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Bike bars in Boise: city weighs restrictions or an outright ban

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The City of Boise might make changes to the laws for bike bars — or eliminate them altogether. The bars, which are primarily powered by riders pedaling, allow groups to travel on city streets while listening to music and enjoying beer and wine.

Boise City Council heard a presentation Tuesday on the bars – and some of the challenges city officials feel the vehicles present.

They first came to Boise in 2012, and the city later allowed riders to drink beer and wine on them starting a year later. The city said the number of complaints is on the rise.

“We’ve had several complaints, mainly from businesses, complaints from the bars, from those with patio dining and residents,” City of Boise Senior Administrative Services Manager Craig Croner said. “It reached a boiling point in the last year.”

Croner presented council members with a number of problems the city identified, including complaints about noise, traffic, public urination, and intoxication.

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“You’ll see patrons shotgunning beers with one foot on the bike bar and one foot on the ground to avoid open container violations,” Croner said, while displaying a photo of that behavior. “Excessive noise is one of the most common complaints we get. That’s because they have really good amplification on these vehicles. It is so loud it shakes the buildings. We’ve received complaints from businesses, and we even receive complaints from employees here at city hall.”

Croner said riders on the bars often drink too much. He said the presents a liability issue for owners of traditional bars in the downtown area.

“The bars really have a problem as well because they have to protect their licenses,” Croner said. “So if someone comes in and they are drunk, (the bar has) to refuse to serve them. It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for people in the bar.”

Croner list a number of other issues, including people falling off the bike bars, the vehicles parking in handicap spaces, bike lanes, sidewalks and more.

[Portion of Boise’s 8th Street will get a makeover: bikes, sidewalks, patios]

Croner presented the council with three options – ban the bike bars, keep them with changes to the law, or make no changes.

Views on solutions

Each of Boise’s six council members had a slightly different view on solutions.

“I’d be interested in looking at some options like limiting their hours of operation – say you can operate in the DT core until 9pm or 10pm,” council president pro tem Holli Woodings said. “I remember how cool they were when they first came in. I’d like to get back to the original intention that was more of a pub crawl and limit some of the issues like public intoxication.”

Councilmember Lisa Sánchez said she heard from a number of community members who raised concerns about COVID-19 infection. The bikes are currently not allowed under Ada County’s modified stage three order, but they were operating in the spring when the state went to stage four.

“I would probably err more on the more conservative side in that I’d like to see them gone for safety reasons,” Sánchez said.

“My general attitude is you should be able to do whatever you want unless you are bothering other people,” council member Patrick Bageant said. “These things are almost custom made to bother everyone else to the maximum extent possible. They block traffic they violate the law, they violate the noise ordinance, they get in the way of everything, they are harming our DT businesses. I don’t care for them.”

[Smaller Goathead Fest goes on, but Boise Bicycle Project works to overcome other challenges]

“I support them,” council member TJ Thomson said. “I think (people) are having fun and I like that. I think we can find a way (to restrict them) without being the fun police and ending them altogether.”

Councilmember Jimmy Hallburton, who also runs the bike-centric non-profit Boise Bicycle Project also had concerns.

“I used to joke around during my campaign, that if you wanted to win an election – all you had to do is campaign to get rid of the bike bars,” he said. “Everyone hates them, unless you are on the bike bars and you seem to be having the best time in the world.”

He also raised traffic concerns.

“I think they are damaging as far as traffic and when it comes to the experience people have downtown,” Hallyburton said. “I do think that the peak traffic hours is a major major concern.”

“I think alcohol on them makes them more disruptive,” council president Elaine Clegg said. “I think there are ways to fix that.  I’d like to find a way to support this and have fun on them which is the way it used to be.”

Next steps

Croner and his team will do some public outreach, including with bike bar owners. Before any plan moves forward, the city said it will have a public hearing so both bike bar owners and members of the public can weigh in.

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Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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