GUARDIAN Reader Seeks Second Opinion

Calling himself “Boise Cynic,” a long time GUARDIAN reader has taken it upon himself to seek a 2nd opinion on how downtown Boise should be managed with regard to traffic, pedestrians, and bikes.


Request to ACHD, Boise City, CCDC and/or BSU: Please pay for urban planner Robert Bruegmann to come to Boise to speak in rebuttal to the Jeff Speck walkability plan to reconfigure downtown. It’s only fair.

Many may be aware — at least vaguely aware — of the plan to reconfigure downtown Boise’s street grid. Without going into too much detail it involves changing some one-ways to two-way but the most significant change arguably is reducing Idaho and Main to 2 lanes while adding a buffered bike lane– an example of which can be seen on the right side of Main just past the new Whitewater Parkway.

Although there has been a “new urbanist” movement in Boise for quite a while, the downtown grid plan seems to have been sparked or justified by the June 2013 speech by new urbanist Jeff Speck at the Egyptian theatre.

This leads to my point. I assert that one of our relevant local planning agencies, in the interest of fair debate, should pay for Robert Bruegmann to come to Boise and talk about the plan. Bruegmann has credentials at least equal to Speck. Bruegmann is the University Distinguished Professor of Art History, Architecture, and Urban Planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of Sprawl: A Compact History (2005) and The Architecture of Harry Weese (forthcoming, 2010).

Bruegmann lives in Chicago. I’m not sure what his speaking fee is but he agreed to come here and speak if his trip was paid for. That’s right, I personally e-mailed him and he replied as such. However, he might need to overnight here and have a helicopter trip around the valley to give him the knowledge he would need to address our local situation.

So, $1000 or $2000, certainly not more than $5000, could get us a very interesting and scholarly speaker here to give us another perspective on how to make Boise better.

Further reading:

Jeff Speck Walkability Report (Elaborate 76 page PDF report):

Brugemann’s review of a Jeff Speck Book:

Bruegmann on London’s sprawl, the attempt to stop it and the unintended consequences:

A third party gets in on the action:

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…. they are not going to pay to have someone come tell us why their idea is a bad one…

  2. sounds like a good idea

    EDITOR NOTE–Got any ideas where we citizens might find a few bucks to get the guy here?

  3. I am good for $50

  4. ACHD will be doing a test of the DBIP within the next few months to give the public an idea of what is proposed. Lanes will be cordoned off for bikes for a month to get full input. Bus lanes will be demonstrated as closely as we can. Before any decision is finally made, set in concrete if you will, we want to understand the impacts.

    On another note, COMPASS (the regional planning agency) is always looking for educational planning speakers. I’ll bring up having Bruegmann come to Boise to speak on the topic proposed by Boise Cynic.

    EDITOR NOTE–Thanks Commish Baker! That’s about the swiftest response one can ask for.

  5. Rick: Yeah, I figured that.

    Regarding the question where we might find the money raises the questions– how much was Jeff Speck paid and who paid for it. It’s my understanding CCDC paid for Speck’s visit. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Surely someone in this city would be open to financing a trip and assessment by Bruegmann.

    I don’t pretend to know everyone in town but everyone I’ve spoken with thinks that the downtown reconfiguration plan is a bad idea or at least some of it is bad.

  6. John Q Publique
    Apr 8, 2014, 9:16 pm

    How about Crowdsourcing / Crowdfunding it?

    EDITOR NOTE–Looks like ACHD Commish Baker is doing some exploration on funding through the “community planning association” (COMPASS). Bicycle interests have been dominating early meeting input, but it would appear there are multiple interests to represent and NOT pit cars against bikes.

  7. Always a good idea to invite and welcome the alternative voices. Unless they’re an idiot of course.

    ACHD says “A test to understand the impacts.”

    This seems like a great idea.

    But that is like your doctor saying, “I am prescribing the little orange pill for you. But I’m gonna give it to you for a month to understand the impacts.”

