The best bus ever

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On a detour ...

I've been away from the blog for a while, mainly due to a new job I started October 1 that restricts my independent blogging on political and policy topics.

I'd like to hear from anyone who would be interested in occasionally writing here on transit topics, especially once the Idaho Legislature reconvenes in January. If you support better transit in the Treasure Valley and would be able and willing to write about it here, let me know via email to juliewrites at yahoo dot com. (Please put "bus blog" in the subject line.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another opportunity for input

The Idaho Transportation Department is surveying Idahoans about what sort of transportation we use to get to work, school, shopping, dining, or entertainment. The survey coordinator says: "For this initial phase of the project, we are gathering information from Providers of public transportation and mobility services, from Human Service Agencies, and from current and potential Users of any form of transportation other than a single-occupant automobile or pick-up truck. Users include virtually every citizen of the State of Idaho. Based on who you are and what organization you may represent, you may qualify to answer more than one of three different surveys."

Click here to take one or more of the surveys. The ITD wants to hear from us before October 6.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bus stop perks: your ideas needed

I recently joined Valley Regional Transit's Regional Coordination Council, a committee that helps VRT make the most of SAFETEA-LU funding from the federal government and advises VRT on other projects. I was asked to join the RCC as an advocate for transit consumers.

Valley Ride is nearly done installing its fixed bus stops across Ada and Canyon counties, and there is some money available to do improvements at those stops. These might include benches, curb cuts and pads, shelters, and bike racks.

Do you know of any stops that especially need amenities like these? If you have ideas for Valley Ride, you can either put them in the comments below or email them to Mark Carnopis, VRT community relations manager, at mcarnopis at valleyregionaltransit dot org.

Also of note: Valley Ride is taking steps to get rid of the existing benches along its routes that are NOT at the fixed bus stop locations. There's long been confusion among riders who felt a bench automatically signified a bus stop. VRT does hope to have benches at most stops in the future.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Valley hails start of fixed-stop era

About three dozen people gathered on The Grove in downtown Boise on Tuesday to mark the start of fixed-stop bus service in the Treasure Valley. Although some signs remain to be installed, area leaders and transit officials Tuesday hailed the fixed stops as a sign that Valley Ride, the area's bus system, is getting ready for bigger and better improvements to come.

Mayor Dave Bieter pointed to reports of overflowing buses as evidence that the area's appetite for transit is growing. Before and after the noon event, Bieter and BSU history professor Todd Shallat led people on free bus tours tracing the same route that the proposed downtown circulator streetcar would take. "It's a fluid process and there's a lot of legwork to do," he said, yet the streetcar revival is generating "more buzz and excitement than any other project" on the city's docket.

Several leaders from outlying towns rode buses to the event. Mayor John Evans of Garden City cited the benefits of regional cooperation, noting that when Garden City tried to run its own bus system years ago, one driver calling in sick meant 100 percent of the staff was missing. He added that there were 17 people on the bus he rode to downtown Boise mid-morning.

There was only one empty seat on the bus that Meridian councilmen Charlie Rountree and David Zaremba and state Senator Shirley McKague took to Boise. Zaremba described how, en route, they met a young couple with a baby in a stroller and a man with a bike using the bus, too. Zaremba expressed support for a local-option tax to enact the Treasure Valley in Transit plan to bring far better, more frequent service to the area, as well as better intra-city service to Meridian, the largest city in Idaho without its own bus service.

Afterward, I asked McKague whether she, too, would support local option authority. "Oh, people are taxed too much already," she said. I explained that a local-option tax would only go into effect if two-thirds of the voters wanted it on a vote held on a major election date. She was non-committal but thanked me for the information. If you live in District 20, perhaps you'd like to contact McKague to let her know that you appreciate her support of Vallley Ride and that you, too, would like to have the opportunity to decide for yourself whether we can invest in better local transit.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Boise bus stop bash set 9/9

A celebration of Boise's new fixed-stop bus system and a showcase of the proposed Downtown Boise Streetcar Initiative are planned for midday Tuesday, September 9, on the Grove in downtown Boise.

Valley Ride reports that more than 725 bus stop signs are now in place throughout Ada County, signifying that the day has come when bus riders need to use those marked stops to catch a ride, rather than flagging a bus down willy-nilly. But most bus riders seem happy with the switch, since it should make the buses run more efficiently (and since stops are rarely more than a few blocks apart). Hey, if it'll end the maddening experience of people asking for stops every block on State Street, I'm all for it.

The Bus Stops Here event set for noon Tuesday on the Grove will include plenty of speechifying by area dignitaries. There will also be some live music and informative displays, plus the chance to hop a specially designated bus for tours of the proposed streetcar route anytime between 10:45 and 11:45 a.m. and again from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. with Mayor Dave Bieter and Boise State history prof Todd Shallat narrating the sights.

“We really encourage people who live, shop or work downtown to hop on board and check out the tours,” says Kelli Fairless, executive director of Valley Regional Transit (VRT). “It’ll provide people a glimpse of what it would be like to be able to hop on a streetcar, and ride to the other side of downtown to run an errand, meet up with friends, conduct a business meeting or whatever.”

“The streetcar will be the first portion of what we hope will be a larger transit system to serve the entire Treasure Valley,” Mayor Bieter said. “In addition to being a great way to get around downtown, the streetcar will also provide a real economic boost for the underserved areas of downtown.”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Better transit = fewer road, bridge $$$ woes

Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Transportation Board held a hearing in Boise last week to talk about the sorry state of our roads and bridges. They made a very good case for the need for additional revenues, and the incredible complexity of solving a funding gap that seems to be growing by the day. (We all learned, for example, that liquid asphalt rose in price from $175 to $1,000 per ton between last December and this July.) But state officials still seem to be resisting the idea that better transit must be a major part of any plan to relieve pressure on Idaho roads and bridges.

I didn't make it to the morning portion of the meeting, though Sharon Fisher of New West did, and she recounts it here. Apparently John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, advocated for a proposal called Fight Gridlock Now that includes transit as part of the solution. And I was only able to stay for about an hour of the late-afternoon hearing, at which point no public testimony had yet been taken.

Idaho has not raised its fuel tax since 1996, and vehicle registration fees have been flat since 1997. It's probably past time to raise both, but the state ought to consider curbing registration increases for people who drive fuel-efficient vehicles (who are already saving at the pump) and/or who hold their mileage below certain levels. Higher registration fees and fuel taxes would also give people additional incentives to explore transit, telecommuting, carpooling, and other options that will lessen the wear and tear on our roads, bridges, and lungs. And because fewer miles driven also means lower fuel tax collections, the state must also consider tolls on some roads and bridges.

Of course, all of this may fall flat in Idaho's rabidly anti-tax legislature, but fee increases - coupled with conservation incentives - are the only way we'll be able to fund safe roads and bridges in our state. This fall, candidates need to be asked how they'd fund road and bridge upkeep *and* how they'll make transit part of the solution.

Friday, August 15, 2008

August 26 transportation meeting in Boise

What's wrong with this tagline?!

Although Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Transportation Board skipped Boise on their round of hearings earlier this summer, they're finally giving capital city residents a chance to be heard. Otter, the ITB, and Sen. Mike Crapo will hold a transportation funding conference on August 26 in Boise at the Boise Centre on the Grove, 850 W. Front Street.

From 9 a.m. to noon, experts will testify on national and local transportation needs and discuss what was heard at the July meetings. The public comment period will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Come ready to voice your support for public transit (and a local option tax to help pay for it); bike and walking paths; and other projects that will help Idahoans reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Can't make the meeting? You can send comments via email to or call Jeff Stratten from the Idaho Transportation Department at 208-334-8005. There's also an online survey at the ITB website. Unfortunately, that survey makes no mention of transit projects - only funding for roads and bridges - so be sure to make your thoughts known in the final question, where comments can be made.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Traffic ... is it endangered?!

Here's a good, snarky video from the folks at U.S. PIRG on the transportation funding choices before Congress (and, for that matter, our state legislatures) next year. Given the prices on the pump, this was apparently made months ago - but that only makes it more resonant now.

