publicly endorses asking for federal transportation money for a project. Asking for the money in no way guarantees that the money will be granted. The fact that Bieter is a Democrat, and publicly endorsed Obama (an endorsement that helped bring Obama to Boise during the campaign) “may” help the streetcar request — but I doubt it.

    And to all those who have a problem “getting me out of their head” (Blazing Saddles) — read my last post a little closer. I don’t endorse a rail-based street car.

    A rubber-tire (that’s right, a BUS) streetcar system — operated with diesel-electric hybrids, which in the downtown core would be run on electricity from overhead cantenary wires — is the best solution for today. This is a transit delivery system that has proven itself in communities of Boise’s size all over the planet.

    Expansion of such systems are also much easier than rail-based expansions — you just extend the cantenary wires once you’ve built up the necessary electrical grid’s capacity. But, such an expansion doesn’t have to stop a community from building dedicated travel ways for this bus-based system — since these hybrids will just as easily run off diesel (or bio-diesel, or compressed natural gas).

    This type of system could be fully integrated into a Bus Rapid Transit system that could service high-capacity corridors — like State Street, Chinden, or Eagle Road.

    Contrary to other posts I’ve read, a Bus-based transit system does not have to be slower than private automobiles. A BRT system operates on its own dedicated lane, and it has signal priority at all intersections along its route. This means that if you were to start driving next to one of these buses in downtown Eagle (or Star, for our governor), the bus would get to downtown Boise (or the Statehouse) well ahead of you (even with it stopping every mile or so to pick up passengers).

    And for those who haven’t picked up on it yet, from my obviously intelligent and even-handed writing ;-), I used to post to the Boise Guardian under the pseudonym — Curious George. I don’t work in the public sector anymore, I design public schools (only public schools) and urban communities (infill, refill, and smart growth) — and I’m busier than I’ve been in years.

    After 14 years as a public servant I have a huge respect for all such folks (elected, appointed, or simply employed), and I wish them the best in their pursuits — they really are trying to do the best they can for their respective communities.

    And to you critics, keep it up. Public debate is the best way to rigorously test every proposal — write on blogs, write to local papers, show up to town meetings. Don’t worry about hurting other people’s feelings, we can take it.

  30. Dean Gunderson
    May 31, 2009, 4:44 pm


    Thanks so much for the Harper’s article.

    – Dean

  31. I like the guy with the bicytaxi as noted in the Idaho Business Review today. Can carry two passengers, can go anywhere, and could start up in the next few weeks. Read about it. No tracks, no emissions. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. I might be persuaded to go downtown Boise again. Hope everyone will check it out.

  32. The Truth Will Out
    Jun 1, 2009, 6:57 am

    Dear Dean, AKA “Curious George. I don’t work in the public sector anymore, I design public schools (only public schools) and urban communities (infill, refill, and smart growth)”

    You are far too modest. You were the frequent spokesperson and poster boy for urban sprawl in the form of planned communities while working for Ada County, with Gerry Armstrong and Mark Pechennino. You actively promoted such wonders as Avimor, hammer flat, Arbor Hills, and Cartwrtight Ranch to name a few. And, to the extent that you helped grossly overstock the valley with developments you get some credit for the collapse of home values in the area.

  33. Nearly all light rail/streetcar projects in the U.S. have proven to be a miserable failure from a cost/benefit perspective.

    In nearly every transit study done, buses outperform rail by a significant margin at lower overall costs.

    The low population density in Boise, especially along the proposed route, is so far from being able to justify this project that it is laughable.

  34. Dean Gunderson
    Jun 1, 2009, 10:05 am

    Dear TTWO,

    Not only did I work for the County during its debute of its revised Planned Community ordinance (a service that I am proud of), I was also one of the county’s liasons to the Blueprint for Good Growth & Communities in Motion processes — as well as one of the county’s Board members on Valley Regional Transit’s Board of Directors (and to the chagrin of many, I supported the transit union workers — being one of the few Board members invited to attend their regular union meetings). I also served 12 years on the Technical Advisory Committee for COMPASS (starting when the organization was still the Ada Planning Association) — and several years on its Traffic Model Advisory Committee. As a member of one of COMPASS’ evaluation committees I voted to disallow the city of Garden City access to state funds to build a pedestrain bridge across the Boise River — since I believed that the city’s stance on public access to a portion of the Greenbelt should have disqualified it from using taxpayer money to expand that same Greenbelt.

