Deep Dive

Boise outlines vision for replacing Downtown library, adding arts, history & event space

Have you ever been to the downtown Boise Public Library and felt a bit like you were inside an old warehouse?

That's because... you were.

The library branch when it was Salt Lake Hardware Co. Photo courtesy City of Boise

The library branch when it was Salt Lake Hardware Co. Photo courtesy City of Boise

The City of Boise moved library services to the former Salt Lake Hardware Co. warehouse on Capitol Blvd. and Battery St. (now River St.) in 1973.  It replaced Boise's original Carnegie Library on Washington St. and has stood pretty much unchanged for the last 45 years or so.

Now Boise City leaders hope to raise that old warehouse and build a new library, arts and history campus on the site, facing the Boise River.

"We want a facility that connects the community," library director Kevin Booe said. "We want a place where people will come and do lots of different things."

The project, if approved and funded, would completely revamp the current site of the library, with the old hardware warehouse tumbling down, and a new complex rising up in its place.

City and library officials contracted with Safdie architects, which has designed libraries in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canda and Salt Lake City, Utah.  For Boise, the firm has turned in initial designs that are geared toward the Boise River and Greenbelt.

"We want a building that engages with the river," Booe said. "You can't even see the river from the (current) library. This concept faces the river. We would like a space where the indoors and the outdoors merge and it’s almost transparent."

That comes in the form of a large wall oriented south.

"(It features) a glass wall, they call it a lens," City of Boise Capital Projects Manager Shawn Wilson said. "This is (Safdie's) concept of how they are going to interface with the river and the riparian area of the Greenbelt. It provides a place to sit and watch - or sit and read."

Details

The project is envisioned to cost $80-$85 million, and would come from three sources: 

  • $5 million from the City of Boise capital fund
  • $18 million from philanthropic giving, half of which has already been raised
  • $10-$15 million from the Capital City Development Corporation to fund a parking garage
  • The balance would come from the City's bonding facility
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The building would be 150,000 square feet, with a 20,000 square foot outdoor plaza.  The building would have three main components:

  • 115,000 square foot library space
  • 22,000 square foot center for arts & history
  • 18,000 square foot event space, with seating for 300-400 people

Retail spaces for a gift shop, cafe and other library and arts-related concepts are also envisioned.

Two rooftop gardens are part of the current plan - one on top of the events space, and another on the arts & history section of the complex.

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Library would bulk up, expand

Right now, the Boise Public Library has about 350,000 items in its collection. Booe says he would like to see that grow to the million item mark, similar to cities like Salt Lake City, Utah and Des Moines, Iowa.

That would be accomplished with an automated storage retrieval system - a robot-like device that can snag items from a vault and deliver them in under five minutes.

"We could easily expand the collection size by another 400,000-500,000 items," Booe said

More from Don:
How to solve the local news crisis? Look it up in the library

Arts & History to get dedicated space

The City of Boise Department of Arts & History currently works out of a cramped space inside City Hall.  By moving down the street to the library site, it would be able to do more and give the public more access to its archives and programs.

Arts & History director Teri Schorzman says the Sesqui-shop on Main Street during Boise's sesquicentennial in 2013 was a test run for the concept.

"(The Sesqui-shop) was focused on local art and local history," she said. "That’s the goal for what we do in this space where we can continue that kind of programming."

The space would also provide a dedicated cultural education center, gallery space, the Boise city archives, a conservation lab, and space to maintain the city's growing art collection. It would also house current arts & history staff.

One historic item may go by the wayside, however. The plans currently show The Cabin being removed to make way for the new campus.

"The  Cabin may move," Outreach and Education Coordinator Jennifer Yribar said. "We are working with the Cabin's Executive Director and Board to find a sustainable solution for the organization that will allow the Cabin to maintain  their physical identity with minimal disruption to programs and services."

A new place for events Downtown

The city says its research shows there is a need for an events space in the Downtown core with room for 300-400 patrons. It would contrast with the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts which seats about 2,000 guests and the Egyptian Theater which seats about 760 people.

This "black box" style theater would include a stage, dressing rooms, VIP rooms, concessions, offices, technical areas and more.  It could be used for a variety of community and smaller-scale events and could complement Jack's Urban Meeting Place and facilities at the Boise Centre.

Existing library to be torn down

The old warehouse would be torn down if the current plan is followed. The library wouldn't close however, with two options being discussed.

"We could stay in the current four-story building while the library part of the campus is built," Booe said "then tear down the old building and complete the rest of the project."

Booe said the other idea is to relocate the library to another location downtown temporarily.

"We are looking at an analysis on the cost of that," he said. "Trustees and staff are adamant that the library continues to stay open, even if it is with a diminished service."

CCDC could help fund parking structure

In addition to the library, the parking structure could use funds from the Capital City Development Corporation to provide patrons of the library and other nearby properties parking.

“Our current parking lot is 102 spaces," Booe said. "The biggest complaint we get is, 'you don’t have enough parking.' Like it or not, people drive.  You need between 200-300 parking spaces. So that’s what we are planning to do."

 "That part of town could use a little help in that sense, and that goes beyond the library," City of Boise Director of Communications Mike Journee said, citing events across the street in Julia Davis Park, the new Idaho State Museum and growing activity in the River St. area.

CCDC is working to sell its garage under the Grove Hotel to raise some of the funds needed for the library garage project, as BoiseDev reported this spring.

What happens next

UPDATE: Boise City Council was given an update on the project today during budget workshops  

From there, it will go out to citizens for a series of public workshops. The tentative schedule

  • July 16 - Library! at Bown Crossing
  • July 17 - Library! at Cole & Ustick
  • July 18 - Library! at Collister
  • July 20 - Main Library

Another series is also planned for September after revisions are made based upon feedback collected next month.

"There may be some changes as we go along," Booe said. "We know we are going to have to do a lot of value engineering, and after we go through the concept, feedback with the public - we might have to make some changes based upon public feedback."

That value engineering is important - because the current concepts are estimated to cost well over $100 million.  The plans will have to be downsized to fit in the $80 to $85 million budget.

Officials say the project as it stands now has been molded by public input - including focus groups and design thinking exercises

"This is and was community built," Yribar said. "It’s the culmination of so much community visioning. We are going to council tomorrow to make sure we are going in the right direction to keep going, but really we are going to the public to get their reaction."

If a design can be finalized and funding secured, groundbreaking could happen as early as Fall 2019. If all goes as planned, the new facility could be open as early December 31, 2021. 

Even with a flurry of changes - one thing will stay the same. That famous exclamation point after the word library will continue on (!)

Analysis: Boise is about to add a lot more people. Buckle up

NEWS ANALYSIS

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It's probably hit your radar a few times this weekend: HuffPo's latest story titled America’s Housing Crisis Is Spreading To Smaller Cities with a shiny picture of the Boise skyline on the top.

The story sums up the blistering growth hitting the City of Trees, and the divides it has exposed: screaming matches over baseball stadiums, large income inequality gaps, and the death of a five-year-old living in a car at the Walmart parking lot.

It also drops a stunning stat: Boise could add 200,000 more people over the next seven or so years. (The story refers to this Wall Street Journal story from last year that makes the same claim but does not cite it).

The projection significantly outstrips the Idaho Department of Labor projection for the entire SW Idaho region - which estimates adding just 100,000 people by 2025.

SW Idaho population project

Courtesy Idaho Department of Labor

You say big potato. I say huge potato.  EIther way -- it's a growing potato.

HuffPo notes a few problems are starting to weave together to magnify the challenge: A lack of new homes being built and friction in government - local and state.

Cash needed, but no option

In March, I laid out the plan by Valley Regional Transit to massively expand the bus system in Ada and Canyon Counties. They make a compelling case the area needs better transit options. But the plan rests on raising taxes to fund the expansion with a local option tax vote.  That is currently banned by state law. This quote from my friend Dr. Jim Weatherby - the dean of Idaho political analysts - sticks in my head:

"There is little reason to believe that negative legislative attitudes toward a feared patchwork of new local taxes and rural hostility toward granting local option to Idaho’s larger cities will change any time soon," Weatherby said.

Idaho remains a fiscally conservative state, and lawmakers and other state leaders aren't interested in the idea of letting voters in Ada and Canyon Counties raise their own taxes.

