The best bus ever

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

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.