    Why do ACHD people not already know the impact or be able to “REASONABLY” conclude what the impact will be? This isn’t space exploration. They have computer modeling programs for this exact thing.

    Also, a month test in the summer is different than a month test in December. So then what? Sand is going to build up in these protected lanes– biking on sand = good idea.

    I’m betting my dollar the ACHD planner will conclude, “thanks for my paycheck. the conclusion is people will get use to it. Kind of like Congress, a bad rash, and marriage.”

    I would rather ACHD make an ‘experiment’ of smooth asphalt on Idaho & Main St. Let’s see what the impact of that will be on our shocks and car alignments. And I would like to see ACHD time the traffic lights on these 2 streets- consistently. Main/13 & 14 have been off for about a month now. Or is this an experiment? I do enjoy stopping at IMT to see the bikes in the window though.

    There should be an automatic “reset” button every day at 4a.m. for when emergency vehicles drop em out of sequence…. timed lights = less emissions= cleaner air. That ought to be a “test” priority for ACHD.

  8. I happened to be downtown this last week so I found a good vantage point and parked myself to observe how the bike traffic interacted in the area.

    In almost 4 hours there were 2 bikes. ONLY two. And this included the “commute time”

    It appears we are headed down the same path as the train to nowhere. We change the basics for a very, very, very few. Why?

  9. I suggest the Guardian develop a permanent fund for the explicit purpose of presenting live expert opinions at a monthly forum featuring the biggest ideas from the Mayor’s office. The Mayor is welcome to debate with the expert should he wish.

    One problem with bringing in an expert however is that they make their living by stroking these city leader’s egos.

    EDITOR NOTE–You can push the GREEN DONATE button anytime on the right side of the page. Its not tax deductible, but I promise to put any funds to good use on GUARDIAN issues only.

  10. Commissioner Baker: Thanks for your reply.

    Easterner: I believe the progression is based on moving traffic on Front St. In other words Front St is the priority. Any tweak to Main and Idaho back to the way it once was will only increase the problems on Front.

    You’re right, ACHD probably already knows the impact in advance through modeling programs. The most comparable situation I can think of is the 15th and 16th couplet from Fort to Fairview/Main.

    Daily traffic counts:

    15th north of Idaho St= about 8000
    16th north of Idaho St = 10,000
    16th north of Main = 16,000

    Compare that to Idaho and Main in the downtown core:

    Main west of 9th = 9900
    Main west of 13th = 11,100

    Idaho east of 9th = 10,500
    Idaho west of 5th = 7700

    Traffic is roughly comparable but 15th and 16th probably have more straight thru traffic while Idaho and Main in the core probably have more turns, i.e., people circling and looking for parking.

    EDITOR NOTE–Don’t forget most of this is at the behest of Boise City and the biking interests. Not an problem, but motorists didn’t come to ACHD and say, “It is just too smooth downtown. We want to have narrow two way streets and less on-street parking so we can window shop.”

  11. Great idea. Sprawl and poor planning is a real problem in the US, and the west end of our community is a perfect example of that. Who wants to end up like the LA basin? Or SLC? Bringing in innovative, creative and thoughtful people like Bruegmann has no downside. Do it.

  12. As a “biking interest,” I’d like to chime in.

    What’s better than ONE high-paid out-of-town expert consultant? TWO high-paid out-of-town expert consultants, of course! We love our consultants! I’ve got no objection to a second expert opinion, or a dozen, other than the cost to the taxpayers.

    Good points have been made in some of the comments… particularly that bicycle ridership is far different in Boise in July, than it is in January. (But dedicated bike infrastructure is still there year ’round… at what cost?)

    Independent of the suggestion for bike lanes, I have no dog in the fight. It seems to me that there is little to gain and much to lose by making those streets two-way, but I’m no expert.

