The best bus ever

The best bus ever
Jason Sievers' awesome Art in Transit bus

Monday, April 30, 2007

Transit tidbits

Boise's bus system has been in the news a few times in recent days. From a story Sunday in the Idaho Statesman:

Valley Regional Transit officials say they aren't sure yet what caused a propane-powered bus to burst into flames last month, but a City of Boise audit reports ongoing problems in the transit agency's maintenance department. ...

... During the review, an inspection of 15 vehicle maintenance files revealed a number of issues. Most preventative maintenance inspections were not completed on time. Lifetime vehicle mileage was entered incorrectly into the computer system, so preventative maintenance schedules were off.Quality checks of vehicle inspection reports weren't completed.

Most problems identified in the audit have since been corrected, according to the audit report.

The same story reported that local bus ridership is showing some modest increases. Valley Ride had 378,513 passengers from Oct. 1, 2005 to Feb. 28, 2006 and 392,553 for the same period in 2006-2007.

In other recent news, the Statesman reported that transit advocates plan to bring the local option tax plan back to the Idaho Legislature in 2008 and, if that doesn't work, try a citizen initiative in 2010. What's the saying about insanity being the practice of doing the same thing and expecting different results? But sources close to the debate tell me that a few area lawmakers who voted no on local option have received negative feedback from constituents, and that transit backers plan to do a better job countering the limited opposition to the bill.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Seattle sojourn savings

My husband and I went to Seattle for a few days this week for our anniversary. We stayed with friends in the Wallingford neighborhood northeast of downtown. Now, we could have rented a car, or taken the Gray Line Seattle Airporter, which falsely bills itself as "the least expensive transportation between the downtown Seattle hotels and the Seattle-Tacoma (SeaTac) International Airport." (It starts at $10.25 one way.) But of course, we opted instead for the King County Metro No. 194 bus, which expresses its way up I-5 to downtown. Cost: $1.50, or $1.25 in non-peak hours. Such a deal!

Once downtown, we switched to the No. 16 Northgate bus, which serves downtown, Wallingford and the U-District. It stopped along Stone Way just two blocks from our friends' place. Total travel time from the airport to Wallingford was just about an hour, in early rush-hour traffic. Total cost for two: $3.

Seattle is friendly to people who want to use alternative transportation, so much so that our friends have managed with just one car for a family of four for 15 years. They frequently ride their bikes to work and had a drawer full of bus schedules for various parts of the city, with three routes within a few blocks of their home.

Seattle also is looking forward to the opening of light-rail service from downtown to Sea-Tac in 2009. Many of the tracks downtown appear ready to go; the stretches by the airport are still under construction. In his visit to Boise a few weeks ago, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels offered his city's light-rail experience as a cautionary tale in how long it takes to plan and build transit: King County voted for its light rail in 1988.

One more note: This weekend, Seattle begins Elliot Bay water-taxi service between West Seattle and the downtown waterfront.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More publicity for TRAX

The Salt Lake City area's popular TRAX light rail was showcased in an article in The New York Times on Sunday. The article, by reporter Keith Schneider, describes how light rail is leading to a transit-oriented development boom of reasonably priced housing in the Salt Lake suburbs:

Mary Ann Downs, 22, an interior designer, moved into her $193,000 three-bedroom home at Waverly Station in February. Ms. Downs is happy to be near the TRAX system — she plans to use it this spring when the light rail connects to the new commuter line — and she also likes her neighbors.

One of them is David Bailey, 28, who works for a jewelry dealer. He bought a two-bedroom home for $205,000. He said access to the TRAX line, which he rides to basketball and football games downtown, played a part in his decision to buy. “I really feel as gas prices go up, homes near public transportation will increase in value,” he said.

Read more here. Thanks to Zach for the tip.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Parking up the wrong tree

Pardon the bad pun, in honor of this Earth Day season.

The other day at the Downtown Boise Association annual meeting, DBA director Karen Sander noted with satisfaction that the visitor count for the downtown public parking lots jumped from 657,160 customers in 2005 to 844,762 in 2006. Of course, this means more people are shopping, dining, and recreating downtown.

But if parking is up by roughly a quarter, that means traffic is, too. Anyone who has seen - or experienced - the three-block-line behind the 9th Street parking garage entrance at BoDo understands this all too well.

The DBA wants more and better transit, but I don't see downtown doing as much as it could to promote or augment use of the bus system we already have, other than the well-used BSU football shuttle it offers on game days in the fall. With or without the help of Valley Ride, Downtown Boise ought to be looking at park-and-ride (or walk) lots on the fringes of downtown, paired with a circulator shuttle bus or trolley for those unable to walk; merchant discounts for people who show their bus pass; and much higher parking rates, at least during the day when buses are available.

