The best bus ever

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

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?

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