    Before working for the county, I served as the planner for BSU — only resigning after it became clear that the President would not cancel his contract with Taco Bell and recant on the renaming of the Pavilion.

    Before that I worked as a project manager for BSU helping a number of departments secure additional classroom, laboratory, gallery and office space (but in so doing, also denying a whole range of other departments access to space). And, before that I worked in the private sector designing homes, office buildings, and grocery stores (the last project I worked on in that field was the downtown Winco).

    If one can say anything about my tenure as a public servant it’s that I held the course along what I believe to be the correct path — even if it earned me the enmity of others.

    In the interest of fair disclosure, I’m also a current member of the Congress for the New Urbanism. Past member of the Urban Land Institute, American Planning Association, and American Institute of Architecture (having also served as the Idaho Chapter’s Associate Director for three terms). I also worked with the Idaho State Historical Society in developing it walking tours of historic Boise, and spent several years leading the tours of the historic downtown business district. You can even dig up an old episode of Outdoor Idaho where I led a tour of the Capitol building.

    Starting in 1992 I began authoring & leading urban design charrettes for the University of Idaho’s Architecture School, using Boise as the test-bed to discus a number of issues related to where planning & good intentions failed to better the lives of Boise residents (the first charrette was the problem of the connector and how to get pedestrians across Front and Myrtle).

    Oh, and I also sculpt. If you google (or lexus-nexus) my name, you’ll find a solo show of my work was protested several years ago for showing (what the protesters referred to as) pornography. I followed up that show with a performance in the Vagina Monologues (reading my part from off-stage to adhere to the wishes of the play’s author).

    There, now I’ve given you about as much ammunition as possible to make of what you will.

    – Dean

  35. Finally! Wiley Miller described it to a “T” in his Non-Sequitur comic strip this morning. (the best thing about the daily any more)
    Little Danae said she wanted to be a “Pre-conseptual scientist” when she grew up. The definition is “the new science of reaching a conclusion BEFORE doing research, then dismissing anything contrary to your pre-conceived thoughts”
    Sorry Danae, our city, county and state governments are already chock full of those scientists!

  36. The Truth Will Out
    Jun 2, 2009, 7:01 am

    Dean, here is the rub.

    It is usually only the mercenaries who support projects that will ultimately put taxpayers on the hook. In the case of PCs, it was, pretty much, only the big developers and development services staffers like you who supported them.

    In the case of the Folly-Trolly, the gig remains the same. Its main supporters are those who will, or hope to, gain from its construction.

    As Curious George, in this forum, you never mentioned that you worked for Ada County Development Services. As yourself, in this forum, even after that massive core dump above, you neglected to tell us you work for a San Francisco architecture and planning firm.

  37. Dean;

    You reference the Harper’s article. It’s funny how some people continue to bring that up as if it’s the bible of urban renewal. It’s not. It’s, at best, sensationalist tripe. It offered no pictures and very few facts. Appeal to emotion fallacy at its best.

    What was torn down that was so great? A bunch of dilapidated warehouses? Aren’t those the very things that new urbanists hate? Warehouses don’t have residences, don’t have cafes or bookstores or groceries or sundries. They are nothing but truck magnets and are enablers of the automobile society.

    You can still see remnants today. Esther’s warehouse at 9th and Front, it’s used for storage. Much of its volume is nothing but air. What a giant waste of space. Over on my end of town we have Goodman Oil and the Boise Junk House et al. Big ugly wastes of space that don’t pay their fare share of property taxes. Should we save Goodman Oil’s warehouse because it’s… hell, there is no argument in the world you could make to convince most people that dilapidated warehouses should be saved. Look up the thread on it on SSP.