Also here's an op-ed by Boisean Tom Rambow on why we owe it to our children and grandchildren to make the best choices.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tales of a Treasure Valley commuter

That's the name of a new blog by Byron Yankey, a Canyon County educator who is also running for state Representative in District 13. He's writing about other topics, too, like films, food, and fun at the Canyon County Fair. Check it out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bus stop signs going up

I got back from vacation and found that the Valley Ride bus stop signs are going up around Boise. The Idaho Statesman reported this week that the work of marking 725 stops along 14 routes is about half done. In the same story, VRT spokesman Mark Carnopis makes the point that the signs and occasional shelters - not benches - mark bus stops.

It looks like my one regular route, the #3 Vista, has been fully marked, while the #29 Overland has not been. What are you seeing? Do the stops seem to be in logical places? Are you happy with the locations? Valley Ride has more info and a list of proposed stops on its website.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Transportation hearings skip Boise

A series of six public hearings are planned this month with Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Transportation Board. Interestingly, they will NOT be visiting the state's largest city by far. Here are the dates and places for the meetings, all of which will run from 4 to 7 p.m.:

Caldwell, July 14, at the College of Idaho Simplot Dining Hall
Coeur d'Alene, July 16, at the Best Western Coeur d'Alene Inn
Lewiston, July 17, at the Red Lion Hotel
Idaho Falls, July 22, at the Shilo Inn Suites Hotel
Pocatello, July 23, at the Red Lion Hotel
Twin Falls, July 24, at the Red Lion Hotel Canyon Springs

If you don't want to drive to Caldwell to voice your support for alternative transportation choices including effective public transit and bike and walking paths, you can send your comments to Jeff Stratten, Idaho Transportation Department via email to or call him at (208) 334-8005.

One way or another, state officials need to understand that we cannot pave our way out of our current predicament of $4+/gallon gas and air-quality alerts.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Legislating for $4+/gallon gas

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed the "Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act," a bill that chief sponsor Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minnesota) called “a downpayment on an increased investment in public transportation.” The House passed the bill on a lopsided vote of 322-98, with many Republicans - including U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson - joining the ayes. Rep. Bill Sali voted no. (Roll call here.) It's also good to see that at least one Idaho legislator is onboard with the need for better transit options. Here's hoping that Larry Craig and Mike Crapo will follow Simpson's lead when the Senate considers the bill later this month.

In other transit-related legislation, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) introduced a bill this week that would reward Americans who choose to drive less, telecommute, or buy homes near mass transit. "In short, he'd like to make the country look more like Portland, where he said people on average drive 20 percent less than in other metropolitan areas and bikes, buses and light rail are prominent parts of the transportation mix," writes The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes. (More here.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Valley Ride-union spat bodes ill for service

Boise Weekly's Nathaniel Hoffman has this update on the Valley Ride-bus union dispute over a one-mile stretch of the No. 42 Overland route. The mile in question - between Maple Grove and Five Mile - serves the Social Security office and used to be part of a route handed by union drivers, but it's now subcontracted to a private, non-union company based in Nampa. A federal arbitrator sided with the union drivers, but Valley Ride seems to be balking, despite comments at two public hearings which heavily favored keeping the route open.

Update, July 7: Valley Ride has decided to delay a decision on this matter until August.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dump the Pump (and a route?)

Today is the Third Annual National Dump the Pump Day, an effort to get people out of our cars and onto our bikes, feet, or public transit. Something tells me it might get a better reception this year than in years past when gas was a mere $2.50 a gallon.

It's also "Whack a Pump Day" at the Stinker station at 23rd and Main here in Boise, where from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today only (Thursday, June 19), people can take out their frustrations over high gas prices by wailing a baseball bat at a pump (or playing the Whack a Pump game online). Hmmm, OK, but those of us who already drive minimally just don't have that sort of rage! That Stinker Station also will offer a 10-cent discount on gas, as well as E85 fuel for $3.49 a gallon.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Statesman has a story today about how a dispute between Valley Regional Transit and the bus drivers' union may eliminate service on a stretch of the intercounty Route 42 on Overland Road near Five Mile. The larger issue seems to be whether Boise bus service - operated by unionized drivers - is suffering at the expense of beefed-up inter-county routes that Valley Ride subcontracts to a private, non-unionized company. There's a public hearing on the matter at 4 p.m. today at Boise City Hall. I don't think I can make it, so I'd welcome a firsthand report in the comments from anyone who can. Perhaps this dispute will help shine a light on the need for better funding sources for our sad little local transit system.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ridership way up

Valley Ride sent out a press release today on Dump the Pump Day, which is Thursday. More on that tomorrow. The real news gem - buried midway through the release - is this: During the first eight months (October 2007 through May 2008) of its current fiscal year, Valley Ride has seen:

• A 78 percent increase in riders on the Intercounty bus line from Nampa/Caldwell to Boise, compared to the same period last year.
• A 7.3 percent jump in Boise fixed-line ridership, compared to last year. When gas prices vaulted to more than $3.50 in April and kept climbing, Boise routes have seen an even higher jump in ridership. For example, the ParkCenter Route No. 1 has seen a 41 percent increase in ridership in April 2008, compared to April last year.
• A 4 percent bump in Nampa/Caldwell fixed-line ridership, compared to last year.

That's all great news. And there's more here:

Intercounty ridership hit an all-time high in April 2008 with 11,338 riders, compared to 5,904 in April 2007, a 92 percent hike in ridership on the most congested and heavily used transportation corridor in southwest Idaho. In the Boise area, 92,873 people rode the bus in April, compared to 77,785 in April 2007.

“It’s great to see more people using ValleyRide services across the valley, and we know that increased fuel prices has a lot to do with it,” said Kelli Fairless, executive director of Valley Regional Transit. “If people haven’t ridden the bus for a while, they should know that we have tweaked our route schedules to increase trip speed and make it more convenient to get to where they need to go.”

Bus travel will get even more convenient when Valley Ride moves to its fixed-stop system later this summer. Now if only we could eke out a few more hours of service in the evenings and more frequent service midday, there's no telling how many people might start riding the bus.

Denver gets on board with transit

I have been in Denver, where they are building light rail routes all over the place, for most of the past week. I didn't take advantage of the rail bonanza, but I did ride a city bus from my hinterlands hotel to downtown Denver (for $1.75 each way, as opposed to about $20 in a taxi). Once there, I took several hops on the shuttles that run every five minutes up and down the city's 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. You can read more about the shuttle and see some of the sights along or near its route at this website.

If you plan a Denver visit, be sure to hook up with Denver History Tours. I took what was technically a "Golddust and Traildust" tour on Sunday, but since there were only four of us along for the walk, our guide Shawn - who is both a historian and urban planner - seemed only too happy to oblige my many requests for info on Denver's evolving infill, urban redevelopment, and transit scenes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Statesman: Transit's time has come

The Idaho Statesman has the first of a four-part editorial series on gas prices in Idaho. Today's installment is headlined "Gas prices boost need for better Valley transit." A snip:

ValleyRide is a skeletal system now. Most of its buses operate once an hour - twice an hour during rush hours - Monday through Friday, with service ending by 7 p.m. A few Boise routes run Saturdays with even shorter hours and fewer runs. That's it.

If you work past 6 p.m. or so, or want to take an evening bus to a Downtown Boise restaurant, you're out of luck. If you're not willing or able to wait a half hour or more until the next bus comes, you're out of luck. If you don't live near one of the area's few bus lines, you're out of luck.

Critics look at the mostly empty buses that run on ValleyRide's city rides and ask: Why should we pour even more public money into it?

Because if we build it right, riders will come. The experiences of Salt Lake City and Denver prove that. The surge in ValleyRide's intercounty service proves the local need.

Read it all here. It'll be interesting to see whether the 2009 legislature heeds this call. Gas prices were on the rise during last winter's session, but not like they are now. Will $4 a gallon, or maybe $5, be the point at which our lawmakers finally, beleatedly acknowledge reality and give us a shot at building more robust bus choices?

