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Boise looks to pathways along canals for new transportation options

Tamarack Resort Q4 2020
City Council Tuesday with Margaret Carmel

Fifty years ago, the City of Boise started building the Greenbelt. Now, it is looking ahead to a new network of pathways to get residents around the city. 

By the end of 2021, Boise officials hope to have a new master plan to guide the city’s construction of a network of bike and pedestrian pathways alongside the city’s expansive canal system. The canals, which carry water from the Boise River to farmland across the Treasure Valley, snake behind homes, schools, businesses and provide off-street connections for Boiseans using multiple modes of transportation to get around. 

Pedestrians informally use some of the gravel roads as paths now. The city would like to see the network paved and officially designated as recreation areas and commuter routes. 

[Opponents to Boise’s recycled water proposal flood public hearing]

Shortly, the city will put out a request for proposals to hire a consultant to help the city study the existing network of canals, old bike plans, and take public input to put together a new plan to prioritize building out new pathways along the canals around the city. The idea is to prioritize which areas would be easier to build based on a variety of factors, and which pathways would link the most people to the most useful destinations. 

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The fiscal year 2021 budget proposal includes up to $100,000 for the city to hire the consultant for this project. 

“We will have 100 potential segments and we need an easy way to identify which one of those should be prioritized first,” Tom Laws, an associate comprehensive planner at the City of Boise told council on Tuesday. 

Not just any pathway project

Building canal pathways is not as simple as a normal construction project. The land alongside canals could be controlled by a variety of institutions, including the city, ACHD or private irrigation companies who may require the canals to be piped at a high cost before they grant the city permission to build. Other times the land underneath the pathway is owned by dozens of landowners whose properties back up to the canal, who can sometimes be hostile to the idea of a public path cutting behind their backyard. 

The timeline for the project includes planning this winter, and then a month of public engagement with residents and groups interested in mobility in March 2021 to put the final plan together. It should be available in a draft form for the public to comment on and City Council to adopt into the comprehensive plan by December 2021. 

Zach Piepmeyer, a transportation planner with the City of Boise, said if a strong network of new paths connects with the Greenbelt, it could vastly improve quality of life of Boiseans for decades. 

[1970 film showcases Boise Greenbelt on eve of 50th anniversary]

“We believe there is an untapped potential for improved mobility through the off-street connective tissue in our city, such as railroads, canals or undeveloped and underdeveloped properties,” he told council. “We will be able to make quality of life improvements the way the Greenbelt has for many people.”

He listed several projects along canals either recently completed or in the works, including a proposal to build a park along the Settler’s Canal near Capitol High School. He also pointed to the recent completion of a multi-use path in partnership with ACHD near the Hyatt Hidden Lakes Preserve near McMillan Road. Another example is the city’s ongoing negotiations with neighbors, ACHD and the Nampa-Meridian Irrigation District to build a pathway along a canal to connect Garden Street down into Cassia Park on the Central Bench. 

Mayor supports concept

Mayor Lauren McLean was complimentary of the effort, both as a way to bring more options for commuters who do not drive to work and for recreation. 

“Just as 50 years ago when we started mapping out the Greenbelt and started imagining what it could look like, this should do the same as we reimagine what open spaces look like for our residents,” she said. “Looking at canals creates an incredible opportunity to provide open spaces for people, to be in and out and enjoying and be able to have those spaces throughout the city is incredibly valuable.”

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Margaret Carmel
Margaret is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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