There's a lot going on downtown during the day this Saturday, from the re-opening of the Capital City Public Market to Earth Day festivities at Julia Davis Park. If you hear of friends planning trips downtown this weekend, why not suggest that they give the bus a try?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bike Congress at BSU

I thought Bikeboy would have something about this on his blog, but not yet. This Friday is the annual Bike Congress at Boise State, where you can hear speakers discuss - among other things - bike-friendly campuses and the perils of car doors opening in bike lanes. Here's the full schedule.

When I bike, I'm currently riding a second- or third-hand 10-speed (or is it 15?). But if I had more disposable income, I think I'd spring for one of the $500 Lime bikes (as seen in the Idaho Statesman today, and here) from Trek, with three gears that shift automatically. With just three speeds, I'm not sure the Lime would have enough juice to get me up Protest Hill, but I suppose I could get off and walk - or put it on the bus bike rack!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Raising a generation of riders

Some of my fondest memories of growing up in Pittsburgh involve riding our trolleys and buses. I'm confident that my adolescent adventures on transit made me the committed bus rider I am today. And the earlier we can start, the better.

I went downtown on the #3 Vista earlier than usual today, sharing my ride with lots of Boise High School students. But the trip back two hours later was even better: Two dozen preschoolers and their teachers from a downtown day-care center clambered on board at 8th and Idaho and rode across downtown to story time at the library. They were all smiles and giggles, and one of the teachers told me the kids absolutely love to ride the bus.

An hour before, at the annual breakfast meeting of the Downtown Boise Association, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter remarked that his own daughter is in love with the book The Wheels on the Bus. "I'm working on a version with a train," he added. (Bieter and visiting leaders from other cities had more to say about transit and other topics. See my report at Red State Rebels.)

Right now, bus riding has a rap among too many people as the transportation option of last resort. But if we can change that image to one of fun, adventure, and camaraderie - clearly the way the preschoolers view it - not to mention that it's the right thing to do to cut traffic and air pollution ... well, maybe we can raise a generation of riders who believe public transit is the best way to go.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Paper slams 'petty parochialism'

Kevin Richert, editorial page editor of the Idaho Statesman, had this to say in his weekly column on Sunday. (I'm repeating it all here since the Statesman only leaves stories up for two weeks.)

On Monday, the Department of Commerce and Labor told us something we already knew:

The Treasure Valley is growing — rapidly.

According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau numbers, 22,499 newcomers moved to the Boise-Nampa metropolitan area between 2005 and 2006.

During that same period of time, Idaho's overall population grew by 37,098.

So let's do the math, because it is startling. Slightly more than 60 percent of Idaho's population increase — growth that, in turn, directly influences state income and sales tax collections — occurred in this one corner of the state. The public policy imperative could not be more clear. The state has a direct financial stake in the Valley's continued growth, and in helping the Valley's local governments keep up with the demands of growth.

When rural legislators refuse to budge to help on Valley issues such as community colleges, local-option taxes for transit or highway construction, they aren't just exercising petty parochialism. They are punishing the part of the state that shoulders an increasing share of the load to pay for public schools and Medicaid services all over the state. That is simply foolish public policy.

I wish the Valley population numbers had come out during the disappointing and just-completed legislative session.

Then again, I'm not sure some legislators would have been persuaded.

Transit is Topic A at Bench meeting

I missed the District 17 legislative wrapup last week, but apparently, public transit was the most-discussed topic at the Borah High School meeting. Here's an excerpt from the email newsletter sent afterward by Sen. Elliot Werk and Reps. Sue Chew and Bill Killen:

"We spent about 45 minutes discussing the failure of the legislature to allow our community to decide whether to support enhanced public transportation funding. The House Revenue and Taxation Committee rejected, on an 11-7 vote, local option taxing authority for the Treasure Valley that would allow our community (with a 2/3 super majority vote) to improve our public transportation system.

"Amazingly, three Treasure Valley Representatives (Mike Moyle, Gary Collins, and Bob Schaefer) voted to kill this legislation. The bill was supported by a very broad cross-section of interests in the Valley from the business community, to low income citizens, to environmental advocates, to regular citizens. There was no organized opposition.

"The most compelling argument in support of the bill for rural legislators came from Rep. (Leon) Smith (a former mayor and Idaho Transportation Board member). He made the point that if the legislature does not allow the Treasure Valley to take care of our issues that eventually the entire state would be doing so as we demand ever more of the transportation funding to expand our road system to the detriment of rural communities.

"The opposition seemed to be a combination of a dogmatic view that all taxes are bad and a distrust of local government by legislators that believe that they somehow know what is better for local communities than the communities themselves.

"There was also discussion about light rail, the need to move forward with both public transportation and highway improvements, and what could be done to gain a different result in the committee.