Bear this in mind, too, when you cast your votes in November: Which state legislature candidates have pledged to work for better transit, and which stand in the way of that goal?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Let's stimulate transit

Transit played a central role in Boise Mayor Dave Bieter's State of the City speech on Tuesday. Bieter both reiterated plans for a steel-rail streetcar system in and near the downtown core and support for local option authority. The Idaho Statesman has coverage here and an editorial here.

As for Bieter's local-option hopes, we're all thinking, "Yeah, good luck with that." But then I heard this commentary on the public radio show Marketplace today, in which Robert Reich, the former Treasury Secretary, suggested that - although public transit's moment has arrived - our local transit systems are woefully inadequate; they're facing the same soaring fuel costs that have sent people scurrying onto transit; and they're also facing funding shortfalls due to dwindling sales tax revenues. So why not include transit expansion and modernization funds in the next national stimulus package?

It's a great idea, and it would mesh well with other stimulus ideas that would help create green jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. Transit will never pay for itself. It's time to give it the federal support it deserves.

Friday, May 30, 2008

High gas prices = more bus routes?

There's a story on the Statesman website saying that they're "looking into adding more rural and express routes" to accommodate demand.

But - not in Boise. In Pocatello (population 51,466). And a run between Montpelier (population 2498) and Bear Lake.

It's reasonable to assume there would be a similar increase in demand in the Boise metro area. In fact, ridership on the Caldwell-Boise bus is up 40 percent, mostly as a result of spiraling fuel prices. But there's no funding for more routes in this area, and the "visionaries" (/sarcasm) in the Idaho Legislature - at least last year's model - were unwilling to provide more latitude.

It would be interesting to know how they fund their transit in Pocatello. I'm confident it's not 100% funded by the ridership; public transit doesn't work that way anywhere, far as I know.

Maybe $4 gas has even the people in Kuna and Eagle and Meridian and Star weighing their transportation options, and coming to a realization that there aren't many. And maybe they'll ask their elected "representatives" for some leadership in the next session. One can only hope.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Talk transit this Thursday (5/22)

From the news release files:

A second open house for three related public transit projects will be held this Thursday (May 22) from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 802 W. Idaho Street in downtown Boise .

The open house will be a final opportunity for public comments on the location of a multimodal transportation center in downtown Boise. Valley Regional Transit (VRT) and the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) will recommend a location in early June.

The multimodal center will connect various transportation modes and services. It will be the first of a network of facilities around the Valley. Construction is expected to begin in late 2009 or early 2010.

At the open house, the public will also review preliminary considerations for two other related projects:

Downtown circulator: A transit service that will connect primary destinations in the downtown Boise area.

I-84 priority corridor: A plan for high-capacity transit service for locations along Interstate 84 within Ada and Canyon counties.

The interrelated projects are bundled together as the Treasure Valley High Capacity Transit Study. The first open house for the study was held in January 2008. Approximately 500 people attended.

VRT and COMPASS are conducting the study in partnership with Ada County Highway District, Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, Capital City Development Corp., City of Boise , Downtown Business Association and Idaho Transportation Department.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It's May in Motion

May in Motion seems pretty low key this year compared to a few years back. (Remember the free Friday bus rides once upon a time?) Still, there are signs that Treasure Valley residents are at least thinking about going mobile without their cars and trucks.

First of all, Friday, May 16, is National Bike/Walk to Work Day, the fabulous finish to Boise Bike Week. Bike Boy has been chronicling the week's events - and the joy of year-round biking to work - at his blog right here.

Also, this weekend is the first-ever Idaho Green Expo, which will feature exhibits and seminars on transportation alternatives, among many other topics.

I'll also be interested to hear from Valley Ride whether bus ridership is up in recent months. It sure seems to be.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ready for $4-a-gallon gas?

These cities are, largely due to their high density, walkable housing patterns and excellent public transit:

1. San Francisco
2. New York
3. Chicago
4. Washington, DC
5. Seattle
6. Portland, OR
7. Boston
8. Philadelphia
9. Oakland

The list was offered last night at a workshop on "Visualizing Density," sponsored by COMPASS. Click here for more on the presentation on why "density" doesn't need to be a dirty word.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The 'Pearl' of Boise?

A "back to the future" program on Boise's former trolley system closed out the 2007-2008 Fettuccine Forum series last week, as historian Barbara Perry Bauer took a packed Rose Room crowd on a ride with the city's electric streetcar systems of yore.

After the presentation, about 20 of us took a tour retracing some of those old routes and a possible new one. Led by Boise City Council member Elaine Clegg and Boise State history prof Todd Shallat, we saw firsthand how trolleys were largely responsible for the development of Boise's coolest neighborhoods, including the North and East ends, and how a new wave of trolleys could boost redevelopment in Boise's West End.

Tentative plans call for one streetcar line to run east-west roughly from St. Luke's on the east side of downtown out to the Boise River at about 30th Street, and another to run north-south from the Capitol to Boise State, and perhaps the Boise Depot. Planners believe that areas along the route - especially in the seriously underdeveloped Main Street corridor west of downtown - could someday resemble what has happened, in part because of trolley service, in Portland's Pearl District and Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. Of course, funding remains cloudy given the legislature's unwillingness to allow local communities to support transit improvements.

But it's good to hold this vision. As the trolley made its way through the Linen District, it seemed very much in place amid the throngs that were moving to and from First Thursday activities at the Modern Hotel, as well as couples and families simply out for a stroll on a fine spring evening. If this is happening at 15th Street, why can't it move westward, block by block, until the whole West End is lined with walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly housing, businesses, entertainment venues, and more?

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Friday, May 2 - Boise's No Pants Day!

Update by Julie: Now there is coverage of No Pants Day in the Idaho Statesman and Boise Weekly. But remember: You read it here first! (Thanks, Bikeboy.)

Bulletin! Bulletin! Bulletin!

Just in case you missed it - news like this gets covered up by the nonchalant media - this Friday is Boise's 1st Annual No Pants Day!

You may be asking yourself, "So, what does no pants have to do with buses in Boise?"

Good question... I'm still kinda asking that same thing myself.

But the fact remains, according to the Boise No Pants Day Website, the occasion "was conceived during a recent forum regarding the dismal state of Mass Transit in the Treasure Valley."

So, you're being encouraged to leave your pants behind this Friday... AND ride the bus. "Usually this means wearing thick, appropriately modest boxer shorts, but bloomers, slips, briefs, and boxer-briefs all work as well."

Dress as you normally would, but without pants. And if somebody asks, tell 'em, "It's NO PANTS DAY, Silly!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Of CHOO-CHOOS and such

["Guest" post by bikeboy]

There's an interesting article on SLC's Deseret News website today.

"Trains packed as Utahns check out FrontRunner"

The TRAX commuter light rail just started running from Ogden to Salt Lake City.

For those not familiar with the geography, Ogden is north of SLC, and the distance is comparable to Middleton or Caldwell from downtown Boise. And another comparison can be made - most of the traffic runs along a corridor, in their case north-south along the Wasatch mountain range, in our case east-west along the man-made I-84 or Highway 44.

The "premium monthly fare" is $145, which includes the train service and the bus at both ends to deliver riders to their final destinations.

They expect 5900 riders to use it every day, and anticipate the number to climb to 12,900 by 2020.

The TRAX cars have power outlets and wi-fi... pretty sweet, huh? Which would you rather do, sit in traffic for an hour each morning and afternoon, or get work done (or whatever, on the web) while somebody else gets you there? Would you rather buy $145 of gas, parking, etc., or pay it for commuter service?

Is the Treasure Valley ready for something similar?

Could some of those poor pathetic slobs who inch onto I-84 at Garrity every morning, and inch home in the afternoon, be coaxed out of their cars?

The Canyon County ValleyRide buses are packed, from what I understand. What if those buses, and additional buses, could run back and forth along what is currently the railroad corridor, independent from SOV traffic?

Would a light-rail system have enough support to be feasible?

One of the perceived obstacles is the fact that the Boise Depot would serve as a hub for people fanning out to downtown and other ultimate destinations. That could be inconvenient and inefficient, since it would force the vast majority of commuters to take a bus ride after the train ride.