VRT isn't the only group that would like some local option cash. In 2010, Boise Mayor David Bieter told Boise Weekly he liked the idea of local option taxes for his long-hoped-for streetcar plan. Even The Idaho Press-Tribune advocated for a LOT for a new jail in Canyon County.

A 2010 study by the Capital City Development Corporation on the streetcar outlined a way to push the local option option along:

The City of Boise and Valley Regional Transit should enlist the private sector to take the lead in collaborating with other cities, counties, chambers of commerce and other organizations in the Boise Valley to obtain a dedicated source of transit funding including an enabling statute allowing local option taxing authority.

Building up, or rising up

City leaders are pushing for more density and taller buildings in the Downtown Boise core. They are wrapped up in the 2011 version of Blueprint Boise - the document which guides development around the city.  This plan led Boise's Planning and Zoning Commission to say no to developer/city councilor/CCDC commissioner Scot Ludwig's plan for two tall towers connected by a skybridge because the area was not zoned for buildings that tall (among other concerns).  Ludwig has tweaked the plan and now his fellow elected officials on the Boise City Council will decide if the plan can proceed.

If Boise is going to add capacity for another 100,000 or 200,000 people - two things are going to have to happen: more homes are going to have to be built, and we are going to have to find the people to build them.  The HuffPost piece details how the 2008 market crash drove much of the construction sector under, and says in 2007 there were twice as many building permits being issued as in 2018.

Last year, a group of people rose up to fight a CVS pharmacy location with a drive-through on State St. that would have displaced low-income housing.  That effort grew into Vanishing Boise which is now fighting a multi-front battle over a mind-boggling array of development issues:

The City has responded with a few town halls and other events, but the tone of Vanishing Boise and its founder Lori Dicaire is feisty and fed up.  How representative the group is of the overall Boise public is hard to say and will be more apparent in the fall of 2019 when several city council seats and the mayorship is up for election.

Growth is a major issue in the most populous portion of the state, but has hardly come up in any of the recent debates for statewide and federal offices.

Growth won't stop

The idea that people will stop moving to Boise is at best far-fetched and worst delusional.  The Treasure Valley has many of the things folks from around the country only dream of. An argument can be made that state and local leaders could tamp down efforts to attract business or tourists or new residents - but a stagnant economy leads to its own set of problems.

The balance is tricky, and as a life-long Boise resident, I understand the frustration the problems growth bring.  We can't close the gates or build a wall and keep people from moving to Boise from California or Seattle or Texas or anywhere else.  Saying no to every development isn't going to help - in fact, it's going to drive rents and home prices even higher and increase the income inequality problem.  Boise - and the Treasure Valley as a whole - have to grow smart.

Right now there is conflict everywhere. Between citizens and city hall. Between city hall and the legislature. Between ACHD and city leaders. Between ACHD and citizens.

To grow smart, different constituencies are going to have to find ways to work together, compromise and deal with each other in a way that is open-minded and fair (less shouting, fewer secrets) - regardless of whether they are elected or not - or work at city hall or the Statehouse.

Without compromise, Boise is going to turn into a mighty unpleasant place.

(Header photo courtesy Jeremy Conant/Treefort Music Festival, CC BY 2.0)

Leaders hope massive expansion could increase bus usage 800%

  • Plan would revamp system across Ada & Canyon counties.
  • Feedback sought from public on concepts.
  • Funding an open question

The Boise area is booming. Crazy, faster-than-anywhere-else booming.

But transit service in the metro area is, to put it mildly - wanting.

If you’d like to get around without a car, your options are essentially your feet, a bike (as long snow isn't piled up in the bike lanes) or a limited bus system that doesn't run frequently enough for the tastes of many.

A ValleyRide bus turns on the Main Street in Boise last summer. If Valley Regional Transit autorities get their way, many more buses will roll down local streets.

A ValleyRide bus turns on the Main Street in Boise last summer. If Valley Regional Transit autorities get their way, many more buses will roll down local streets.

But the area's transit authority, Valley Regional Transit, wants to solve it.

The road ahead for the bus system could be complicated though.

VRT is asking for public feedback through March 15th on ValleyConnect 2.0 - a set of ambitious ideas to revamp and remake public transit in Ada and Canyon Counties.

"(One thing) we are trying to do with this plan is be more intentional about promoting transit as a vehicle toward freedom of movement.  So there is a kind of 'if you build it, they will come' mentality," VRT Principal Planner Stephen Hunt told BoiseDev. "The underlying core is helping people get to more places in less time at lower cost. "

The plan lays out three scenarios - do nothing, implement an intermediate plan or tackle the growth.

ALSO READ: 
Bigger than a streetcar. A vision for transit in 2040 

Where we stand

Presently, VRT spends about $10 million per year for its bus operations around the area. It spends $15 million on capital costs and improvements.

That money gets the public a somewhat-limited set of bus routes that don't operate on Sunday, don't run much past 7 p.m. and leave large swaths of land without easy access to a bus route.

Ridership is also declining. 

"If you take all our services in aggregate number - there has been a slight drop over the last several years," Hunt said.  The ridership dips follow a national pattern of declines in fixed-line service.

ValleyRide ridership

Data via Valley Regional Transit

The number of people using the bus in Ada County has been increasing however, with declines in less dense Canyon County bringing usage down on the whole.

VRT ridership compared to average gas prices. Data provided by VRT

VRT ridership compared to average gas prices. Data provided by VRT

VRT community relations manager Mark Carnopis attributes the ridership figures to a cyclical pattern with gas prices. When the pain at the pump increases, more people hoof it to the bus. When prices decline - folks opt for their cars.

But Carnopis and Hunt note the cost of using a private vehicle can add up.

VRT number crunchers say the average Treasure Valley household spends $6,400 per year on their car or cars - for things like gas, taxes and insurance (not including the car itself). Over a year, that adds up to $1.5 billion per year at scale.

"If you ask someone who is used to driving around to use transit, they are going to experience this loss of 99% of their freedom," Carnopis said. "But - transit doesn’t come early enough, late enough, often enough on the weekend.  It’s all limited because of transit operation spending."

Map shows current network. Via Valley Regional Transit. Click to enlarge.

Where VRT hopes to go

bdev-vrt.png

 

If the numbers hold true and $1.5 billion is coming from consumers' pockets to use their car - VRT hopes folks will see proposed plans to expand bus system as affordable in comparison.

And the goal that goes along with the plan is big.

"Our target is to increase ridership 800% - that’s kind of a big number," Hunt said.

With as much as a 400% increase in service, an 800% increase in usage would in theory make each dollar more efficient than the current set up.  

Two proposals are outlined in ValleyConnect 2.0.  

Intermediate

The first would double the current operating cost to $20 million per year. That would in turn amp up service hours - also doubling to 200,000 per year.  The scenario would pour $98 million into capital costs, which includes taking care of $23 million in deferred projects.

Here's what the extra cash would buy:

  • Increased service
    • All-day frequency to every 15 minutes on major transit corridors
    • Run all routes until 8 p.m., with "many past 9 p.m." on weekdays
    • Increase Saturday service from four routes to six
  • Expand fleet of buses and build up infrastructure
  • Focus on 40 miles of "premium high-frequency" corridors.
  • Upgrade passenger amenities
    • New or expanded transit centers, park & ride lots and "real-time passenger information."
  • Invest in tech to help coordinate specialized transportation - like vanpool, carpool, bike-share, parking and buses. 

Map shows proposed Intermediate network. Via Valley Regional Transit. Click to enlarge.

Growth

This plan is even more aggressive. It would quadruple current spending to $40 million, which would also quadruple the number of service hours to 400,000.  It would put in $191 million in capital upgrades.

For the growth plan, here's what the dollars would fund:

  • Increased service
    • All-day frequency to every 15 minutes "expansive transit network"
    • Add connections through Meridian and central part of two-county region
    • New inter-county connections to Boise Airport and Micron Technology campus
    • Run all service until 9 p.m. with most service until 10 p.m. weekdays
    • Increase Saturday service from four routes to 11.
    • Add first-ever Sunday service on eight routes.
  • Expand fleet of buses and build up infrastructure
  • Focus on 100 miles of "premium high-frequency" corridors.
  • Upgrade passenger amenities
    • New or expanded transit centers, park & ride lots and "real-time passenger information."

“The intermediate and growth scenarios are aggressive plans for growth that will dramatically improve transit service by connecting more people to more places, more often," report authors wrote.