  38. I am glad Dean is still posting here. Eventhough most of you do not agree with his views of growth and development, his insight into the whole process is phenomenal. I see why he used “curious george” when he was working in the public sector, but applaud him on coming out and using his real name.

  39. Dean Gunderson
    Jun 2, 2009, 12:03 pm

    Actually, I work for a 12-person Burlingame & Healdsburg based architecture & planning firm — and all the firm’s work is centered on service to neighborhoods and small towns (in the firm’s 80 year history it hasn’t done any work in San Francisco). But saying that it’s San Francisco-based does sound kinda sexy — though I figured your attempt was to make it sound like some big-city mercenary architectural firm. Here’s a link to the firm’s website, judge for yourself:

    You’ll see that the firm’s emphasis on Building, Land, Stewardship, and Activism isn’t just a tagline — and it’s why I work for them.

    I reside in both Boise’s Northend and in Burlingame, CA — but will soon be relocating my CA apartment to a place near Oakland (my place by the airport is WAY too expensive). My wife and son both attend BSU and my daughter attends Boise High. My connection to Boise isn’t just superficial, or coincidental. I’m fortunate enough to be able to continue to live (in both locations) without a car, though my family does occasionally drive a stationwagon. This more than offsets my carbon-impact from the trips a make between my two homes.

    The Harper’s article is occasionally brought up because it shows how little has changed in attitudes regarding neighborhood preservation in the Boise area — and how easily some policians are lured by the attraction of bright shiny objects (whether its steel rails, or federal coin). All those opposed to preserving the past cite the costs associated with bringing buildings up to code or those buildings’ lack of “value”, and they never mention the value of recapturing the embodied life-cycle energy in the existing structures. If they did, they would be forced to admit that renovation is better for the community and better for the environment. But, it isn’t a hard and fast rule — some smaller buildings aren’t worth preserving especially in light of the potential redevelopment opportunities embodied in the underlying land. The Goodman Oil property may be one of those cases — and I shudder to think of what may be lurking under the property, especially what may be now leaching into the aquifer and Boise River from that contaminated site.

    I’d love to talk about the strategy involved in the county’s position regarding PC’s, but that would take a whole book. Suffice it to say, it was inextricably linked to both the BGG and CIM processes and the various rolls all the jurisdictions played in the BGG endeavor — especially in regards to annexations and tax-supported (non-PUC regulated) infrastructure. “Of course”, this is just my opinion and could/would never be confirmed by any elected official, but I was happy to play my part and if the circumstances where to repeat themselves I would do it again in a heartbeat (maybe this reveals a streak of masochism on my part).

    And, TTWO, you might be surprised at the number of pen-named posters to this blog who are public employees. Dave has never forced the point, except once when he asked if I were interested in writing a guest post — at that point in time it would not have been “politic” to use my Christian name 😉

  40. The Truth Will Out
    Jun 2, 2009, 1:39 pm


    I will let you decide whether or not saying the company you work for is San Francisco-based sounds sexy or mercenary. I actually toned down your quote on Linked-In: “Dean Gunderson, Planner/Architect at Dreiling Terrones Architecture, San Francisco Bay Area.”

    The link is:

    With that, I am done with this thread.

  41. Just for giggles, I drove from 16th. to 1st. on Main Street today.
    It was 4:46PM and there were exactly 17 people on Main. WOW! Do we need a trolley or what???

  42. Dean Gunderson
    Jun 2, 2009, 8:41 pm

    Yup, you’ve almost figured out how to use the internet. Too bad you flunk geography.

    The San Francisco Bay Area (which is where I say I work in my linkedin profile) is a geographical region that covers 9 counties and 101 communities. Two of those communities are Burlingame (located in San Mateo county) and Healdsburg (located in Sonoma county). Neither town is San Francisco, so it would be a lie for me to say I work for a SF-based firm — “Not that there’s anything wrong with that…”

    😉 EDITOR NOTE–Time out boys. move on to something else. (I admit we need more topics).

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