What if I were to point out an alternative, that would put the hub just a couple blocks from downtown?

The old-timers will remember when a railroad spur used to go through downtown, a block or two south of Main Street. From there it went eastward, along the north side of the Boise River. Back in the day, it used to serve the lumber mills and other business out that way.

Most of that corridor is still there.

Granted, it's currently being used as bicycle/pedestrian path. And those people would have to be accommodated if any major change were undertaken.

If you want a picture of what I'm talking about... and if you have GoogleEarth... click on this link. It will show you EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

(The spur leaves the main line near Franklin and Hartman. From there it goes diagonally northeast, crossing Curtis near West Jr. High, Emerald, Orchard near the Syringa Bank, and running parallel to Garden Street and the "Connector.")

I'm not advocating for this. I have no idea if there would be popular support; it wouldn't be much use to me. I would oppose any threat to the bike path - I ride my bicycle up that "Garden Street" stretch five days a week. My only intention is to get people thinking about alternatives to their $3.50 gas in their pollution-spewing single-occupant vehicles.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A day in transit

I spent Friday in transit from Hartford, Connecticut - where I'd been on business all week - home to Boise. The smoothest part of my trip was the 11-mile ride from downtown to Bradley Airport, which cost $1.25 on the local public transit system's Bradley Flyer.

Out at BDL, I learned that my 11 a.m. United flight had been delayed an hour-and-a-half. After we boarded at 12:30, the plane couldn't move because Air Force One was in the 'hood and Bush apparently had to get off the airfield for his Connecticut visit before any planes could take off.

Once we got to go-ahead to move, we taxied a long time, then finally came to a halt right next to the West Virginia Air Guard cargo plane that had apparently hauled Bush's limo and what have you to New England. The pilot powered down the engines. It turned out that thunderstorms in the Midwest had forced a ground stop of inbound aircraft to Chicago, so we needed to wait some more. The United crew opened the doors to let some air in - and to let people gawk at the giant gray plane nearby. A half-hour or so later, we were able to taxi and take off.

We finally arrived at ORD about 3 p.m., about 15 minutes after my flight to Denver was supposed to leave. My voice mail had a message that I'd been re-booked onto a later, direct flight to Boise. But on the concourse at O'Hare, I realized the flight to Denver had been delayed, too, and I boarded it with a few minutes to spare - then sat for more than an hour while that flight was delayed taking off. But it was still a good decision: Once we landed in Denver, I had another voice mail message alerting me that the later Chicago-Boise flight had been canceled and I'd been re-booked onto a flight the next morning. (No word on whether they were offering a hotel voucher as well.) Little did United know I'd already made it to Denver, with just minutes left to spare to make the plane to Boise. With no time between flights, I'd had exactly one packet of pretzels, one can of ginger ale, and no bathroom breaks in the 10 hours since boarding the plane in Hartford.

The last flight to Boise went off without a hitch, and somehow - despite the day's myriad shenanigans - we landed at BOI right on time. As the jet made its long, low descent over the still-snowclad Central Idaho Rockies then the greening Foothills to the east, I felt grateful to be home.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Depot Vision meeting Wednesday

Add this to the list of upcoming events of interest to transit fans:

On Wednesday (April 23), the City of Boise will hold a Depot Vision meeting to discuss future and potential uses of Boise's historic train depot. The meeting is set from 4 to 6 p.m. right at the Depot.

I live in the Depot Bench Neighborhood (albeit a mile from the old station, and far from the nearby neighbors who aren't thrilled by the idea of a light rail station in their back yard). Here's an email I just sent to my neighborhood association president:

I know that many of the neighbors near the Depot do not want it to become a transit stop, mainly because of parking and traffic concerns. I understand those concerns, but I continue to wonder whether - if we can ever manage to get light rail in the Treasure Valley - the Depot could still fill its historic mission by planners diverting parking

For example, perhaps a park-and-ride lot and/or garage could be built nearby on Vista, Rose Hill, or Federal Way, within easy walking distance of the Depot but away from the residential area. Most people could walk from there to the station, but a shuttle bus or trolley could help those who can't. Similarly, a designated shuttle bus or trolley could carry people from downtown and BSU to the Depot (though Valley Ride's Vista
route is already doing this; a trolley right to the Depot's door would
probably prove more attractive to reluctant transit riders).

Of course, there are many people already living within an easy walk or bike ride to the depot, and I continue to believe that our neighborhood is a natural for the sort of transit-oriented development that's been such a boon for cities like Portland and Dallas.

What do you think? Make your voice known this Wednesday.

P.S. Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Upcoming events include trolley tour

Here are a few upcoming events for people who'd like to see fewer cars and trucks (and more bikes, buses, and trolleys) on Treasure Valley roads:

On Wednesday, April 23, Donovan Rypkema of Place Economics in Washington, D.C., will speak about property rights in terms of American history, political philosophy, real estate economics, and fundamental fairness, including transportation and land use planning. The talk, titled "Property Rights and Public Values," is set for 6 p.m. in the Cinnabar Room at the Doubletree Riverside Hotel. RSVP by calling 855-2558, ext. 222.

On Friday, April 25, is the annual Bike Congress at Boise State University, featuring a look at "Roadways to Bikeways," the bicycle master plan from Ada County Highway District. Other presentations will include the Regional Long-Range Transportation Plan 2030 and the Downtown Boise Mobility Study; transportation features of the Boise Climate Protection Program; and a special visit by endurance athlete Rebecca Rusch, current world champion of 24-hour mountain bike racing. There's more info here.

The next day, April 26, the Boise Women's Bike Fitness Festival is set at Ann Morrison Park. Events will include a 21-mile round-trip group ride from Ann Morrison to the Idaho Velodrome and Cycling Park and a 6.5-mile ride that takes cyclists to Camel's Back Park. Click here for the details.

On Thursday, May 1, Barbara Perry Bauer will talk about the historic Interurban Streetcar system in the Treasure Valley. Doors open at 5:30 for this final 2007-2008 Fettuccine Forum event (with free appetizers; fettuccine is available for $5). Afterward (circa 7 p.m.), a trolley-bus tour will introduce riders to the current plan to rebuild the trolley system as a smart-growth development tool. The tour will include a discussion of trolleys past, present and future and will approximate one of the proposed future streetcar lines. Tickets for the tour are limited; call 333-8066 to see if any remain.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Beat the airport parking squeeze

There's a story in the Idaho Statesman today about the increasing pressure on parking and other facilities at the Boise Airport, where the passenger count has risen from 2.8 million a year in 2004 to 3.3 million now, and where we'll lose some federal support once we pass the 5-million mark. Here are three suggestions to help the airport maximize its current lot space and for us all to start thinking like the urban creatures that we are. (These are for Boiseans; out-of-towners can always ask to park at a friend's house in Boise, then follow these tips.)

1) Cheapest of all: Have a family member or a friend drop you off and/or pick you up.

2) Next cheapest (and heavily underutilized): Take Valley Ride. The #1 Park Center runs from downtown to the airport through southeast Boise from 5:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. The #3 Vista runs between downtown and the airport through the Central Bench from 6:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Lots of Boiseans live near - or can transfer to - one route or another. True, these hours won't accommodate all flights, but you can always use option 1 or 3 for your return trip if your plane gets in late. Best of all, it's a mere $1 fare on either of these routes, $2 if you need to transfer from another city bus line.

It's easy to maneuver a carry-on bag and/or backpack onto the bus, and what's a few blocks' walk with a roller bag to the bus stop when our weather is fine? And yeah, you may need to arrive early given our once-an-hour mid-day timetables on most routes, but with free wireless at BOI, you can get stuff done once you're there. Get more Valley Ride schedule info here.

3) Take a taxi. If you live 3 miles from the airport, this will run you about $22, including tip. If you're 5 miles out, it'd be about $32. If you're 10 miles away up in northwest Boise, you're getting up in the $50 range. Still, compare that to whatever you plan to spend on parking, with current airport garage rates at $9.75 a day ($7 for the shuttle lot; $7.75 for the long-term surface lot). If you're going away for more than two or three days, you may save money with a cab. You don't need to take the first cab in line at the airport, either; ask your favorite cab company about their "will-call" policy at the airport and airport discounts. IF you don't have a favorite cab company, try Boise City Taxi (my pick) or Orange Cab.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

So ... now what?