Map shows proposed Growth network. Via Valley Regional Transit. Click to enlarge.

Big rail, small rail

A RegioSprinter train like this one rolled down the tracks of the Treasure Valley as a test in 1997 for ten days. Photo via  Alupus  

A RegioSprinter train like this one rolled down the tracks of the Treasure Valley as a test in 1997 for ten days. Photo via Alupus 

In 1997, then-Boise Mayor Brent Coles spearheaded an effort to consider rail in the transit mix for the Valley.  A ten-day trial brought passenger rail service from the Boise Depot with Idaho Center, with stops at the Boise Towne Square and elsewhere. More than 18,000 residents hopped aboard for the test. But the plan went nowhere and has not been a visible priority for Coles' eventual successor David Bieter - with a decade-long push for a downtown Boise circulator taking precedence. 

ValleyConnect does not specifically plan for use of the existing rail line that runs in the population center from Micron on the east through Nampa in the west, but does advocate building a system that orients to the possibility of using the rail line for passenger trains at some point in the future.

The Growth plan would put about 45,000 hours of service along I-84. If leaders instituted a rail service, those buses could be redirected off the freeway, providing even more service in neighborhoods. 

Rendering of possible Boise circulator. Courtesy City of Boise.

Rendering of possible Boise circulator. Courtesy City of Boise.

The plan doesn't, however, mention the idea from City of Boise leaders to build a $100-million streetcar that covers Downtown Boise and Boise State University.

"The Circulator is a City of Boise project," Hunt said. "That is something the city is pursuing on its own."

With VRT working to tie all forms of non-car transit together, would it make sense to be involved in the Circulator plan?

"The ball is in their (City of Boise’s) court for that," Carnopis said. "We are available and we could talk. We would be happy to help them on that."

The estimated cost to build a streetcar in Downtown Boise is $73.4 million according to an analysis from Leland Consulting. That compares to a $98 million capital investment for VRT's "Intermediate" concept which would operate across both counties.

Where will the cash come from?

Donald Trump won Ada County by nine points.

He took Canyon County by nearly 23 points.

Across Idaho, he won by 31 points.

There is little reason to believe that negative legislative attitudes... will change any time soon
— Dr. Jim Weatherby

While the metro area may be becoming increasingly progressive - and though Boise has a democratic mayor and several democratic representatives in the state legislature, the state as a whole is still very conservative.

Any group that proposes to spend more than $200 million in public money is going to face an uphill battle.

"We felt that it was important to lead with the public on an aspirational plan on what this could mean for the Valley," Hunt said. "There’s been a pretty consistent effort to get funding authority."

The idea to put forth a local option tax is one Treasure Valley leaders have been hoping for for quite some time. But longtime Idaho political analyst Dr. Jim Weatherby says this path isn't easy.

"There is little reason to believe that negative legislative attitudes toward a feared patchwork of new local taxes and rural hostility toward granting local option to Idaho’s larger cities will change any time soon," Weatherby said.

He notes that proposals have popped up for more than 40 years in the legislature - and outside of some exemptions for resort cities and auditorium districts, local option taxes haven't been a popular notion with legislators.

Carnopis says his agency just wants the ability to let voters decide.

 "Give us the ability to take a referendum to the people, through our role to educate," he said. "We are not asking for taxation without representation"

"A vision without a plan is just a dream," Hunt said. "A plan without funding is hallucination."

Fewer lanes, no bike lanes & parking on Front & Myrtle? Consultant plan is just the start

Front Street & Myrtle Street run through the heart of Boise - part of a highway and freeway system that move cars into, out of and through Downtown.  But the roads present a literal barrier to those on foot - serving as a major dividing line in the Capitol City's heart.

Changes could be coming to those streets, but a consultant's ideas may be a tough sell.

BoiseDev was the first to report on the project to develop a set of plans to make Front St. and Myrtle St. as they run through Downtown more than just freeway offshoots.  Now, for the first time, the plan is revealed here to the public.

Sam Schwartz Consulting has turned in its Front and Myrtle Alternatives Analysis - which lays out the current situation and potential future of the two roads.

Front Street from above. Don Day/BoiseDev.com

Front Street from above. Don Day/BoiseDev.com

Front and Myrtle form a couplet - flowing off the Interstate-184 freeway and ending at Broadway Avenue.  The streets were a vital part of the early-90s era Broadway-Chinden Connector which remade east-west transit through the city core.  That project put a "freeway to freeway" connection right through Downtown Boise.

Each of the streets is controlled by the Idaho Transportation Department as state highways, and as such are not under the purview of the Capital City Development Corporation or City of Boise, or even the county-wide Ada County Highway District.

As we reported last year, the CCDC/City of Boise group went back and forth extensively with ITD over how the Alternatives Analysis, with the City and CCDC wanting an emphasis on “shift(ing) in focus away from moving cars with minimal delay,” while ITD lobbied for language that didn’t inconvenience auto drivers.

The analysis

Cover page of the Front & Myrtle Alternatives Analysis

Cover page of the Front & Myrtle Alternatives Analysis

The Schwartz team found that Front and Myrtle sliced through the Downtown street grid, and as “auto-centric” roads, they acted as a “physical and psychological barrier… for those walking and biking.”

Cars are currently allowed to go 35 MPH along the streets - typical for many surface roads, but outside the norm for the rest of the downtown street grid which features a 25 MPH limit.  Each road has five lanes - which when combined with high speeds can mean crossing north-to-south while on foot can mean long frustrating waits.

The Alternatives Analysis found that the roads actually have a surplus of capacity for cars - and suggests that it could be put to use to make the roads more friendly for those using bikes and their feet without causing major harm to drivers.

“(The) preferred alternative generally prioritizes strategies that reduce excess roadway capacity and vehicle speeds, aims to improve safety for all street users, and reduces north-south crossing distances,” the report notes.

Fewer lanes

Sam Schwartz Consulting graphic with BoiseDev overlay

Sam Schwartz Consulting graphic with BoiseDev overlay

The consulting team suggested cutting the roads from five lanes to three in spots - but mixing in segments that are four and five lanes as well - depending on the needs for each block.

Front St. would be cut from five lanes to four between Broadway & Capitol Blvd. It would jump back up to the current five lanes in the heart of downtown from Capitol to 9th St., then go back to four lanes from 9th until the mouth of the Connector at 13th St.

On Myrtle, five lanes would stay in place from the end of the Connector and 11th St.  Then it would drop to four lanes until Capitol.  Then, the current five-lane road would three lanes all the way to Broadway - though some turn lanes would be mixed in on this stretch.

Schwartz’s team says traffic on the two streets will continue to worsen over time even if nothing is done - but concluded “the differences in traffic operational impacts between the future ‘no-build’ scenario and the preferred alternative designs are modest compared to the benefits provided. “

Vince Trimboli, Idaho Transportation Department Public Affairs Manager said that concept will be a difficult one.

“The Connector coming in and out of town is a freeway to freeway connection,” he said. “The three middle lanes move traffic through, the outer two lanes get people on and off.”

By cutting down to three lanes in even a portion of the road - it could cause problems.

“If you… squeeze your traffic down to one lane essentially, you could potentially create safety and mobility concerns by just backing traffic up,” Trimboli said.

While the Alternatives Analysis primarily focused on the roads as they exist as part of Downtown Boise, Trimboli said many users have to be considered for a portion of the state highway network.

“We want to make sure we take a more balanced or wholistic approach - that is the best for the City of Boise, for their pedestrians, (and) people all over the Valley and around the state.”

The City of Boise did not respond to requests for comment.

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Bike lanes? No. Parking? Yes.

Taking out lanes would free up room for other uses - but in what will come as a surprise to some, one of those suggestions isn’t new or expanded bike lanes.

“Bicycle facilities were generally not favored by the project team, as parallel facilities along Main and Idaho are currently under consideration,” the report said.

Bike lanes on Main and Idaho have been hotly contested and were even briefly installed - but for now, remain absent on these adjacent streets.

Instead, extra wide sidewalks and car parking would be slotted in along the the two highway roads.

Sam Schwartz Consulting graphic. Click to enlarge

For instance, at Capitol and Myrtle, the Alternatives Analysis suggests removing the existing shoulders (which are used by some as bike lanes) and extending the sidewalks.  Near Trader Joe’s, where a lane is suggested to be removed, the sidewalk would be vastly expanded at the corner with a place for bike parking - and a row of new on-street parking for cars.