    There’s hardly a consensus that more bike lanes makes a better community. From my own observation, I believe that casual cyclists are much more likely to ride in bike lanes than in shared traffic lanes, even though the latter is perfectly legal. On the other hand, the “vehicular cycling” philosophy is that “since cyclists have the same destinations as motorists, they should use the same lanes.” (Mostly espoused by very-experienced cyclists.) I’m content, but not always comfortable, sharing a lane with my car-driving brothers and sisters… but if there’s a dedicated bike lane, I’ll choose it every time!

    Do we need more bike lanes?

    From my own standpoint, no. But with these caveats:
    1) I’ve heard fellow cyclists – even very experienced – complain about how rude downtown motorists can be, particularly during rush hour. They tailgate, gunning their motor and even honking or hollering. That, my friends, is why many would-be bike riders sit on the sidelines.
    2) I sometimes ride with my 7-year-old granddaughter. For her age, she’s a very capable cyclist, but I’d never put her in a downtown motor vehicle lane. When we ride downtown we stick to bike lanes or the sidewalk. (And the potential hazards of riding on a sidewalk are very real, both for cyclists and the pedestrians they share space with.)

    If dedicated bike lanes are available, I can virtually guarantee that they will be well-occupied for 8 or so months of the year. And by people who are currently driving cars, because it’s scary to ride a bike where they’re going. So, does that level of usage justify the cost in surrendered car-pavement? The entire community will have to answer that question.

    PROPS to Commissioner Baker! I’ve always considered her extraordinarily responsive to her constituents, and mindful of the taxpayer dollars she has responsibility over.

    (Finally – I hope “Boise Cynic” doesn’t let his handle go to his head! Just because he has that fancy title doesn’t mean he’s any more cynical than the rest of us!)

  13. I attended ACHD’s most recent open house on the downtown changes and I also made some comments. Hopefully everyone criticizing did so too.

    Bike infrastructure can pay off in the long run. It has been shown to attract new businesses, attract more customers and actually reduce commute times.

    A great article about the payoffs of cycling infrastructure.

    Here is a study showing these payoffs.

  14. A birdie who snuck into the ACHD commissioneers’ pre-meeting meeting this morning tweeted me that it kinda reminded her of the traffic “circles” on Northview some years back. The traffic “engineers” came up with a cockamamie idea to slow Northview speeders that so pissed everybody off that real traffic circles didn’t have a chance in this community for a long, long time.
    I’m betting that this “pilot” has been engineeered to piss off enuf people that the whole idea of improved biking and walking in Boise will be axed; and it’ll be years before a real, integrated bike/ped plan will be tried again.

  15. bikeboy, I would like to add to your question of “do we need more bike lanes?”

    how about better bike lanes?
    Even downtown ‘bike lanes’ are a piece meal of a deal. There is not even ONE complete bike lane going through downtown. Warm Springs, a primary feeder has a lane. Stops at Broadway. Bannock has a “shared lane” for about 6 blocks and is not connected to anything else. Now you have it, now you don’t. Good luck!

    13th St is an excellent North South bike route. But there is not another North South route East of there.

    Of course this is not new to anyone biking around downtown. There are definitely more people cycling downtown. Just walking around the sidewalks shows all the bikes locked up to the posts. But look at the cars! Look at the Valley- people have to drive into downtown.

  16. Foothills Rider
    Apr 9, 2014, 5:07 pm

    As an experienced cyclist, I’ve seen unsafe habits downtown by cyclists more-so than drivers, even as I am sensitive to cyclists when I drive. This is likely a function of who is currently cycling downtown more than other issues mentioned. The likes of Bikeboy and his 7 year old granddaughter are not a common sight now, so what might change to encourage more cycling diversity? If Downtown is not currently bike-friendly, why? How do we improve a sense of safety for cyclists without it being fake?

    Cyclists’ biggest safety tool is being aware of surroundings and following the rules of the road – no sidewalk riding, riding with traffic flow, using lights at night, being visible, signaling when turning.