I've been holding my breath for today. The 2008 Idaho Legislature has left town. On one hand, lawmakers refused to give local option authority to Idaho communities. On the other hand, the Senate managed to kill the poison pill House Joint Resolution 4, which would have made it almost impossible to fund an effective regional transit system in the next few years.

So now what do we do? Many observers say that nothing will change next year, because the Republican House Leadership will still be in power, as will Gov. Butch Otter. Some have suggested that a ballot initiative may be one way to get local-option authority, but initiatives are expensive.

Simply put, if we are going to have change, it must start at the ballot box. There are dozens of reasons to defeat this man in November; transit may be at the top of the list. Although no Republican had the guts to take him on, three Democrats (Gilda Bothwell, Michelle Waddell, and Ed Wardwell want to try. Here's hoping the best of them wins in May, and that transit advocates will flock to the race to help boost that candidate's chances in the fall. (An aside: Who can tell me anything about these three candidates? Do they have transit cred?) Other Treasure Valley candidates have the opportunity to make this issue their own as well. The need - for better leadership and better transit - is especially acute in western Ada and Canyon counties.

A few months ago, no one was talking about writing local-option authority into the constitution. A statewide coalition had put forth a bill that was tough but fair. No matter what the composition of the legislature next year, let's hope lawmakers return to the Moving Idaho Forward concept and get this job done in 2009.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Something to smile about

This has been a pretty dismal couple of weeks for area public transportation advocates, as it has become obvious that the State has no intention of providing any funding for their capital city's public transportation system, OR giving citizens the opportunity to vote on taxing themselves.

"By golly, we don't need a bus system in [insert one: Declo, Cambridge, Dubois, Bonner's Ferry, Kamiah], so you shouldn't need one either!!!"

Maybe there will be more outcry in a year, when gas is $4.25 instead of $3.25, we've had another 100-or-so yellow-alert air quality days, and the roads - which they also failed to fund - are more busted up than they are now.

I got these cool photos via email. Obviously taken in places where public transportation is more ingrained as a part of the culture. I like 'em! I hope you do, too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

HJR4 barely passes Senate committee

Calling it a "poison pill" that would harm regional efforts to fund better public transit, state Sen. Curtis McKenzie voted against HJR4 in today's Senate State Affairs vote. Kudos to the Nampa Republican for standing up for his district. The measure did pass the committee 5-4, but it faces an uncertain future before the full Senate.

Another Republican had some truth serum in his OJ this morning too, even though he voted the wrong way. From the Idaho Statesman:

Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, supported the measure but said he thought a provision in the proposal to limit local option measures to November elections is aimed at assuring no such measure passes.

"That's the reason behind it, I have no doubt," he said.
(More here.)

HJR4 now goes to the full Senate, the last chance to stop it before it goes on the November ballot (where powerful GOP and big-business interests would ensure its passage with a simple majority vote). Now's the time to call or email your senator to urge a NO vote. Calls and emails to senators representing west Ada County or Canyon County are especially important.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Transit tidbits: HJR4 in limbo?

Here's a quick roundup of some recent transit-related news:

The Idaho Statesman had an excellent editorial in Sunday's paper on the perils of amending the constitution for local-option votes, as HJR4 would do. "Lawmakers say they are trying to break the deadlock over local taxing authority, and give Idaho voters a chance to settle the issue in November. Don't buy it. This doesn't really help local governments and local voters pay for their needs. To make matters worse, lawmakers have cynically co-opted the state Constitution in the name of political expediency." Read it all here.

Writing at the Idaho Conservation League's "Wild Idaho" blog, Sara Cohn added the only argument that the Statesman editorial strangely failed to mention. "One obvious problem with this amendment is that it doesn’t provide an avenue by which regional areas can address transportation problems. Traffic congestion and air pollution do not stop at city or county limits," she wrote.

Meanwhile, over at Eye on Boise, there were some hopeful signs today that the Senate may not be quite so gung-ho to pass what amounts to a poison-pill amendment for effective regional transit solutions.

I missed it while traveling last week, but state Rep. Scott Bedke penned a Statesman op-ed that telegraphed why he, Mike Moyle, Butch Otter, and others are so intent on sealing local option into the constitution: Ada-Canyon bashing. "It is extremely disappointing that a few local Treasure Valley interests have determined that meeting their particular transit needs are more important than addressing the broader needs of communities in 42 other counties throughout Idaho," he wrote. That's a laugh, since the legislature flat out refused to consider the Moving Idaho Forward proposal backed by a coalition from all over Idaho.

Finally, tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 26), Todd Litman of Victoria, B.C., will give a presentation called "Work Smarter, Not Harder, to Improve Transportation." It's set for 6 to 7:30 p.m.. in the North Star Room of the Doubletree Hotel-Riverside, 2900 Chinden Blvd. If you can, call ahead to 855-2558 (ext. 222) and let 'em know you are coming.

Friday, March 21, 2008

House passes local option amendment

On a 51-19 vote, the Idaho House today passed HJR4, the constitutional amendment designed to make it much harder for Idahoans to solve transit issues on a regional basis. The Senate will vote next week. It needs two-thirds to pass, then it would go on to need just a simple majority from November voters to become a very, very bad law.

Here's hoping the Senate can kill the bill before it goes that far. Given even a slight shift in the legislature next year, a more reasonable and regionally oriented local option bill could prevail next winter.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bike Nazi --> Bus Nazi

I've been grounded.

Due to a temporary medical condition, my doctor has ordered me off the bicycle for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. (Any longer, and I would've gotten a second opinion from Dr. Kervorkian!) I won't go into graphic detail... let's just say it involves the part of me that comes in contact with the bike saddle. (Ouch!)

So, for the first time in several years, I'm letting ValleyRide attend to my transportation needs.

I bought a 31-day "employee pass" - it cost me $32.

The "regular" pass costs $36, so I saved 4 bucks. Big wup. (I'll probably save a few bucks over paying $1-per-ride. Hopefully I won't have to decide how to continue, a month from now.)

Let me digress. My place of employment is surrounded by parking lots. If an employee chooses to drive to work alone every day, the company will subsidize $40 of the $60/month parking lot expense. But they'll only offer a $4 incentive to ride the bus for that same month. What's wrong with this picture? IMO, they should gladly pay the entire bus pass fee, for anybody who's willing to use it, and get a car off the road!

I ride the #4 Roosevelt bus. I walk .3 miles from my house to the bus stop. The bus comes by at 7:50. By 8, or shortly thereafter, I'm getting off in downtown Boise, for a 2-block walk to the office.

In the evening, I catch the bus at 5:15, and am walking the .3 miles home by 5:30. (Yesterday afternoon, as I rode in that dry, warm bus, looking out at a gloomy, rainy day, I've got to admit it was nice to be on the bus, instead of on my bike!)

Yep - the bus is pretty sweet. It enables me to retain my contempt for all those single-occupant-vehicle drivers out there. And it will let me preserve my track record - the last time I drove a car to work was September 1997. That will not change. (Even if my 2.5 year perfect bicycling record has been spoiled.)

But I can't help but wonder... why are 30-plus of the 36 seats on the bus empty? On my three rides so far, there have been 2-4 passengers. That, my friends, is a problem! And unfortunately, it's also a very valid argument for opponents of public transportation.

Could they improve ridership with better routes? (I can't imagine a better timetable - you'd think a bus arriving downtown at 8am should be packed!)

Or... are people so lazy and/or inflexible that they won't look at alternatives until gas is $4/gallon? Or $5, or $6? (Time will tell. You know it's just a matter of time. If people will pay $3, they'll likely pay $4.)

One criticism... as in many places, Boise's city buses have big windows, that should afford good views in every direction. But so far, the buses I've ridden have windows that are so "scummed up" that they don't afford much of a view. I don't know if it's dirt on the outside, or gunk on the inside, or scratches, or tint-film, or what. But how much more pleasant the ride would be, if somebody could Windex those windows from time to time!