On the three-lane stretch of Myrtle St. that runs near Julia Davis Park, two lanes could be removed, and replaced with tree-lined sidewalks as well as parking for both cars and bikes.

Get this crosswalk party started

Sam Schwartz Consulting graphic.

Sam Schwartz Consulting graphic.

Four new stoplights and three additional crosswalk legs could be added on the couplet if the suggested plan were to be fully adopted.

On Myrtle Street, stoplights and pedestrian crossings are suggested at both 5th Street and Avenue A.  

In the case of Avenue A, adding crosswalks here would cut down the nearly half-a-mile stretch between 3rd Street and Broadway that provides no way for bikes or those on foot to cross Myrtle.  A new light at 5th Street would help connect downtown to a new pedestrian path that links to Julia Davis Park.

For Front St., new stoplights could be added at 10th Street and 12th Street.  The 10th Street light would give pedestrians easier access to JUMP and the Simplot headquarters.  

New west side crosswalk “legs” could be added to existing crossings at Ave. A, 2nd Street and Capitol Blvd.  Right now those intersections only have crosswalks on the east side due to turning traffic and potential conflicts.

ALSO READ:
ITD, CCDC collaborate to make changes to Front, Myrtle

Slower speeds?

The report didn’t specifically make a recommendation about what to do about the 35 MPH speed limit.

It did include a page about “Other ITD facilities” and noted that both Highway 26 in Downtown Idaho Falls and The I-84 business loop in Caldwell have speed limits of 25 MPH in urban environments.

“Neither of these examples are  analogous to Front and Myrtle, but are instead offered to provide context for the potential for lower speeds,” report writers noted.

A CCDC official told me last year that reducing the speed from its current 35 MPH posting would have several impacts the agency viewed as positive - including reducing the amount of time it takes cars to speed up and slow down, and making the streets quieter and calmer in general.

By Famartin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34842272

By Famartin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34842272

ITD has held to the 35 MPH limit.

The conflict is noted in the report’s opening pages.

“Front and Myrtle’s primary role as a major east-west facility to move traffic can’t be overlooked, especially with the rise of Meridian as key destination in the west metro area, and strong residential growth in southeast Boise.”

Trimboli says comparing Front & Myrtle to the roads in other roads isn't a complete comparison.

"It’s an apples to oranges comparison because it’s a freeway-freeway connection. I-84 back to I-84 via Broadway," he said.

Schwartz suggests looking at signal timing along Front Street during peak rush hour.  Right now, vehicles are given 140 seconds for each green cycle in rush hour periods - which means people on foot, bike or car who want to get across Front wait nearly two minutes.  The reports says cutting the cycle length  time to 90 or 100 seconds could have small impacts to traffic on Front - but concedes that signal timing on Front and Myrtle are all tied into the wider timing of streets across downtown, which the report writers acknowledge is beyond the scope of their report.

Up and over? Over and out

A pedestrian walkway like the one soon to be constructed over Ave. B by St. Luke's Health System isn't suggest for Front or Myrtle.

A pedestrian walkway like the one soon to be constructed over Ave. B by St. Luke's Health System isn't suggest for Front or Myrtle.

Last fall when BoiseDev first broke word of this process, the headline included the phrase “visions of tunnels & skybridges” - based upon reporting from stakeholders who wanted to see “big picture” ideas for Front and Myrtle in the future.

But the report bats down these ideas.

In essence, Schwartz's team argues that putting the road in a tunnel or building a skybridge over the top causes many problems.

Even thought a skybridge gets people on foot and bike up and over the cars, they make “inconvenient diversions.”  To access a skybridge, you often have to take a ramp, elevator or stairs - instead of just crossing the street a normal crosswalk.

For tunnels, they can be “potentially unpleasant.” If you’ve ever been in a car tunnel, they aren’t exactly a place you want to spend much time.

And lastly - either option is expensive.

“Bridges and tunnels would also be significantly more expensive than street design and traffic signal changes,” the Schwartz report said.

What’s next?

While City of Boise spokesperson Mike Journee did not respond to a request for comment, the Capital City Development Corporation and Idaho Transportation both emphasized it's not a final solution.

CCDC and ITD have worked together to implement several portions of the plan - including an extensive project to expand the Pioneer Pathway connection at 11th and Myrtle.

“Other near-term improvements include expanding corners and shortening pedestrian crossing distances at 20 locations along Front and Myrtle, set to occur with the resurfacing of those streets next spring,” CCDC Project Manager Matt Edmond said. 

Trimboli said the plan is one idea for the future - but more negotiation needs to happen.

Trimboli

Trimboli

“The plan they’ve presented is to one extreme and we need to find one that’s balanced,” he said. “We want to work with the City. We’ve had some conversations with them, and like to see some of our suggestions wrapped into the plan. “

Trimboli said his agency and the City worked together on the Broadway Ave. bridge completed last fall and hopes something similar can happen with this project.

“Let’s find solutions We worked through Broadway, we can work through them on this to come up with a future plan that will be the best for all involved.”

Edmond echoed the need for more collaborative work to come.

“The Analysis offers a menu of other changes to Front and Myrtle that, while promising, are somewhat more complex, and so will require additional analysis and stakeholder outreach, both by CCDC and its partner agencies in the coming months.”

Schwartz’s firm and two partner companies collected about $200,000 for the review project.  

Developer and others: Boise Circulator should skip rail and go driverless

Autonomous electric bus, Courtesy Protera.

Autonomous electric bus, Courtesy Protera.

Should Boise invest in a transportation mode out of the past - or look to the future for options? It’s a question being asked by members of the City’s Circulator Analysis steering committee.

BoiseDev.com reached out to each member of the group in May for comment on the process — and of those who replied, a recurring theme emerged: the need to investigate a driverless bus system.

Just a few years ago, such an idea might have seemed futuristic and farcical - but it’s a concept that is growing in traction.

In Helsinki Finland, the RoboBusLine has been promoted from trial to full-time service.  The electric-powered vehicles carry folks along a fixed route - traveling at about 7 miles per hour.  For now, each bus has a driver on board in case of emergencies - but that could change over time.  

This 3D printed bus is known as Olli, and is already on the streets of Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Local Motors.

This 3D printed bus is known as Olli, and is already on the streets of Washington, DC. Photo courtesy Local Motors.

In Washington, DC - two futuristic technologies have come together - with a driverless 3D-printed bus roaming the streets. Olli, as it is called, has places for twelve people and is built by Arizona-based Local Motors. Unlike the fixed-route example in Finland, Olli can be summoned with an app much like Uber.

Just across Idaho’s southern border, Reno is testing a fleet of electric driverless buses from a company known as Proterra. These buses look similar to traditional human-driven coaches, and for now will still have a driver in place as backup.  They can travel 600 miles on a charge - and can hold dozens of passengers.

If Helsinki, Washington and even Reno can do it — why not Boise?

Prominent Downtown Boise developer Clay Carley raised the concept to BoiseDev.

“Autonomous vehicles are sexy and inviting,” Carley said. “They have very low initial cost and low cost to operate and maintain.”

Carley notes that such systems aren’t quite ready for primetime, but could be ready to in the three to five-year timeframe that Boise will need to attain funding.

The current idea bouncing around the City of Boise would rely at least in part on overhead catenary systems — basically wires hanging over a rail route, snaking along the street where the streetcar might travel.

Carley says he’s not in favor of such a system.

“If we choose that path, by the time we get done it would be an antiquated system,” he said. “I’m not for that, I think it would be a mistake.”

He says an autonomous bus concept would have lower initial cost and lower ongoing cost than a spendy train concept.  

If it is $120 million for a rail system, I would vote no - and I would rally other business owners to vote no
— Clay Carley, Boise developer

Carley owns a number of properties along the proposed circulator line - including The Owyhee, many of the buildings in Old Boise and others.  If a local improvement district is established to help pay for the system - business owners like Carley will be called upon to pay for it.

“If it is $120 million for a rail system, I would vote no - and I would rally other business owners to vote no,” he said. “That affordability factor is crucial - and I don’t see it happening with a rail car the way it’s happening thus far.”

He says that such a system would need a sense of permanency - with stations, stops and possibly even a contract.

