The City of Boise said it will look at closing down 8th Street in Downtown Boise to cars.
The move comes as part of a new resolution to support “local businesses through the encouragement, support and use of public spaces to temporarily increase the outdoor footprint of businesses.” The resolution, passed by the council Tuesday night, comes in light of COVID-19 and would give some businesses more patio space to promote social distancing.
Now, Boise will join a number of other cities working to remove cars from streets in a time of lower single-occupant vehicle use during the pandemic.
“It’s one of those really great timing opportunities to try it out when it’s necessitated by our local restaurants to survive and hopefully thrive through this,” Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings said. “This was an ongoing conversation on Twitter to open streets to restaurants so they can open their patios for dining.
The city took over control of two segments of 8th St. in Downtown Boise, from Main St. to Bannock St. The city’s urban renewal agency used to own and control the two segments, but handed them over to the city proper when it terminated an urban renewal district in the area.
A survey conducted with the city and Downtown Boise Association last year by Boise State students found broad support for closing 8th St. on restaurant row to cars. 89.4% of those surveyed said they would be in favor of a temporary or permanent closure of the street.
“I think it’s really important that we as a city let all of our businesses know how important it is for them to reopen,” Council President Elaine Clegg said. “We need them for recovery. This will allow us for more room in the public right of way to have more customers while maintaining social distance.”
The rest of the roads in the city are controlled by the Ada County Highway District.
City officials said they will work with businesses and other agencies, like ACHD, to study other areas where partial or complete vehicle closures could help open up outdoor space for restaurants. The city is working with businesses along Broad St and asking for requests in other areas.
“I really appreciate the partnership with the highway district that they are interested in making this happen,” Boise Mayor Lauren McLean said.
She invited other businesses to send ideas to city leaders. “If you have ideas on how to best serve your clients in coming weeks, please reach out to the city.”
Ada County’s unique highway district
In Ada County, most roads are not the responsibility of the cities they run through. Instead, voters approved a county-wide highway district in 1971. That agency, the Ada County Highway District, operates independently of city or county government. It is responsible for the construction and maintenance of all roads in Ada County – except Interstate 84, I-184 and state highways (which include Broadway Ave., Eagle Rd. and others).
ACHD has a board of elected representatives which are elected to districts around the county. The arrangement can cause friction when the policy of the highway district does not align with the policy of the cities. While cities control land use planning, they do not control the roads – which can mean differing priorities and funding allocations.