Drive on!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rev & Tax strikes again

Transit and air quality are regional issues, but tell that to the House Rev & Tax Committee. Repeating yesterday's party-line vote, the panel has sent the ill-advised local option constitutional amendment to the full House, where it will require a two-thirds majority to pass.

It's time to call your representatives and senator and urge them to vote NO on the amendment, which will do nothing but create more delays and replace regional cooperation with every-county-for-itself dramedys of error. The Moving Idaho Forward plan is still on the table, and it deserves a hearing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's up to you, Canyon County

State Rep. Mike Moyle introduced his constitutional amendment on local taxation authority to the House Rev & Tax Committee today, and it sailed through the print hearing on a party-line vote, with all 13 Republicans for it and all five Democrats opposed.

Chairman Dennis Lake actually asked whether they needed to have a public hearing on the matter before putting it to a final vote.

Well, they do and they will. It's at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, Friday, March 14 in room 240 of the temporary Capitol in the old Ada County Courthouse.

If you live in Canyon County and want flexible, regional control over our transit future, please plan to be there. The Moyle amendment - if it passes the House and Senate by two-thirds and receives voter approval in November - would throttle local communities' ability to work together to pass local option legislation. For more background, see coverage of this week's amendment action at Eye on Boise, the Idaho Statesman, Paleomedia, and state Rep. Nicole LeFavour's Notes From the Floor.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crunch time against the amendment

State Rep. Mike Moyle is making good on his threat to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to authorize counties or cities to levy a sales and use tax. His bill goes before the House Rev & Tax Committee at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in Room 240 of the temporary capitol (former Ada County Courthouse).

So now's the time. If you live outside Boise - and especially if you live in the western Treasure Valley - contact your legislators (especially Reps. Gary Collins and Robert Schaefer of Nampa) to ask them to vote no on the local option constitutional amendment. Because the bill may get through committee, it's also important for everyone INCLUDING Boiseans to contact our own legislators and ask them to vote NO if the bill moves forward. Tell legislators you want them to support the Moving Idaho Forward bill instead.

Moving Idaho Forward is a better deal for Idaho. This legislation, crafted by a bipartisan coalition of statewide leaders, would allow local communities - urban and rural - the flexibility to decide whether to raise up to a penny of sales tax for better roads and/or public transit.

Like the constitutional amendment, it would require a two-thirds majority of voters to approve a local option tax. But unlike the amendment, it would allow more flexibility since neighboring counties could work together on road and transit funding and because a local option vote could be held in May or November, not just November.

Moyle's bill fails to recognize that the Treasure Valley already has a regional transit system, with its most popular routes crossing the county line. That's a big reason why the Valley Regional Transit board voted yesterday to oppose the amendment.

Think about it: If the amendment passes, November 2009 is the earliest we could have a local-option vote - and if it failed, we'd have to wait another full year before trying again. Urge your legislators to vote no on the amendment and pass Moving Idaho Forward instead. With our roads increasingly unsafe and our air quality nearing federal noncompliance, we can't afford to wait.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rush hour rally Tuesday in Nampa

Update: Here's coverage of the rally from the Idaho Press-Tribune.

The Idaho State Legislature is bending over backward to find ways to delay action on better public transit. (Their latest stalling tactic is trying to amend the Idaho Constitution to allow local option votes.)

Are you fed up? Then join us Tuesday afternoon (March 11) from 4:30 to 6 p.m. as we hold a Rush Hour Rally near the I-84 Garrity/Idaho Center exit in Nampa.

We'll gather on the sidewalks along Garrity Boulvevard near the new Nampa Gateway Center, where traffic is always backed up at rush hour. Bring signs that read something like:

No More Delay: We Need Solutions
End the Gridlock - Move Idaho Forward
Constitutional Amendment = More Delay
Rep. Schaefer: Act NOW for public transit
Rep. Collins: Act NOW for public transit
Smog & Delay Make Us Gag!

Nampa residents: Whether or not you can make this rally, please call or e-mail Reps. Gary Collins and Robert Schaefer (who sit on the House Rev & Tax Committee) to tell them that you OPPOSE the idea of changing Idaho's constitution. It only will mean more delays and more gridlock. Urge them to move Idaho forward. Caldwell residents can deliver the same message to Sen. John McGee, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Writing local option into the constitution

Boise-area leaders dislike the idea, but it looks like the House majority wants to amend the constitution to allow local-option funding for transit - and they now have Gov. Butch Otter's backing.

An amendment, which may come up within days, would require two-thirds approval in the House and the Senate and then passage by a simple majority of voters.

But citizens would have to go back to the polls - in November only - to vote again for local option, and in a multicounty area like the Treasure Valley, it would require two-thirds approval in each county. From the Idaho Statesman:

Requiring a county-by-county vote in regional elections could make passage too difficult, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said.

"Transit systems are almost always regional systems, and you ought to take it on regionally," he said.

The latest regional vote in the Treasure Valley was last May, when voters in Ada and Canyon counties agreed to tax themselves to support a planned community college. Seventy-one percent of Ada County voters approved the tax, but only 62 percent of Canyon County voters did. Voter turnout was light.

Many Treasure Valley lawmakers would prefer to put local-option authority in statute and not require two-thirds majorities in each county. A statute would require only the vote of a simple majority of legislators.

Read the whole story here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bus stops! What a concept!

One factor that's long stifled Treasure Valley transit use is the lack of bus stops. Oh, there are a few shelters here and there - but basically, Valley Regional Transit has been operating on a flag stop system by which you just hail the bus at any corner. It's pretty small time and definitely confusing to would-be riders.

But the flag-stop system is going away as of next Monday in Canyon County. Valley Regional Transit previewed the system last week in Caldwell. The Canyon County routes remain the same, but riders will now be asked to catch the bus at one of 136 bus stops: 81 in Nampa and 55 in Caldwell. The stops all have signs. Most have benches and some will have shelters as well.

According to a press release from Valley Regional Transit, the new bus stop locations were chosen according to safety, spacing between stops, locations where most people wanted to board the bus, and reducing impacts on traffic flow. “It took us months to examine all the details and factors to select the new bus stop locations,” executive director Kelli Fairless said. “Our staff put a lot of thought into it.”

At an event marking the transition, officials including Nampa Mayor Tom Dale, Caldwell Mayor Garrett Nancolas, and state Sen. John McGee (R-Caldwell) urged the Idaho Legislature to give local government authority to raise money for improved public transit systems through a local option sales tax. According to the VRT release, "Draft legislation in the Idaho Legislature has not made much progress in recent weeks, despite strong support among the business community, Canyon County elected officials, and pro-transit groups." Dale urged the legislature to give communities local control to see if voters would OK a small tax for improved transit service.

Valley Regional Transit says it expects to bring fixed bus stops to Ada County by midsummer. But since they've been talking about it for more than a year now, we'll just wait and see.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Statesman: Initiative may be best route to transit

The Idaho Statesman editorialized today that because the balky Idaho Legislature doesn't want to address local option taxing authority, citizens may need to take on the job ourselves.

Resistant and obstinate pretty much sums up the Legislature's sorry track record on local-option taxes. If the Legislature doesn't pass local-option legislation in the remaining weeks of the 2008 session, it is time for supporters to take their case to the people. They have a good case to make.

A voter-approved local sales tax can help communities address their looming transportation needs, in their own way. A Treasure Valley approach - one that combines roadwork with enhanced bus service and securing rights-of-way for commuter rail - might not work elsewhere. That's the inherent advantage of local-option taxes. This attribute seems lost on legislators who espouse support for local control, but balk at allowing local taxing authority

The paper doesn't like the idea of amending the state Constitution to allow local option, as some Republicans are pushing.

An amendment is a tough proposition, requiring two-thirds support both in the House and the Senate and voter approval in November.

An amendment might placate conservatives who would prefer to lock local-option language into the Constitution, but an amendment is clearly unnecessary in a state that already allows local taxing authority in limited circumstances.

If an amendment proves too narrow or unworkable, it would be cumbersome or impossible to repair.