Carley's The Owyhee sits on a proposed Boise circulator route. One funding option mentioned by the City of Boise is a local improvement district, which would assess an extra tax for properties on the line like this one. Photo courtesy The Owyhee.

Carley's The Owyhee sits on a proposed Boise circulator route. One funding option mentioned by the City of Boise is a local improvement district, which would assess an extra tax for properties on the line like this one. Photo courtesy The Owyhee.

“I’m a property owner that would be on the route and I’d be more inclined to develop if an autonomous vehicle was going up and down that route for a contract 20 years.”

Architect Gregory Kaslo, who was also on the Circulator steering committee, brought up the self-driving idea last year as well.

“This is a perfect transportation ‘problem’ begging for a self-driving shuttle solution,” he wrote.  “If established, the feedback loop of fixed route, fixed stops and predictable demand would help the design of a responsive economical transportation network.”

ACHD Commissioner Sara Baker thinks that an autonomous bus route should be given more thought.

“It's an intriguing concept and one that should be explored in depth,” she said. “In the interim, partnering with BSU and their shuttle is a good way to go.”

The Boise State Shuttle has two routes during the school year which run every fifteen minutes between campus and downtown. Photo courtesy Boise State.  

The Boise State Shuttle has two routes during the school year which run every fifteen minutes between campus and downtown. Photo courtesy Boise State.  

The Boise State shuttle runs frequently from the campus to stops near Bodo and at City Center Plaza on Main St. - and is often packed with students.  The project is paid for out of student fees.

“The BSU shuttle, which runs on much the same route (as the circulator), is available to anyone, not just BSU students, and it runs frequently throughout the day,” Baker said. “If the circulator concept is the end goal, then the city should investigate partnering with BSU rather than reinventing the wheel.”

Baker said she felt the City’s end goal is a fixed-rail streetcar, but emphasized that the steering group didn’t actually endorse it.

“I think it was obvious the goal on the part of the city was a fixed streetcar,” she said. “Rather, the route was endorsed but mode of transit was left open as was the need for the public's approval.”

IMG_9272.PNG

In the material put in front of Boise City Council before a vote on the circulator proposal last month, city staff emphasized an older focus group from 2014.  That group was a pre-selected batch of decision makers, and 54% favored rail.  The agenda packet provided to Boise City Council before its decision did not include the result of a more recent March Open House on the circulator which showed public opinion is mixed on mode between bus and rail according to documents obtained via a public records request by BoiseDev.  At least one media story also showed a different survey, making support for rail seem more robust than the most recent feedback opportunity showed.

Baker’s ACHD colleague Jim Hansen hopes that some type of solution can be brought into reality - though he didn’t advocate a specific idea in an interview by email. 

“Urban areas that offer real transportation choices are better positioned to meet market demands in the future,” he said. “If we don’t invest in those choices today, we end up building more and more limited mode infrastructure that does not trigger private investment and ends up costing future taxpayers too much to maintain. 

He also criticized his own agency.

“The challenge in our area is that the one local government entity in Ada County that is empowered to invest property taxes in transportation (ACHD) has chosen not to invest very much in transportation choices.”

I think it was obvious the goal on the part of the city was a fixed streetcar
— Sara Baker, ACHD Commisioner

Local entrepreneur Jeff Reynolds works downtown and recently purchased a home near the city center.  He also thinks Boise would be well-served to look at autonomous bus solutions to the downtown transportation challenge.

“The City seems to only be seriously considering a rail-based system, even as we sit on the precipice an autonomous vehicle revolution,” Reynolds said. “Instead of rail, the City should seriously consider an autonomous vehicle circulator — dedicated lanes that allow self-driving buses and cars to move swiftly through downtown and beyond."

Carley agrees.

“I think there’s a better solution on the horizon and we just can’t see it yet,” he said. “It has to be affordable, and it has to be fixed, and it has to be smart, and I don’t think rail is in the ground is very smart.”

While Boise Mayor Dave Bieter told the circulator committee that his “preference is for a fixed rail system," his spokesperson said he is open to the role autonomous vehicles could play in Boise’s transit system  

“The mayor and others involved in developing TAP (Transportation Action Plan) have been thinking about autonomous vehicles and their place in the mix,” City of Boise spokesperson Mike Journee said.

BoiseDev in-depth: Boise Circulator:

Major upgrades planned for Bogus Basin's summer & winter operations

The new base area plan for summer

The new base area plan for summer

EXCLUSIVE

Bogus Basin marks 75 years in operation in 2017 - and big changes are on the horizon. 

BoiseDev.com obtained the master plan for the resort via publicly available records. It outlines dozens of changes set for coming years - with many focused on improving summer visitation, and giving new skiers a better experience when snow covers the ground. The project went before the Boise County Planning & Zoning commission last fall unnoticed. P&Z granted the resort's conditional use permit request unanimously without any member of the public offering comment, according to meeting minutes. 

Nearly every facet of the resort is mentioned for improvements - from better food to improved terrain to upgraded lifts to scores of new summer features and more.

ALSO READ: see pics of new Sandbar upgrade  

The changes - especially in the summer - are aimed at helping Bogus have more longterm financial stability, according to Bogus Basin Director of Development Susan Saad.

“We still have several millions of dollars in debt, however with the combination of strong season pass sale and strong winter season we just had - our board was able to approve $4.3 million of funding toward these activities this summer," Saad said. "Our hope is that this will generate new revenue that will help us when winter isn’t as phenomenal as this year.”

The summer improvements are slated to happen this season -- with new attractions opening in stages this year.

The master plan follows outreach by the resort in recent years to understand industry trends and what visitors hope to see. The project was conducted by SE Group - and new general manager Brad Wilson has been key in moving the project forward, according to Saad.

BoiseDev newsletter subscribers got this story first - you can sign up for future alerts here.

The report is more than 100 pages. Here's the BoiseDev summary:

Summer

While the winter upgrades are significant,  summer additions are aimed at boosting the resort's nascent operation in the warm part of the year - which would give adventure seekers many new options.

"We’re pretty excited to be moving forward with these projects," Saad said. "We will begin working as soon as operations wind down this April and the snow melts. In fact, we may be moving snow out of the way."

  • A public hearing is slated for next week to grant a variance for a new ropes course.  The variance would allow Bogus to build the planned "aerial adventure course" which would operate on the lower slopes near the Deer Point and Showcase chairlifts. The course could travel up the hill in future phases. The ropes course is approved in principle by Boise County through the CUP process. 
  • A new canopy tour would be installed at the Pioneer base area and would zig-zag down to the base of the Bitterroot lift, and could expand to the Superior Express lift in the future.  The tour would be a series of zip lines and skybridges allowing visitors to experience sweeping views of the Treasure Valley.
  • An Alpine Coaster would be built on the lower slopes of the newly rerouted Morning Star lift near the Simplot Lodge. The coaster operates from three to twenty feet of the ground - and could be open during both the summer and winter months. It will open by August 1 according to Saad.
    • “Riding an alpine coaster involves traveling in a self-braking, two-person sled which travels on two tubular rails," the report notes. "This allows for a closed loop system so that participants begin and end their ride in the same location. The ride is exciting and varied, and may include curves, corkscrews, and downhill stretches. Centrifugal brakes control maximum speeds, and riders may control their speed at all times allowing for a unique hands-on experience for all ages”
    • I've ridden a mountain coaster in Park City. It's a blast - check out this video.
  • Summer tubing would use the same tubes used for the current Gold Rush snow tubing feature, but setting up a synthetic surface to allow for summer sliding. This is slated for July 1.
  • A new, larger amphitheater would be built below the current smaller ampitheater, allowing for larger events like concerts. A 200-seat facility is planned right in front of the Simplot lodge.
  • Upgrade mountain biking facilities and trails, including a bike skills and pump track area near the Simplot lodge with a focus on kids
  • A fun zone would be set up near the Simplot Lodge. The final configuration of attractions hasn't been determined, but could include climbing walls, water wars, panning for gold, a bungee trampoline and more.
    • "Activities that fit within the outdoor adventure and mining theme would be preferred," the report says.
  • Expanded summer programs including kids mountain day camps and mountain bike camps.
  • Improved landscaping and sod around the base area.
  • Disc golf would be moved to a different area to allow for the expanded amenities.

Winter

The winter plans will roll out over the next ten years.