    Sometimes a manufactured bicycle path can be more dangerous than no path as it creates false sense of security (and attracts more inexperienced riders), even while promoting possible conflict: incomplete intersection experience, lanes painted/marked in the door zone of parked cars, incorrect sizing/spacing of bikeways relative to traffic, parking issues, conflicts with turning cars especially at intersections, incorrect placement/speed of dedicated bikeways, conflicts with pedestrians, etc.

    For pros/cons on bike lanes look here:

    Question the reliability/accuracy of information shared by each supposed “side.”
    Compare the “Standard Road Striping” map on this link (Chicago, corrected for ACTUAL auto sizes)

    To the recommendation by Jeff Speck on page 64 of the Walkability PDF (link previously provided kindly by Cynic).

    When cyclists are forced into the door zone of parked cars through mandated lanes, consequences can be brutal…and this is just one example of a solution not fully vetted. It looks good on paper, but what’s the reality? Experienced cyclists who are aware of their surroundings will ride safely without delineated paths as they are on the lookout for cars in the door zone and open to adjusting accordingly. What can we do for less-experienced cyclists? It is not as simple as picking from two opposing thoughts. And we can’t mandate cycling experience.

    As “Walkability” is a current catch phrase, what does it really mean long-term so as not to be another imperfect trend? Can one, or two, or any number of out-of-town “experts” of differing opinions really capture all that is unique to Boise in a single summary? Remember when “Pedestrian Malls” were all the rage? Though that is a separate, though similar issue, suffice it to say that “build it and they will come” ended up not being a prophecy for success. Urban environments are not static, they evolve, and each is unique. We need to be open to change, yet honest about real results, costs, prioritization of projects based on specifics of our city.

  17. Rabula: Good point, but unlikely. It’s why I revisited the Curtis Extension issue. I see a carbon copy. Supposedly, only a handful of nimby neighbors showed up at the Curtis Extension meetings. The vocal minority demanded a 2 lane Curtis Extension and won partly due to ACHD’s lack of outreach. Then, they were severely discredited by the immediate bottleneck and they’ve been discredited by the passage of time because that neighborhood is better, not worse. In this case, a vocal minority of cyclists are making it appear that “we the people” want the changes to the grid. The majority, motorists, are not being represent because a) either they’re unaware or b) many downtown motorists live in Canyon Cty, or Meridian, Eagle, etc. and they have no say in what the City of Boise does, nor do they care.

    Bikeboy: Thanks for your excellent reply. Even with bike lanes it’s scary. The worst is the passing car that tries to pull off the quick right hook. Bike lanes do nothing to change right hook behavior, and with the DBIP we’re going to get more right and left hook situations. I’m still asserting we have Bannock and Grove. Bannock would be easy to extend bike lanes except for that pesky St Lukes. Grove St. is a whole other can of worms.

    I’ve argued to little avail at SSP that 8th and Grove’s right of way should be reopened the same way Bodo opened the streets at 8th and Broad. Bodo’s success is hard to argue. Look at new urbanist Village at Meridian. Please, everyone, if you have not been there go check it out. Narrow little auto accessible streets have been built into the Village. Ditto that with Bown Crossing.

    A reopened Grove would not mean the loss of Alive After Five, the plaza area could still be regularly closed to cars for events. However, these events would block thru-bicyclists as well as cars. Since there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of a reopened 8th and Grove then how about tunneling under? This is already proposed to some degree. I getting long winded, but history is important. 8th and Grove was once part of the grid. It was eliminated by the failed Mall project. The Grove Plaza was a bandaid to the vacant lot wound. If a downtown mall was such a bad idea for destroying quaint old Boise buildings, then one must conclude the destruction of that part of our quaint old grid was also a bad idea.