But the newspaper admitted that there are problems with the initiative approach, too. Click here to read the whole editorial.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A new blueprint for Boise

The City of Boise is getting ready to update its 1997 comprehensive plan, a document that will include how to integrate better transit (and transit-oriented development)into the city's future. City officials want our opinion, and we'll be delivering it via cool keypad technology at two public meetings this week. From a city news release:

Boise residents are encouraged to help shape the City's future by attending one of two public meetings. The meetings will be Wednesday, February 27, at Ameritel Inn, 7499 W. Overland Rd., and Thursday, February 28, at the Holiday Inn, 3300 Vista Ave. Both meetings will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Residents are welcome to attend which ever meeting is most convenient."
Blueprint Boise is the City's future planning tool that will accommodate forecasted growth in a wise and sensible manner," said Tricia Nilsson, Comprehensive Planning Manager. "Obviously, citizen input is the key to successful planning. That's why its important residents attend one of our public meetings."

Participants will be able to view displays of future concepts and discuss planning options with City planners, and give their views on the types of development they prefer for Boise and their neighborhoods, as well as changes they'd like to see over the next 10-20 years.

"Participants will give input via an electronic polling process,"Nilsson said. "This information will be tabulated and will form the foundation that our planning process will be built. So, I can't stress enough how important public participation will be."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Transit update: no update

Sorry for the lack of posts lately! I wish I could report that the Idaho Legislature is getting ready to consider a bill offering communities the chance to fund local transit projects. But six weeks into the session, the House Rev & Tax Committee has yet to take up the issue.

Addressing a group of Ada County Democrats this week, state Rep. Nicole LeFavour said that Republican leadership continues to argue that the Idaho Constituion must be amended to allow local option taxation authority - a process that would require a two-thirds vote from the House and Senate to get on the ballot. So far, they've successfully used this stalling tactic to keep the local option issue off the legislature's radar - so it's up to citizens to help press the issue by contacting our legislators and letting them know we support the ability of people to vote on whether or not to fund local projects including transit and roads.

Of course, it's especially important for people who live outside of Boise to make this case, particularly to members of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee. So if you live in any of the Rev & Tax members' districts noted below, call or email them and encourage them to consider local option legislation before this session ends. Make it clear that you believe we do NOT need to amend the Idaho Constitution to grant communities this authority.

If you live in Boise, please do NOT write the legislators - but do all you can to help find friends and family members elsewhere in the state who will.

District 2

Representative Dick Harwood
81527 Hwy. 3 S., St. Maries, 83861
Home (208) 245-4446

District 3

Representative Jim Clark
8798 N. Clarkview Pl., Hayden Lake, 83835
Home (208) 772-5992 Bus (208) 772-5992 FAX (208) 772-7718

Representative Phil Hart
4430 E. Sarah Loop, Athol, 83801
Home (208) 683-0456 Bus (208) 772-2522

District 8

Representative Ken A. Roberts
12765 Hwy 55, Donnelly, 83615
Home (208)325-8351 Bus (208) 325-8351 FAX (208)325-8351

District 12

Representative Gary E. Collins
2019 E. Massachusetts, Nampa, 83686
Home (208) 466-5460 Bus (208) 466-4787

Representative Robert E. Schaefer
P.O. Box 55, Nampa, 83653
Home (208) 466-3636 Bus (208) 466-3636

District 14

Representative Mike Moyle
480 N. Plummer Rd., Star, 83669
Home (208) 286-7842 Bus (208) 286-7842

District 27

Representative Scott Bedke
P.O. Box 89, Oakley, 83346
Home (208) 862-3619 FAX (208) 862-3688

District 34

Representative Dell Raybould
3215 N. 2000 W., Rexburg, 83440
Home (208) 356-6837 Bus (208) 356-6837

District 35

Representative JoAn Wood
3778 E. 500 N., Rigby, 83442
Home (208) 745-7846 FAX (208) 745-8420

Representative Lenore Barrett
(208) 879-2797

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Now here's dedication ...

With Barack Obama coming to Boise this Saturday (hopefully on a bus line venue!), campaign supporter Mike Armand explains to KTVB how he takes THREE buses to get to Obama's headquarters on the Bench. Watch the video.

The Ada County Democratic Caucuses are next Tuesday, February 5, at Qwest Arena. Doors open at 5 p.m., and the caucus starts at 7. Outstanding support for better public transit is one of many reasons I will be standing up for Obama at the caucus.

Update: Obama's Stand for Change Rally is Saturday morning (February 2) at the Taco Bell Arena at BSU. Doors open at 7 a.m., way before the Saturday buses start running. So plan to carpool!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Car-free living in sprawl valley?

Two items in yesterday's Idaho Statesman caught my eye. One was a blurb for the Idaho Earth Institute's program this Friday night on car-free living. The event - slated at Wright Congregational Church, 4821 W Franklin Road - starts with a potluck at 6:30 followed by a 7 p.m. presentation based on the books Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord and How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Ballish.

I'll be there. I plan to drive my car. My friend Jonna Moore tells me that several people will be riding their bikes - in the dark, in the snow - to attend, and I say good on 'em, but that's not an option for most of us mere mortals.

The problem with the concept of car-free living in Boise was ably pointed out in an op-ed - also in yesterday's paper - by Martin Johncox. He wrote:

While I support local-option taxation and transit, there's been little discussion if cities have been preparing their built environment to support transit. ... Transit lacks point-to-point flexibility. To make up for that, people must bridge, on foot or bike, the distance between the transit stop and their destination. To get people to do this, you must build a human-scaled environment, where buildings come right to the sidewalk; things are stacked on top of each other to conserve distance; and homes, offices, shopping centers, schools and other destinations are directly connected with sidewalks. ...

But we've built just the opposite in the past 50 years. Giant parking lots, absent of sidewalks, encourage people to drive from one parking lot to the next; subdivisions are fenced from each other and neighboring shopping centers; and very long blocks and cul-de-sacs lengthen pedestrian trips. ...

To be fair, it's been less than 15 years since Boise and other cities awoke to the need to build for transit. ... Yet in those past 15 years there's been precious little progress toward enforcing transit-friendly development.

He's right, of course. People who live in or near downtown Boise can probably make do without cars, but there's almost nowhere else in the valley where that's the case. That's especially true if you have children active in sports or music, or if you like to go out at night, or if you want to go to church on Sunday, or if you simply don't feel safe bicycling or walking in the winter or after dark (or both).

We can do better. We can build developments - not just in downtown but in nearby neighborhoods, as well as in the center of other Treasure Valley towns - that are close to schools, stores, workplaces, and entertainment venues. We can extend bus hours into the evenings and offer Sunday service so people could get around at night, as well as ride the bus seven days a week. If these changes happen, people will use transit more, and there will eventually be an increased appetite for housing close to transit.

For now, let's not worry so much about going car-free as much as reducing our dependency on vehicles. I've drastically cut my driving and I'd someday love to live car-free, but I don't see it happening in Boise: not while I have a daughter in school, not while the buses won't run when and where I need them to run.

Mega transit thread at the Guardian

As Dave noted in the comments for a previous post, there was a lively conversation on transit topics at his Boise Guardian blog last week. Check it out when you have some time to read the 50+ comments.

'The quarter cent was huge'

Last week, I wrote, quoting a Dan Popkey column:

that Rep. Bob Schaefer "might support a tax that's capped at 0.25 percent." (That's awfully low, if the money would be used to fund both highway projects and transit. If people want to vote for half a cent, why can't we?)

Well, I'm just back from the City Club of Boise transit forum, where Lane Beattie of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce explained how the SLC business community rallied folks to pass - by a two-thirds majority, "in arguably the West's most conservative state" - a proposal that raised taxes by a quarter-cent to help fund improved roads and a transit system that has far surpassed ridership expectations. "The quarter cent was huge," Beattie said, in giving the Utah Transit Authority a sustainable funding source and bonding ability for improvements and maintenance. It's worth noting here that Beattie is a conservative Republican who slashed taxes as president of the Utah Senate.