"The other improvements are spaced out strategically over the course of the next several years," Saad said.

  • Reroute and upgrade the Morning Star lift: It currently can serve 900 skiers per hour. It's the primary way to get to several beginner runs as well as the main route between the upper and lower lodges which makes it a popular attraction. Upgrades would double capacity to 1,800 skiers and would move the bottom of the lift closer to the Simplot Lodge to make it easier to access from the base area. The lift will be upgraded to a high-speed quad according to Saad.
  • Snowmaking: Right now snowmaking is limited at Bogus.  The master plan would add much more manmade snow capacity to areas around the Coach, Deer Point and Morning Star lifts. “Snowmaking coverage has become a necessity," the report notes - and says it is found at 90% of resorts.  The project would happen in two phases - and at full buildout would give Bogus the ability to service 64 acres with man-made snow.
    • Future runs with top-to-bottom snowmaking: Upper Pioneer, Coach's Corner, Lower Ridge, Stewart's Bowl, Upper Ridge, Shaker Ridge, Lodge Cat Track, Morning Star, Silver Queen, Bogus Creek Trail, Showcase, Lulu, Sunshine and Pioneer Trail. Also, snowmaking would be added to the tubing hill (see below).
    • “This system will allow Bogus Basin to open the resort on those runs, and stay open for a guaranteed length of season," the report said.

    • The snowmaking system could also be used for fire suppression at Simplot Lodge and the communications facilities at Deer Point in the summer.  This capability was key in protecting facilities at Sun Valley from fires in recent years.

  • Coach lift upgrade and Coach's Corner changes: Currently only about 500 skiers can use this lift each hour. Upgrades would boost that to 1,200, and the lift would be shortened on the downslope side a bit to allow the base area to breathe. 
    • The area on the east side of the Coach lift could be regraded to add more beginner skiing terrain (Coach's Corner currently runs down the west side of the lift).
    • The existing magic carpets would be moved and a third carpet added to give more options to ski school students.
    • A portion of the area at the base would be regraded for better ski school use. 
  • Reconfigure runs: Make a series of changes to existing runs to improve skiing.
    • Silver Queen and Lulu would be regraded to allow for better novice skiing and use by the ski school.
    • Regrade the Lodge Cat Track. This is the only way down from some areas during night skiing - but it can be either steep or flat depending on the area. Regrading it will give it a consistent downhill slope. 
    • Make improvements off the Superior and Pine Creek runs
    • Add a connector ski route from Bitterroot to Superior. This could open Bitterroot area terrain when that lift isn't operating.
    • Undertake a large-scale brush clearing opeartion, especially focused on the backside. Some areas that used to be skiable are overgrown on all but the best (ahem, 2016-17) years.  
  • Revamp J. R. Simplot Lodge: The main lodge at the base area would get a revamp and slight expansion.  A new stair and elevator tower would be added on the west side (toward Bogus Basin Road). This will allow some of the other staircases to be removed, and free up space for a revamp of the rest of the lodge:
    • New patio off the main level facing the base area.
    • An expanded and upgraded kitchen which would allow for "higher quality food and beverage."
    • Expanded restrooms on the lower and main levels, as well as an added bathroom on the upper level.
    • Revamped seating including enclosing some of the "open to below" seating on the third level to add some space.
    • New retail/demo shop on the lower level.
  • Upgrades to the Pioneer Lodge: Though the changes aren't expected to be as large-scale as at the Simplot Lodge, this building will get added restrooms - and new interior and exterior finishes to make it more modern.  The bar and lounge area would be improved to make it a better special events venue.
  • Increase the density of lighting in some areas, especially around Deer Point. Bogus is also working on a continual project to improve lighting efficiency. 
  • Upgrade the Gold Rush tubing hill with snowmaking and a new carpet lift (replacing the handle tow). This will boost capacity here, and make sure the tubing hill can open even in poor snow years.
  • Replace the snack shack at Pine Creek with a warming yurt.
  • Parking: Parking is adequate according to the report - but some reconfiguration and improved shuttle service are in the plan. 
Main (middle) level of the expanded and revamped Pioneer Lodge

Main (middle) level of the expanded and revamped Pioneer Lodge

 

    Bigger than a streetcar: An idea on transit for 2040

    News analysis by Don Day
    BoiseDev.com

    Comments are enabled at the bottom if you'd like to chip in your thoughts

    I'm not a transportation planner. It's hard work, complicated - and a surefire way to have people question your ideas.

    But, like any citizen who pays attention, I have some ideas.

    Boise's city leaders have been working on a streetcar idea for nearly a decade. The response from citizens has been, for the most part, tepid. But the idea remains.

    In my long piece on the streetcar late last year, the mayor's spokesperson made a point that has stuck with me.

    "There’s a practical side of this," Mike Journee said. "What is our traffic situation going to look like in 2040?"

    I lived in Seattle for just long enough to understand what traffic is. Sitting, not moving, wishing-you-had-a-bathroom-in-your-car traffic.

    Boise, of course, doesn't really have much traffic.  Sure, the Interstate chokes up with accidents and can be slow in the average commute.  Front Street through downtown is a slow, cloggy mess many evenings. Leaving a Boise State game can be slow.

    On the whole, however - it's pretty easy to get around.

    But what about in 2040?

    Downtown isn't really a problem child for traffic.  You can pretty easily jaywalk any of the streets most of the day and evening (not that anyone I know does that). 

    The streetcar is expensive. Really, really expensive.  After my story was published, a local elected official told me off the record that it would "never happen," and dismissed the project as folly.  

    As I talked with Journee and streetcar project manager Jim Pardy, I told them they lay out a convincing case. And for the most part, they do. But it's very hard to get past the cost, and the relative lack of need for a train that goes in a fairly walkable circle.

    Boise's buses, on the other hand, currently are underused.  They don't run on Sundays, holidays, or even very late into the evening.  The streetcar would run more frequently if built, but it would be a strong link in a weak bus system. If I live anywhere but downtown and don't own a car, I'm going to be stuck without an option other than my own two feet and their ability to walk or peddle a bike.

    COMPASS even somewhat-confusingly touted a stat that points out the problem: 80% of Treasure Valley residents aren't within walking distance of a bus.

    I asked the City of Boise pair why a streetcar and not the "Micron to Caldwell" rail line. 

    “We are kind of doing it backwards," Pardy said candidly. "This is kind of like building the last mile first.  This could be a catalyst to get the entire region."

    Twenty years ago, then-mayor Brent Coles spearheaded a trial of a train from Micron to Caldwell on those existing Union Pacific tracks. Temporary stations were set up, and people could ride the rails to commute.  

    Why not do this now? Start here and connect from it.  The Boise Depot is the historic icon of transit in SW Idaho - and it still stands in a pivotal position.

    Imagine this idea:

    • Use the existing Union Pacific tracks (GREEN) to run commuter trains between the Boise Factory Outlet area near Micron and Caldwell.  Some additional infrastructure would be needed - stops, park-and-ride lots and the like. You could have stops at the Boise Towne Square, a few blocks from Saint Alphonsus, near St Luke's Meridian, Downtown Meridian, the Idaho Center, Downtown Nampa and Downtown Caldwell. And of course the Boise Depot.  The existing UP track run right through the backyard of many of our area's biggest hubs.
    • Build a streetcar or bus circulator between the Boise Depot and the Idaho Statehouse (RED). It would pass by Boise State, the new multi-modal transit center, city hall, City Center Plaza and within a few easy walking blocks of Simplot, JUMP, Zions Bank and dozens of other buildings. It would give the city the downtown catalyst project and accomplish most of the streetcar project, but would be knitted into a larger system.
    • Existing talks are underway to do something along State Street.  Maybe those talks should produce a high-frequency bus route that comes around every 10-15 minutes and goes from the end of that new streetcar line at the Idaho Statehouse, out to Eagle Rd. and meets back up with the UP tracks near St. Luke's Meridian (BLUE).  The route could also go east from the Statehouse and zip by St. Luke's Boise, up Broadway by Albertsons Stadium and connect to the transit center at Boise State.
    • Take that same idea and connect a high-frequency bus route from the Boise Airport to the Boise Depot.

    With a fleet of buses, passenger trains, and vision - you could put together a dynamic, thriving system that connects nearly every big thing in the valley.  The hospitals, the arenas, the major employers, the mall, the Village at Meridian, the airport and more.

