Boise has an untapped transportation powerhouse: all those people you see riding bikes on the Greenbelt for recreation, writes guest columnist Joe Jaszewski. They clearly have bikes. They apparently like to ride them, too. What if we could get them to ride places instead of driving a car? (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
As the valley has boomed, you may have noticed that traffic on our roadways has only gotten worse.
No one likes to sit in it, but solutions are hard to come by. Building more roads only gets you more of the same congestion, and the Idaho Legislature refuses to allow cities like Boise to vote to tax themselves to fund better public transportation.
But there is some good news when it comes to improving transportation options in the Boise area. Recently, the Ada County Highway District unveiled a new policy that will separate bike lanes from car lanes on arterial roads when those roads get updates. It would put bike lanes on the same level as a sidewalk and protected by a curb.
What’s the big deal? Well, a recent city of Boise survey showed that two of the top three reasons people don’t use pathways more frequently is safety. And Boise has an untapped transportation powerhouse: all those people you see riding bikes on the Greenbelt for recreation.
They clearly have bikes. They apparently like to ride them, too. What if we could get them to ride places instead of driving a car?
That’s what the new bike lane policy will encourage. There’s a reason you see exponentially more people riding bikes on the Greenbelt on any given day than you do on, say, Cloverdale and Ustick roads. It’s not because no one would like to ride their bike to Black Rock Coffee. It’s because it’s safe and comfortable to ride a bike on the Greenbelt, but it isn’t on Ustick.
Most arterial roads in Ada County – think Fairview Avenue, Five Mile Road, Orchard Street, Park Center Boulevard, etc. – have either no bike lanes or painted bike lanes. So if you want to ride your bike down them to get to the store, at best you are protected by a stripe of paint and a few feet of distance from cars whizzing past you at 40 mph, or faster.
Unsurprisingly, few want to ride their bikes down them. So, they drive.
Considering that the climate emergency is upon us, personal vehicle transportation is extremely inefficient and costly to society, over 30,000 people die in car crashes each year, and air pollution kills and sickens many more, transportation agencies throughout the state should be following ACHD’s lead in moving people while minimizing personal car travel as much as possible.
While ACHD’s track record of creating safe and comfortable bike facilities has been disappointing in past decades, this is a sharp departure from treating cyclists as an afterthought in road design.
The agency deserves a lot of credit for this pivot – but so do voters. In November, Alexis Pickering – an outspoken proponent of active transportation – edged the ACHD District 2 incumbent by the slimmest of margins. This tilted the balance of the five-person commission in favor of healthy transportation options.
The power of these bike lanes will really start to take hold when the separated arterial lanes start to connect into a network. When you can ride your bike from Ustick to Cloverdale to Fairview and never share the road with a car, getting places via bike becomes a viable option for many more people.
And if the Idaho Transportation Department would follow suit, connections would be possible on the roads they manage like State Street, Broadway Avenue, Front Street and Myrtle Street.
Separating bikes from cars on roadways will make for a safer, more comfortable experience for cyclists and encourage people to ride to places like work, the store, or school, instead of driving. This will result in fewer car trips.
And even if you can’t or don’t want to ride a bike, we all benefit with fewer cars on the road.
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