Before the vote even took place, transit backers had to convince a governor who said he'd never allow a special session on transit funding to do exactly that. Beattie noted that, in many cases, proponents had to sit down one-on-one with tax-averse lawmakers to make the case that good transit is good for business, and that the cost of waiting would be more than the state could bear. For rural lawmakers, Salt Lake transit supporters urged a big-picture, statewide view, noting that "if you get gridlock in Davis County, you stop economic development in Moab." And yes, they said candidly: "Light rail doesn't pay for itself. That's true, but neither do highways."

Granted, Salt Lakers have some things going for them that we don't, namely a metro population nearly four times our size and development patterns that - so far - have been very linear along the Wasatch Front. Also, a quarter-cent tax increase no doubt buys a lot more in a region that attracts big tourism, including Japanese visitors who spend as much as $600 a day to ski and ride "the greatest snow on Earth."

"I can't tell you whether (transit) is needed in your community," Beattie said. But if it is, he added, he urged the business community to take the lead in making the case that gridlock and poor air quality are bad for businesss - and that, as the Utah ad campaign noted, when it comes to committing to adequate transit funding, "the longer we wait ... the longer we wait."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Transit is focus at City Club

The City Club of Boise will focus on public transit at its meeting this Thursday (January 24). Kelli Fairless of Valley Regional Transit and Lane Beattie of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce will keynote a panel titled "Public Transit: First Horses, Then Cars - What Now?" Here's a description from the City Club website:

City planners from Portland to Denver favor public transportation for its economic and air-quality benefits, but they hit roadblocks convincing Westerners to leave their cars. What will it take for Idahoans to embrace buses and trains? Will politicians ever raise taxes to pay for them? Salt Lake City overcame similar obstacles and now boasts one of the nation’s best public transit systems. Learn how it happened from developer Lane Beattie, initially a skeptic and now a leading advocate. Then hear an update on Treasure Valley transit by Kelli Fairless.

The session is set from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at The Grove Hotel, or you can catch it on BSU Radio after the fact. The cost to attend in person is $14 for members, $19 for non-members, or $5 without lunch. Reserve a seat through the City Club website.

Update: I just read about another public forum that will include transit among its topics. "Emerging Issues in a Growing Idaho" is set for 1:30 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, January 30, in the Hoff Building's Crystal Ballroom. Cost is $10 for sponsors or $20 for non-sponsors. For more info or to reserve a seat, email

Monday, January 14, 2008

Transit open house Jan. 17

Bikeboy already wrote about this last week, but don't miss the open house set for 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. this Thursday (January 17) to have a look at plans for a multi-modal center in downtown Boise. The project would include a downtown circulator and regional high-capacity transit for the Treasure Valley.

In other transit news, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey is bullish on the chances of local option authority legislation passing this year. Unfortunately, Rep. Mike Moyle wants to delay action for another year by requiring a constitutional amendment, and Rep. Bob Schaefer "might support a tax that's capped at 0.25 percent." (That's awfully low, if the money would be used to fund both highway projects and transit. If people want to vote for half a cent, why can't we?)

Meanwhile, did anyone else notice that Nampa Mayor Tom Dale failed to mention transit in his op-ed in Sunday's paper? At least Sen. David Langhorst made a solid case for local option. Not only that, several recent letter writers have bemoaned the lack of local bus service and sung the praises of excellent transit available in other cities.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Massive multi-modal transit center for Boise?

[Guest post by bikeboy]

There was an interesting story on KTVB's news yesterday - "Public transit plan now ready for public review." (Click here to read the online version.)

I expected it to be reporting progress in improving transportation modes - a new bus grid proposal, or more service between Boise and the outlying areas.

But no!

It appears to be a big downtown hub facility that is envisioned by the Capital City Development Corporation.

Big - and estimated to cost $78 million.

Now, I'm just an interested outside observer, and no expert. (I'm probably interested enough to go take a look at their Open House - Thursday 1/17 from 10am to 7pm at 213 N. 9th Street.)

But my initial reactions are:

- The CCDC's focus and perspective is on downtown Boise, and so that's where their interest lies. And a big, attractive downtown facility would certainly enhance downtown, to some degree.

- If we've got $78 million available for improved transportation in the area, is the best use of that money to build a big fancy downtown hub? How about pumping it into the bus SYSTEM first? How about more routes, or more buses running those routes? How about evening or Sunday service? How about we get buses transporting more people (downtown and elsewhere), and let the improved ridership justify the need for the hub center? Rather than assuming, "If we build it, they will come..."

"Transit Center of Dreams."

In any case, go see their open house, and make your opinions heard!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Commuter-in-chief let us down

In his State of the State message yesterday, Gov. Butch Otter expressed his support for local-option legislation that would allow voters to subsidize road improvements - but he didn't say anything about transit.

Was it merely a sin of omission? Reports in the Statesman today indicated that may be the case. But that's curious, given Otter's admission last year that the area has a transit problem and his statement that he would sign a local-option bill aimed only at transit.

What will it be, governor? Are you going to lead on this issue, or not?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Too late for resolutions?

Naaaah! It's never too late to resolve to drive less and use transit more. If you intend to drive less in 2008, please post your resolution in the comments.

Mine is short and sweet: I will live car-free at least 100 days in 2008. Every three or four days (at least!), I will either walk, take the bus, or bike to get wherever I need to go. That's probably pretty close to what I managed in 2007, but this year, I want to make it official.

If that seems too drastic to you, consider leaving your car at home one day a week - or even one day a MONTH. Every little bit helps - but the more you can do, the better

Legislature begins - transit chances murky

The Idaho Legislature will open its 2008 session this week. Transportation is widely seen as one of the top issues, but many lawmakers seem fixated more on widening roads and building new highways than on any meaningful reform to the Treasure Valley's mediocre public transit system. Today's Idaho Statesman includes several articles that highlight the difficulty transit advocates will face in getting the legislature to act on long-overdue improvements.

Some area lawmakers have seen the light. In an op-ed in today's Statesman, Rep. Darrell Bolz (R-Caldwell) wrote, "Tied to the improvement of I-84 has to be better public transportation." But Bolz doesn't sit on the House Rev & Tax Committee, which was responsible for trashing last year's local-option bill to fund public transit. Rep. Gary Collins (R-Nampa), co-chair of that panel, told the Statesman he's still not sold on local option, even though the legislation proposed for 2008 now includes the ability for local governments to ask voters to approve a local-option sales tax not just for transit, but for highways, too. Even John McGee (R-Nampa), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and a supporter of better transit, told the newspaper he hasn't seen "many people warming up to the idea."

But the biggest hurdle may be overcoming a sentiment voiced by Rep. Max Black, one of the few remaining Boise Republicans, who told the newspaper that "We just plain don't have the population base to prevent (mass transit) from being a subsidy." The fact is, mass transit is heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars all across the United States - but then so are our military, police and fire protection, schools, libraries, and ... oh yes ... roads.

We're caught in the same Catch-22 we were last session. Lawmakers complain about empty buses, but they are unwilling to let voters decide on a small tax increase that would vastly improve bus service and help transit become a more workable option for Treasure Valley residents. They also conveniently ignore the very popular intercounty services that are helping to show that there's a market for people who want to ditch their cars and take the bus - or better yet, light rail - to their far-flung jobs.

Update 1/08/08 - John Miller of the Associated Press is reporting that "tax-hawk Republicans suggested they would only allow the (local option taxation) measure past the House Revenue and Taxation Committee if it was first put to a statewide vote next November as a constitutional amendment. That raises the stakes considerably, since the measure would require two-thirds House and Senate approval to get on the ballot."

I'll stick with what I wrote yesterday: Transit supporters need to make the case that quality transit fits in the same box with other subsidized amenities that most urban areas take for granted. Even tax-averse Republicans admit that we need to use tax dollars for police, fire, and roads. Why not transit - especially when transit would help alleviate so many other pressing issues, including air quality and congested roads.

The other point that must remain clear: Quality public transit is a key factor that companies consider when deciding whether to relocate a business. If lawmakers are serious about keeping Idaho competitive for business, they will pass the local-option bill for transportation needs, and they will do it this session.