    Bring it all together under a common, smart brand and you have a uniting concept.

    I also asked about how the city viewed driverless cars. It doesn't seem like this is something that is in their calculation - but it could change everything. (Why own a car at all when you can push a button and a robot can pick you up with a minute or two?)

    As I reported in my streetcar deep dive, Bieter said choosing a rail-focused system over buses came down to one thing. 

    "I believe everything in this process boils down to our vision for this community. In my mind, that means we build a streetcar."

    Pardy likened the streetcar to a loved Boise treasure. 

    "At one point someone had the vision to build the Greenbelt," he said.

    The mayor has his vision, and he has every right to work on it as he sees fit - he's been elected to his spot three times, and we live in a representative democracy.

    But maybe a different vision could make sense.  The great thing about the Boise River Greenbelt example is that it runs from Lucky Peak to beyond Eagle - and is a source of pride for everyone regardless of which city they call home.  Any transit system should have a similar Big Idea with an eye on 2040 - and serve as many people as possible.

    "T" for transit: Decision made on Boise streetcar; inside the push to make it a reality

    Boise's mayor has wanted a streetcar to roll its way through Downtown Boise for a long time. In 2008, he proclaimed in his State of the City address that the city should build one. Now in 2017, will it happen? A new push is coming.

    Visions of tunnels & skybridges as officials haggle over Downtown Boise's busiest streets

    Don Day
    BoiseDev.com EXCLUSIVE

    BOISE - Could your commute in Downtown Boise see a drastic makeover?

    In a quiet program about to get underway, the Capital City Development Corporation and City of Boise hope to “transform the heart of… downtown,”  but agreement between all parties involved isn’t guaranteed.

    CCDC has hired Sam Schwartz Consulting to look at a revamp of Front & Myrtle streets - two roads which slice through Downtown Boise with busy ribbons of asphalt servicing tens of thousands of drivers everyday.

    Sources tell BoiseDev ideas like tunnels and skybridges have been bandied about in private - along with more typical concepts like buffered bike lanes.

    Before changes happen on Front and Myrtle,  CCDC and the City of Boise will have to get the Idaho Transportation Department to sign off as it controls the roads - technically state highways.  

    “These are our roads, this is our system,” ITD spokesperson Jennifer Gonzalez emphasized.

    Extensive reporting has uncovered a gap in approach between the City — and ITD.

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    In fact, request for comment from state highway officials resulted in a blanket statement of support — but when we pressed for answers to specific questions, we were initially told the department would not have further comment.

    This prompted a request for documents under Idaho’s open records law. The resulting series of emails highlighted the difference in approach, with ITD engineers working to strip away language that could be viewed as anti-car.

    The Idea

    After a meeting of the Boise Elevated group in May, CCDC began a process to find a consultant to help give ideas on how Front & Myrtle could change to improve the downtown core.

    Both roads feature five lanes of traffic and stoplights at nearly every block.  They flow off of and feed into the Interstate 184 “connector” freeway system.  In the most recent traffic counts available from 2013, Front Street at 11th Street served more than 40,000 cars each weekday - with more than 3,800 pushing through during the peak drive time of 5pm.  Anyone who uses Front in the afternoon knows it can be prone to long backups as folks leave downtown and head to the west.

    Front’s eastbound sister Myrtle also sees a large traffic volume - with more than 31,000 cars each day as it crosses 9th Street. 

    The bottom line: these streets are busy.  If you’ve ever been stuck at a traffic standstill on Front at 4:30pm waiting for several light cycles - you know the wait can be lengthy. 

    The roads do have shoulders that are commonly used as bike lanes and sidewalks - but they are skinny, and have been closed a number of times in recent years for construction projects like The Aspen Lofts, JUMP, Simplot HQ, Trader Joe’s, Boise Centre and others. 

    Boise photographer Joe Jaszewski captured a common sight: a construction sign stored, backwards, in the bike lane.  Not exactly conducive to cyclists.

    In its proposal, CCDC notes that the freeway-like system is a deterrent to businesses in areas like BoDo due to the barrier it presents to people on foot. Front Street and Myrtle are both clear barriers to pedestrians and cyclists, and can be painful for drivers alike.

    The proposal negotiation

    CCDC sent a draft of its request for proposal to Idaho Transportation for review early this summer.  What came back was a Word document full of red-lined text,  with more than a dozen substantial changes requested by ITD.

    ITD and CCDC had differing approaches to the process from the get-go.

    ITD District Three engineering manager Amy Schroeder even conceded the large amount of requested changes.

    Two of the pages from the document showing some of the changes

    Two of the pages from the document showing some of the changes

    “It may look like we made some pretty significant changes, but we noted that even with the bulleted list we previously discussed being removed there were a number of statements throughout that might predisposed the outcome of the study,” Shroder wrote in to CCDC’s Matt Edmunds in June.

    She explained in that message that ITD wanted the request for proposals to “be a bit more general and perhaps balanced” if the “intent is to bring in creativity and a fresh perspective.”

    For instance:

    • In the very first paragraph, ITD asked to remove text that said the group wanted to “transform an auto-focused, high-speed” set of roads. Instead, they wanted the introduction to just say “balanced” - without referring to cars.
    • ITD wanted to remove wording that emphasized that “pedestrian and bicycle treatments are generally secondary considerations”
    • They asked references to the street combo as being “10 lanes” be removed.
    • ACHD chimed in and wanted the phrase “time-consuming and inconvenient” removed as it relates to pedestrians

    In short, CCDC wanted a document that made clear the glut of cars are part of the problem — and ITD worked to remove that concept from the RFP.  The best way to sum up the difference of opinion might be this key phrase deep in the document — which CCDC proposed and ITD wanted dropped:

    (The plan should promote a) “shift in focus away from moving cars with minimal delay to more holistic objectives and providing mobility equity between all modes.”

    In the end, many of ITD’s suggested deletions were removed from the final document.

    Boise City Communications Director Mike Journee said the process and number of changes is a “fact of life” with multiple agencies involved.

    “We work with ACHD & ITD to put together options for streets in our city grid," he said. “They have specific missions and we have a specific mission. And it’s no secret that there are times when these missions don’t mesh. We do every thing we can to work as closely as we can.”

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    Gonzalez says her department is also on board. 

    “We have strong working relationships with all of our community partners,” Gonzalez said after questions about the documents were asked.  

    On several occasions, she also cited a written statement attributed to ITD engineer Amy Revis.

    “The Idaho Transportation Department is actively participating in the study along  with CCDC, the city of Boise, ACHD and others with a goal of finding opportunities to enhance all forms of transportation, while preserving mobility of the State Highway.”

    CCDC also says it feels good about the process.

    “The agency does not feel the RFP was weakened by the removal of the specific multi-modal language,” CCDC executive director John Brunelle said by email. “We do believe the process is on the correct track.”

    Enter the Inventor of Gridlock

    The  Scwartz proposal  says Boise has a big opportunity 

    The Scwartz proposal says Boise has a big opportunity 

    Once the request for proposals went out — two came back in.  One from a non-profit group was not selected, while another one from Sam Schwartz Consulting ultimately got the thumbs up.

    If you Google “inventor of gridlock” - you’ll find the Wikipedia entry for Sam Schwartz on the first page.  In fact - his Twitter account is “@GridlockSam.”

    He is credited for actually coining the term gridlock - which refers to big cities getting jammed up with lots of stuck cars.  He’s one of the nation’s top traffic engineers - and is well-known for his efforts in NYC.  His firm now helps cities across the country solve traffic woes.

    His agency says Boise has a big opening.

    “It’s not every day that cities have the opportunity to transform the heart of their downtown through one catalytic project, but today Boise does thanks to the groundwork the City and its partners have laid through prior planning efforts."

    Perhaps not by accident, there are no cars on the cover of Boise's TAP.  Click to view .

    Perhaps not by accident, there are no cars on the cover of Boise's TAP. Click to view.

    That Transportation Action Plan - or TAP - is Boise’s way of taking some measure of control over its streets.  The city has no formal ownership of the roads and highways — those are generally controlled by ACHD, or as is the case for Myrtle and Front - ITD.  The TAP plan was also developed by Sam Swartz Consulting.

    Journee said the TAP is about more than just cars.

