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ACHD delays decision on 8th Street bikeway due to objections from Saint Joe’s Catholic School

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The final decision on a project to add more bike lanes to 8th Street is being delayed a month after administrators and parents of Saint Joe’s School objected. 

Last week, dozens of parents and staffers at Saint Joe’s Catholic School, St. John’s Cathedral, and Episcopal Church St. Michael’s Cathedral objected to plans for protected bike lanes from State Street to Union Street. This is part of a decade-long project between the City of Boise, urban renewal agency Capital City Development Corporation and the Ada County Highway District to extend the bike network all the way from Broad Street into the North End. 

[‘Game-changer:’ ACHD will separate bike lanes on arterial roads moving forward]

CCDC and ACHD studied three different proposed concepts and pitched them to the public in a series of meetings earlier this year before settling on a design with two protected bike lanes on either side of 8th Street for each direction of travel. The design would remove one of the two lanes for cars on the street and eliminate 48 parking spaces in the area, with the bulk of the spots being removed on the block near the Boise Co-Op. 

The first phase of the project between State Street to Franklin Road is planned to be built by CCDC in the next fiscal year for $1.5 million, and ACHD’s section is estimated to cost $1.4 million, but there is no timeline for its portion of the project yet. The project also includes other upgrades, like utility lines and other underground improvements aside from just the bike lanes.

A map of the section of bikeway proposed by ACHD and CCDC. Via CCDC

ACHD Commissioners were scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on adopting the plan last Wednesday night, but after hearing substantial testimony from Saint Joe’s and the two cathedrals they decided to delay a vote on the project until May 25. 

“I think any efforts we can put forth to enhance safety for all users in a multimodal world here is going to reap benefits going forward,” Commission President Mary May said. ‘…However, I think it has been highlighted there are some basic issues, safety being first and foremost, and some questions we can address.”

What did the public have to say?

8th St. Boise bike lanes
CCDC and ACHD could revamp two two-block stretch of 8th St. to extend bike facilities along 8th St. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

It’s not just the loss of parking that raised alarm bells for the Saint Joe’s community. 

Currently, the school uses one of the lanes on 8th Street as a pick up and drop off lane for parents to deliver their students to the sidewalk in front of the school. The project proposes to shrink 8th Street to one travel lane and put one of the bike lanes in this spot instead, which parents and administrators say would create more safety hazards for their students in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. 

St. Joe’s Principal Tammy Emerich said CCDC and ACHD’s outreach to their school several months ago was “rushed” and even though there were multiple meetings, there wasn’t enough time to adequately gather all of the stakeholders at the school and the nearby cathedral. She delivered ACHD a petition signed by over 500 parents and parishioners opposing the bikeway design. St. Joe’s is a private school and provides no busing for families. 

“This concept is a real safety concern for our students and their families,” she said. “As a principal, my primary job is to keep our students safe and this concept won’t allow me to do that.”

Emerich and other parents said eliminating their drop-off lane would require parents to find a parking space in the area and escort their students to school themselves, further gumming up the traffic in the already full of Boise High School students and visitors to the Idaho State Capitol looking for parking. It would also require students to cross more intersections to get to school and eliminate the lane used to park hearses for funerals at both St. John’s and St. Michael’s. 

A cyclist rides north on 8th Street in front of St. John’s Cathedral. This is the location of the proposed set of protected bike lanes. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

When asked about other possible alternatives for a drop-off lane, Emerich said they originally had students dropped off on 9th Street but were told to move due to the traffic backup it caused and Hays Street has permitted parking by the City of Boise, preventing its use. 

Alexandra Monjar, an employee of CCDC who spoke in a personal capacity, was the only member of the public to testify in support of the project. She said bike infrastructure will help relieve downtown congestion by giving North End residents more ways to get downtown safely without a car, and the changes would force drivers to slow down, making crossings safer for students.

“I want to mention that more complex streets are safer because vehicles are forced to slow down, and the reduction of a travel lane will decrease the travel distance of the pedestrian, which is safer for all pedestrians as well,” she said, concluding her remarks.

Commissioners weigh in

Those testifying against the project objected to the parking analysis conducted in the area finding low rates of spots being filled. They said the study was conducted when school was not in session and the agency’s calculations to take COVID-19 into account weren’t adequate. Plus, they argued the area is home to currently vacant office buildings that could redevelop soon and make the area busier. 

Commissioner David McKinney agreed with the residents and took several minutes to page through the parking analysis conducted by consulting firm Kittelson & Associates raising questions about the study’s accuracy. 

“My primary concern here from the traffic information is I am not entirely convinced we have accurate assumptions on the traffic volumes and if we look at the historical trend I think they have underestimated the trend of traffic,” he said. 

Commissioner Alexis Pickering ended the meeting by asking City of Boise Associate Transportation Planner Karen Gallagher to look at potential options to change the permitted parking in the area to find a solution. 

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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