ID: ACHD Scraps Buffered Bike Lanes

June 05--Rebecca Arnold and Mitchell Jaurena said Downtown Boise needs better bike lanes than the ones the Ada County Highway District installed last month.

The two district commissioners, who voted Wednesday to remove the buffered lanes on Downtown stretches of Capitol Boulevard, Main Street and Idaho Street, say they favor more bike lanes. But perceived problems caused by the trial lanes -- traffic congestion, unsafe design, inconvenience for motorists -- were enough for them to kill the experiment.

Rejecting pleas from Boise City Council members, Arnold and Jaurena voted against Commissioner Jim Hansen's motion keep the bike lanes until at least August, when the district plans to begin resurfacing Downtown Boise streets. Chairman John Franden sided with Hansen. The tie killed Hansen's motion and the bike lanes.

Before the district installed the lanes, the city of Boise asked commissioners to spend more time educating cyclists and motorists, and then make the project permanent. The district rejected that idea, citing the flexibility of a trial period that would last a month or more.

On Wednesday, council members Maryanne Jordan, David Eberle and Ben Quintana asked the commission to leave the bike lanes in place. Instead, the district said it will form a stakeholder group to study better ways to move cars, bikes and pedestrians through Downtown.

Crews will begin returning the stretches of Capitol, Main and Idaho to the way they were before the lanes were added. The lanes' buffers -- flexible poles on the lanes' outer edges and a row of parking spaces between the bike and traffic lanes -- will be removed. So will green rectangles painted on the pavement to mark bicycles' stopping points at intersections.

ACHD Director Bruce Wong recommended removing the lanes, then using the next two months to find a new plan through the group of stakeholders. Though the lanes increased Downtown traffic congestion, Wong said, the district's staff concluded that replacing one car lane with a bike lane on Capitol, Main and Idaho had not caused gridlock, as some had feared.

In fact, car traffic decreased and bike traffic increased on those roads, though some of that could be a result of better bike-riding weather. Wong said no crashes had occurred because of the lanes.

But he pointed out several problems, including maintenance and cleaning needs, delays for public transportation, a coming series of construction projects that could further complicate traffic, and overall confusion about how to use the lanes. The number of cyclists on sidewalks adjacent to the lanes also increased, though highway district staffers aren't sure why.

Eberle said most of the complaints are related to cyclist and motorist behavior, which can be adjusted through education. He also brought up the issue of climate change, saying the city and district share some responsibility for helping reduce car emissions.

Jordan asked the commission to tweak the lanes, not throw them out.

"My fear is that once we remove (the bike lanes), putting them back will be even harder than this is," Jordan said.

Proponents believe that the lanes make cycling safer. They agree with Eberle and Jordan that the highway district's trial period wasn't long enough for cyclists and drivers to get used to them and see their benefits.

More than 20 people spoke at Wednesday's hearing. Most agreed that something needs to be done to make bike traffic safer in Downtown Boise and were in favor of some form of the bike lanes.

A few commenters said cyclists shouldn't be on the busiest roads. They said other, less congested roads a few blocks away would be better. Rhonda Jalbert of Valley Regional Transit, the Boise area's public transportation authority, asked for an end to the lanes until there's a better way to resolve conflicts between the lanes and ValleyRide buses.

Almost everyone agreed cyclists need to stop riding on sidewalks because it's dangerous to pedestrians. Some bike lane supporters said cyclists will leave the sidewalks when they feel safe in the street.

Jordan said she and the rest of the council would consider a law to ban riding bikes on sidewalks where bike lanes are present.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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