    “(It) calls for providing real transportation choices for residents no matter what mode of transportation they choose: foot, bike, public transit or autos,” he said. “Those choices should be safe, effective and should optimize our infrastructure.”

    Journee cited the recent Broadway Bridge project - a collaboration with ITD - as a model for its goals: wide sidewalks, buffered bike lanes and easy connectivity for those car-bound.

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    He said the goal of the city (and by association CCDC) is to make it easier for people on foot or riding a bike to go north and south through downtown - which currently can be problematic due to the barriers that Front & Myrtle present.

    He also notes the roads tend to slice downtown into separate pieces rather than one collective unit.

    “We are looking for solutions that will help us remedy these challenges as much as possible, while recognizing their importance to the daily car commute,” he said.

    The outcome

    The big “so what.”  Two sources said, off-the-record, that those big ideas like tunnels or skybridges are on the table. But public officials wouldn’t comment.

    Both ideas have been contemplated before - a skybridge was initially planned from the Boise Centre building over Front Street to a planned visitor's center where The Aspen Lofts now stands. An overhead walkway used to span several blocks, connecting The Bon Marche to parking. Plus, two skybridges are currently underway - one connecting the old Boise Centre building to the new building at the Grove, and another to be built across Avenue B at St. Luke's.

     And former city council member Alan Shealy proposed burying Front & Myrtle in 2006. At the time, ACHD said that idea would cost "billions."

    The public will not have a say in the process. The RFP specifically notes that public stakeholders are not asked to participate.  Journee said though the public won’t get its say yet - public input will come once the initial process runs its course

    “There will be plenty of opportunity for public examination and comment once there is an understanding of the existing situation and what the menu of effective, yet feasible, treatments could be,” he said.

    Schwartz’s firm and two partner companies will collect about $200,000 for the review project.  The process is expected to take about eight months - and a kickoff meeting is set for later this month.

    ALSO READ: First look: Ann Morrison Park set for makeover

    Albertsons is becoming more like Safeway - but it's good for Boise

    • In this story...
      • New filings show Albertsons even more committed to the Treasure Valley
      • Longtime Albertsons execs are in charge, but Safeway's systems are slowly taking over
      • More stores could soon be part of the company

    By Don L. Day
    BoiseDev.com

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    BOISE - Boise-based Albertsons is slowing morphing into a completely different company - and in many ways, it is morphing into Safeway - the California-based grocer it purchased early last year.

    While the big blue "A" on the outside of the stores is unlikely to change, many of the processes and offerings on the inside are coming from the Safeway side of the business.

    Just this week, as the Idaho Press Tribune reports, the company is rolling out two new initiatives in the Boise market - rewards program "just for U" and a gas discount program.

    AlbertsonsCard.jpg

    This a U-turn of sorts in strategy for the Boise stores - which eliminated a Preferred Card program in 2013 - saying in a blog post "Once upon a time, a shopper card set customers aside...  The card isn’t so special anymore. Everyone has one. So we want to take the special step of not requiring one anymore."

    The change in strategy means if you want special savings - you'll now have to download the company's app to receive coupons and deals (and provide your phone number at checkout). In a related move, gas rewards will now be available at Chevron and Texaco outlets around the Valley - with points earned in much way they previously were with Sinclair and Albertsons Express outlets.

    These initiatives follow my earlier exclusive reporting of the return online shopping to the Boise-area through Albertsons.com.

    And you also may have noticed a new private label program at your local Albertsons - with brands like Signature Select and O Organics replacing Essential Everyday and Wild Harvest.

    What do all of these changes have in common? They originate from the Safeway side of the business.

    With so many programs and strategy bubbling up from Safeway, what does that mean for Albertsons and its future in Boise?

    In the company's amended SEC filings late last month ahead of a much-delayed initial public offering, it more forcefully commits to its Boise headquarters, after initially being non-commital on where the company would ultimately call home:

    Our corporate headquarters are located in Boise, Idaho. We own our headquarters. The premises is approximately 250,000 square feet in size. In addition to our corporate headquarters, we have corporate offices in Pleasanton, California and Phoenix, Arizona. We are in the process of consolidating our corporate campuses and division offices to increase efficiency.

    When the company announced it would merge with Safeway, it was vague on where it would primarily be based, noting Boise, Pleasonto, CA & Phoenix, AZ equally. At the time, former Safeway CEO Bob Edwards was named to the same post at Albertsons - but after just a few short months, he was swept aside and replaced with another Bob - Bob Miller. Miller is a longtime Albertsons hand, and industry analysts say he is key to the culture of the combined company, according to trade publication Supermarket News:

    He’s kept the Albertsons culture alive and well, observers pointed out, and they said they believe Albertsons will be able to sustain that approach even if Miller decides to step aside.
    Bob Miller appears at the news conference announcing the rebranding of Bronco Stadium with the Albertsons name. Photo courtesy Boise State.

    Bob Miller appears at the news conference announcing the rebranding of Bronco Stadium with the Albertsons name. Photo courtesy Boise State.

    The Safeway merger essentially gave Albertsons LLC  a set of back office functions it lacked, and the ability to unwind from Albertsons' former parent company Supervalu.  IT, technology and the systems that keep the stores running  are transitioning to Safeway's systems - but under the guise - and control - of Albertsons loyalists. Albertsons is slowly moving away from Supervalu, a process expected to continue into 2018.

    A few other factors that portend well for the Treasure Valley:

    • Albertsons is remodeling its Boise headquarters in stages, BoiseDev.com can report.  It is freshening areas of the building, remodeling the executive suite, even adding a television studio for in-house productions.
    • Earlier this year, BoiseDev.com exclusively reported the company would move its "set store" up from California to a location in southeast Boise. 
    • The company has built a new hanger for its private planes at the Boise Airport.
    • The previously reported Broadway Albertsons revamp will include a "significant" food service and in-store dining program - a first for the chain, a company insider tells me. It will bring together a variety of concepts from throughout Safeway & Albertsons under one roof.

    After nearly leaving the town where Joe Albertsons' supermarket was first founded - the company is poised for a long stay in the City of Trees.

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    abs-safe.jpg

    EXCLUSIVE: Albertsons on the prowl for more stores

    In its updated S-1 filing with the SEC last month ahead of an IPO, Albertsons laid out its financial and operational condition. A thorough reading brought a key revelation to light: Albertsons wants to snap up more stores - and is in the process of evaluating chains to buy as we speak.

    One of the items that changed in the latest update to that S-1 filing, is the addition of this phrase to a section on future acquisitions:

    “(W)e are currently participating in processes regarding several potential acquisition opportunities, including ones that would be significant to us. “

    The filing goes on to say that none of the possible acquisitions is currently “probable,” but warns potential investors that a big purchase of stores could happen as soon as the shares are officially put up for sale.

    The company touts its operational playbook - and plan for the first 100 days after it owns a store as key factors in its ability to acquire stores.

    A graph shows how stores previously owned by Supervalu were actually shrinking in terms of revenue - but after they were bought up by the new Albertsons company, quickly started showing growth (click to enlarge):


    Albertsons & Safeway: a timeline

    BoiseDev.com research

    1915 -  Skaggs Cash Store in American Falls, Idaho by MB Skaggs

    1926 - Skaggs, Safeway merge - combined company  takes Safeway name 

    1939 - Albertsons founded in Boise by Joe Albertson, a former Safeway manager - in partnership with LS Skaggs, MB's brother

    1969 - Albertsons & Skaggs Drug Centers (started by LS Skaggs) form joint venture for grocery/drug store concept

    1977 -  Albertsons & Skaggs Drug Centers part ways amicably

    1978 - Skaggs & American Stores merge, taking the American Stores name

    1999 - Albertsons buys American Stores, and briefly becomes nation's largest grocer

    2001 - Larry Johnston hired as Albertsons CEO after career at GE. Immediately cuts staff by 20%, closes hundreds of stores and pulls out of markets like Houston & New Orleans

    2006 - After Johnston's efforts fail, a diminished Albertsons is split in three pieces and sold off: Standalone drug stores went to CVS, most grocery stores sold to Supervalu, and a small group of so-called "underperforming" stores sold to Cerberus Capital Mgmt.

    2013 - After sputtering, Supervalu sells most of its stores to the Cerberus group

    2015 - Newly reunited Albertsons chain completes purchase of the larger Safeway - making it the nation's second-largest grocer