"This issue will come back to the legislature in future years. In addition, Representative Killen is working on other avenues to secure funding. Stay tuned!"

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Step It Up, Boise

Would you like to ask Congress to seek an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 - or 2 percent each year? That's the goal of the Step It Up campaign, which has more than 1,300 events planned nationwide this Saturday, April 14.

Boise's main event, the Concert for Climate Action, set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Julia Davis Park, will include speakers, displays, and local entertainers Steve Eaton, Stella, Farmdog, The Hoochie Coochie Men, and Underscore. See more information here, and plan to show your support for a saner energy future by attending Step It Up on Saturday.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Starting light rail at 600K

In 1981, Calgary, Alberta, launched a light rail service to complement its bus system. The local population was about 600,000 people, according to Glen Radway, a Calgary city planner who visited Boise last week.

Fast forward a quarter century. Calgary's population has passed a million and is on track to hit 1.28 million by 2025. The two-line light rail system has spurred transit-oriented development near some of its stops, and the appetite is strong for more. But improvements and expansion take time; this page at Calgary Transit's website explains how, although an added line was approved in 1990, its construction has not yet begun.

The lessons here for Boise? Although many here say that Boise doesn't have the population base to support light rail, the Treasure Valley's current population is closing in on the level at which Calgary launched its CTrain system. But even more critical is the fact that our rapid growth will make it more difficult in the future to secure the right of way and funding necessary to make light rail work here. That, of course, is what the proposed local option tax would have made possible - along with a much-improved bus system that has to come before light rail, anyway.

Transit planners need to think and budget decades ahead, which is why Boise's current lack of adequate transit is so alarming. If we're this far behind in 2007, how far behind will we be when our population hits a million?

My family rides the bus!

Because my husband's working hours don't jibe with the bus schedule, transit isn't an option for him. And because buses don't run in the evenings when we usually go downtown for fun, we usually haven't taken transit, period.

But Friday, we had plans to meet friends downtown for an early supper at 4:30. The last bus home would leave at 6:15. "Let's take the bus," I said.

The three of us got to the corner of Vista and Overland well ahead of the bus expected there at 4 p.m. We waited ... and waited ... and waited. Finally, just when my husband was ready to walk home and get the car, I saw the bus in the distance, about 10 minutes late. It turned out a new driver was learning the route. Even with the delay, we made it downtown in plenty of time.

My husband commented that it was like being on vacation, since that's the only time he usually uses public transit. My daughter, a more frequent transit user, was nonchalant behind her white-rimmed shades and inscrutable adolescent demeanor. I was just happy that we were able to take a rare ride on our local bus as a family. Hey, it doesn't take much to make my day!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Canadian urban planners visit

Public transportation will be among the items up for discussion when urban planners from our neighbors to the north visit Boise as part of Boise State University's Canada Week events.

"Planning, Growth, and Development: The Vancouver and Calgary Experience" will be the topic at a talk from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday in Room 110 of the Enginering and Technology Building. Presenters Glen Radway of Calgary, Alberta, and John Madden of Vancouver, B.C., will share their thoughts and expertise on sustainable growth, transit, housing affordability, and more.

Madden and Radway will also be at a sustainable growth planning session from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Friday at Boise City Hall. People interested in attending that are asked to email

Monday, April 02, 2007

Transit got us here!

My daughter and I visited California for spring break. Aside from a few rides from friends and family, we took transit the entire week. The San Francisco Bay Area has a terrific website, Transit 511, that makes it easy to plot your travels by transit.

After flying to Oakland, we took the airport shuttle and BART to San Francisco, where my brother picked us up at the 16th & Mission subway station. The next few days, we mostly used the SF bus and trolley systems to get around, including the new Muni "T" line that is linking key San Francisco areas and adding economic development potential to some of the city's poorer neighborhoods.

Midweek, we headed down the coast to the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel. (The view above was the one from our window!) We got there by taking Caltrain to San Mateo, then the 294 samTrans bus. We also took the latter to Half Moon Bay and back one night for dinner. When it was time to head home, we took the 294 to Pacifica, the samTrans 110 bus to Daly City, then BART and AirBART back to Oakland Airport.

The Bay Area's transit systems seem extremely well-used and mostly well-loved. My biggest beef was a sign at the Powell Street Muni station downtown that seemed to show which lines served which stations. On closer inspection, I saw the sign was actually describing transfer points at those stations.

It's always a little confusing to navigate in a city you don't know well, especially one served by multiple bus and rail lines. But we found that transit personnel and local transit users (and my brother-in-law, Kevin) unfailingly pointed us in the right direction. As we fretted about finding the right side of the street for our bus in suburban San Mateo County, my daughter asked me why we just didn't rent a car. Three reasons, I said: to save money, to keep one more car off the road, and to have an adventure. We succeeded on all three counts.