    Foothills Rider: Downtown is not bike friendly because it was laid out in the horse and buggy era and then we have a 100 years of automobile. All the good intentions in the world aren’t going to eliminate the thousands of commuters who work downtown and drive from afar. It’s the opposite of build it and they will come, it’s remove it and they will leave. They being cars. Only they won’t leave. We get more congestion.

  18. I’d like to add that two-way streets present more left turn in front of oncoming traffic situations for bicyclists. The recent fatality of the motorcyclist on Overland should weigh on the minds of anyone suspicious of the value of one-way streets.

    As to walking, I’d like to point out that the majority of downtown pedestrians are people who arrived by car. Has anyone at ACHD done a study asking pedestrians how they got downtown? I figure it’s 20 to 1 or more. Does anyone at ACHD even live downtown?

    I live downtown. I drive around downtown, walk around downtown and bicycle around downtown nearly every single day. Every time there are more than the typical amount of pedestrians the parking garages are more than typically full and the on-street parking is more than typical.

    Like it or not we have to deal with the cars. Livability indexes consistently dock points from cities with bad traffic. I’ve been to Seattle, LA, and DC. You couldn’t pay me enough to deal with that kind of traffic regularly. I even did a stint as a bicycle courier in DC.

    I don’t have the answers. Cities are crowded places by their very nature. I like Boise because it’s easy to drive around when I need to. It’s easy to bike when I want to. And I have no problem walking in downtown Boise as long as I’m mindful of the crossing lights.

  19. Boisecynic, I think you nailed it with the left turn crossing… two-way traffic is going to be more dangerous. We’ll see in the stats.

  20. If the city truly cared about encouraging walkers, the state’s crosswalk law would be enforced. To wit: Wherever there is a roadway intersection, there are crosswalks, whether painted on the pavement or not. Imagine extensions of the sidewalks into and across the roadway, even where there are no actual sidewalks. If the inersection is not signalized, pedestrians have the right of way in a crosswalk, whether marked or not. While a pedestrian cannot jump in front of a vehicle, once she steps off the curb and the auto has a reasonable distance to stop, the driver by law is required to do so.

    Few Boise drivers behave as if they know this rule. In cities where this law is enforced—Moscow comes to mind—it is observed and crossing the street is much more pleasant. I have never seen a driver in Boise pulled over for not yielding to a pedestrian.

    In Boise the bias is toward motorized traffic. A good example, since corrected by signalizing the intersection, was for the first few years after the new courthouse was built, there were signs prohibiting the use of the Front/2nd St. crosswalks and directing pedestrians to walk a blocktwo blocks out of their way to cross Front! There are numerous other examples.

  21. Foothills Rider
    Apr 10, 2014, 5:21 pm

    Cynic, your reply to me “All the good intentions in the world aren’t going to eliminate the thousands of commuters who work downtown and drive from afar. It’s the opposite of build it and they will come, it’s remove it and they will leave. They being cars.”

    We’re saying the same thing…’build it and they will come’ is a metaphor for incorrectly designing/forming first, hoping for a specific outcome or functionality secondarily (the correct, albeit old adage is “form follows function”). Designing in hopes of luring more bike commuters and walkers while supposedly eliminating cars is the same. It’s backward.

  22. rabula, the courthouse is a terrible example of crosswalks. One, it is a terrible design of the building to begin with.

    You are certainly right about the yielding to pedestrians, but ACHD has gone off and screwed that up IMO. Someone asked for a sign or button crosswalk and they get it.

    When there is a “stop when occupied sign” people are more likely to obey IT. That makes them more likely to ignore the law when there is not a sign-well there wasn’t a sign there. There should not be any “reminder” signs at any intersection. IT”S THE LAW. But it’s also very dangerous when the 1 do-gooder stops for the ped, the ped walks into the street while talking on their phone and ignores the second lane of traffic.

    Crosswalk reminder signs are like putting a reminder sign next to a red stop sign. “It’s the law to stop here” Dumb, a waste of money and counterproductive to the objective.

