Cars or no? City, St. Luke’s work to find solution to Bannock design

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 The City of Boise and St. Luke's are trying to decide the future of a current plaza through the Health System's Downtown Boise campus. Don Day/
The City of Boise and St. Luke’s are trying to decide the future of a current plaza through the Health System’s Downtown Boise campus. Don Day/

Don Day

St. Luke’s Health System and the City of Boise continued to tangle over the future of Bannock Street through the downtown Boise hospital campus.

During a three-day process designed to resolve conflicts and map out solutions, the two sides worked to build consensus on a wide array of issues regarding the upcoming revamp of the downtown hospital.

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The two sides were joined by members of the community – including East End neighbors, an official with CCDC, a high school student and commuters. 

During the sessions, St. Luke’s and City of Boise officials were able to find common ground on many design issues during the sessions – but conflict arose several times during a Thursday session attended by BoiseDev about the idea of allowing vehicles to again travel on Bannock St. as they did before 2004 when a single block of the street near 1st St. was closed to cars.

EARLIER: After mayor’s disappointment in Bannock St. plan, City & St. Luke’s make deal to put off changes

In the spring of 2016, the City of Boise agreed to allow for the closure of nearby Jefferson St., after hearing hours of testimony over several days from folks both in favor of and opposed to the closure.  The hospital says it needed to close Jefferson to facilitate a large expansion project – but many neighbors in the East End complained it would cut off the only east-west access route through the entirety of Downtown.

 Bannock St. between MSTI and the
Bannock St. between MSTI and the “Main Hospital” is current closed to all but pedestrians and cyclists. City officials want to see it opened to include vehicle traffic.

As a compromise of sorts, Boise City Council required St. Luke’s to give it an easement down Bannock, which is currently closed to traffic.  How that new crossing will function in the future hasn’t yet been determined – which is leading to the current conflict.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter strongly advocated for opening up the street to not just bikes – but cars.  His central argument is  limited vehicle use would boost the safety of cyclists on the street.

“I ride this all the time and I have to get off and walk it because no one is cued to a bicycle,” he said. 

City council member Elaine Clegg agreed.

“If people know that a car may be there, they will treat that space differently,” she said. “I think the pro of having vehicles allowed changes the perception of the space and makes everyone more careful.”

The mayor also noted that putting together a plan that gives cars access to Bannock would help with public perception after the contentious public testimony last year that led to the approval of closing Jefferson.

 Stakeholders tour the Bannock St. plaza. Photo courtesy St. Luke's Health System
Stakeholders tour the Bannock St. plaza. Photo courtesy St. Luke’s Health System

“It’s kind of a moral victory to losing Jefferson,” he said. “We have to get a majority of council members (to approve the plan) — and I think this is a big deal towards doing that.”

Bieter says he thinks his constituents want to see a way through the campus with the pending closure of Jefferson.

“After all the hours of public testimony and outreach and discussion, the only thing that… threw a bone to people… was the ability to go through this (with cars).”

Peter Lawley with TDG General Contractors, who was hired by St. Luke’s to facilitate the discussion – asked if there was a way to get that goodwill without allowing cars to travel the stretch.

 “If we designed it in such a way that we got a lot of community goodwill but didn’t open it up for traffic – does that get you enough goodwill to be able to go back to the community to get that goodwill? Does that get us enough goodwill that we can let go of the car thing?”

“I don’t think it does,” Bieter said. “I do believe that you get a better bicycle experience when you allow (cars).”

City officials said that areas like the Basque Block and 8th Street between Main and Bannock show that allowing minimal traffic can lead to a vibrant area with mixed-use.

“I completely appreciate the Basque Block and 8th street and it’s vibrant and you go have dinner there,” St. Luke’s West Region CEO Kathy Moore said. “I guess the question is, is that what you want for your hospital stay? What we see here on campus (along Bannock)  is people who are struggling and who are facing end of life situations. They are wanting that opportunity to sit and to reflect. ”

Moore said she thinks that the community puts as much emphasis on traffic through campus as the ability to have a calm place.

“I struggle with this comparison to the commercial district. People have an expectation of safety when they come on our campus and they need to be safe when they do so,” she said.

“With all due respect,” Bieter said, “I’m not calling it the same as the Basque Block and 8th Street. “It didn’t freak people out to come to St. Luke’s in 2004 – it was just twelve years ago. They didn’t feel mortal danger twelve years ago.”

Bieter and Clegg pointed to a new green space that will be created on Jefferson when that street is closed as an area where those types of activities could take place.

“I think it’s unfortunate to limit park space to one place,” Moore said.

“You’re taking out a street though,” the mayor said pointedly. “You’re taking out a whole public right way on Jefferson when that street is closed – and it’s an area where those types of activities could take place.”

St. Luke’s officials pointed to the location of Bannock on the campus – with employees, patients and others using the current plaza to move between the main building and the south tower which would create new car/pedestrian conflicts if the stretch were opened up.

Bieter thinks all the goals can be accomplished.

“I think we can do both,” he said. “It’s not Jefferson. It’s not going to be like Jefferson in the way that it is now. I think you serve both better. ”

Clegg advocated in favor of opening the street to cars – and then gauging the impact.

“Let’s design it to allow cars, to let them use it,” she said. “If it’s proven that the cars are such a danger… we’ll cut em off!”

Bieter closed on a conciliatory tone and noted that the two sides made lots of progress, even though there was no agreement on the vehicle issue.

“It’s a big big deal to do this today, and we appreciate it.”

Moore also noted she found value in the dialogue.

“It really is St. Lukes’ desire to be a good neighbor. I think we’ve come to a good spot today.  We don’t have to agree on everything, right? But we do have to agree to dialogue and share.

Lawley says Thursday’s meetings helped move the process forward.

“There is enough consensus now on the design to move forward and develop some of the details for that design,” Lawley said in a statement provided by St. Luke’s after the meeting. “We don’t yet have consensus on how the space will operate, and whether those operations are to include vehicles or not, or to allow vehicles but maybe restrict the time of day they can access the space, etc.”

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