    Enforcement. And also enforcement jaywalking downtown as well… but jaywalking doesn’t pay like DUIs, so BPD is too busy following cars out of downtown waiting for them to not signal a lane change.
    Back on topic– downtown plan.. oh yeah. Maybe BPD could help with “the plan”?

  23. I realize NYC and Boise are very different but this information is pretty enlightening as to what happens when protected bike lanes are installed. Overall cycling is up in these areas, in NYC 200-300%. Sidewalk cyclist almost become non-existent and do speeding motorist. Even with the road diets, traffic volume remains the same.

    While traffic volume remains level, the amount of congestion may rise but not signifigantly.

  24. Here’s what TeamDave is doing:

    They are trying to capture some of the spill-over from the over-priced resort towns in CO, UT, CA, NV. These places are so expensive, only 1:100,000 families can afford to own there.

    TeamDave knows Boise is failing due to massive loss of high-wage jobs. If they want to keep spending tax money like drunken sailors, they must turn Boise into a tourist destination where rich people will keep one of their two or more homes. The ultra rich are not interested, but the millionaires who can’t afford Vail/SunValley might be.

    So TeamDave needs to give Boise that Vail/Sun Valley feel to attract the rich.

    This great idea will fall flat however, until a massive tramway runs from Boise Airport to Bogus (this is why all the extra parking at the airport). Also Bogus needs to be expanded into a massive four season fun-zone for granola people.

    The resort in Donnelly failed because of transportation isolation, Sun Valley is also limited by this with a crummy airport location/size. Boise is extremely accessible, and simply needs another 1500 ft. of elevation on the mountain. TeamDave is writing a grant to have our mountain raised by Obama. TeamDave promised Obama the Idaho vote in 2016 by adding 30,000 more refugees to the bench. Ada county, and therefore Idaho, will vote Democrat again.

    It’s the similar concept to attracting the over-paid Californians to Eagle a few years ago. Now that those folks are bankrupt, TeamDave needs a new group to feed off of.

    EDITOR NOTE–You are 10 days late on this April Fool post.

  25. Zippo: Good one. I’ve had the feeling for a while that downtown is becoming sort of a watered down Rodeo Drive. Boise does have some tourist charms, it’s got that all american small town feel, something that’s disappearing from many cities. Didn’t Idaho used to run a tourist ad campaign- “Idaho is what America Was.”

    Regarding adding 1500′ to Bogus, you’re spot on. Where do we get the fill? The Boise River. Over the years flood control has allowed many islands to build up. Ironically, those islands reduce channel capacity adding to flood potential.

    All we need to do is scour the river bed and truck the material to the top of the South Face and dump it over. It’s not like the South Face gets much use anyway. In a few hundred years we’ll have our raised Bogus. As a bonus it could produce a better kayak run down the entire river from Barber to Caldwell and help reduce tuber traffic congestion.

    Also, when we tear down the 4 Snake River dams and all the Columbia dams that concrete has to go somewhere. I say dump it down the South Face. Grand Coulee alone could add 200′ to 300′ to the top of Bogus.

  26. Clancy: Thanks for the links. I’m almost willing to give it a shot, seriously. What’s the worst that could happen? I get to say I told you so for 20 years like I do about the Curtis Extension?

  27. Cynic: In 20 years (or less) Bogus will no longer be a ski hill. Maybe, some years it’ll open for a few weeks for ol’ time’s sake. The face has been barely skiable for a few weeks this year.

  28. Chuck Woods
    Apr 18, 2014, 7:18 pm

    Boise is the only city of it’s sizeI have seen with such a large bike riding population. If you take the time to talk to some of the riders, you will find that in addition to the multi-colored team riders, there are many many commuters. A surprising number of the commuters use bikes as their primary transportation. Quite a few don’t even own cars because they cannot afford them.

    As an occasional bike rider, and a frequent car driver in the downtown, I can tell you anything that would encourage safety is welcome.

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