[For those of you who aren't part of our community, please indulge me. I see growth, and the related "transportation growth," as serious challenges to my hometown. The following are some thoughts regarding this local-but-universal issue, in light of upcoming mayor/council elections.]
One of the main threats to Boise-area quality of life is growth. (Speak up if you disagree.) And one of the by-products of that growth, that impacts all of us, is ever-increasing traffic. (Speak up if you disagree.)
As the community continues to sprawl in 'most every direction, there are more people on the roads, every week. (By some estimates, the population is growing by 1000 people a month. That probably equates to at least 500 cars a month.)
Since I made a conscious decision to follow the example of my father and live close to where I work, and since I commute to work by bicycle, my first tendency is to say, "They baked their cake. Let them eat it!"
When I listen to the traffic (jam) report every weekday morning on the radio: "Eat it!"
When I ride past long lines of idling rush-hour motorists (getting ZERO miles per gallon): "Eat it!"
I'm not very sympathetic to the plight of somebody who makes a conscious decision to live 25 miles from the (downtown Boise) office, out there on Heaven's Little Quarter-Acre, and then whines because of the traffic woes. Most of 'em seem to be of a mind-set, "Why can't they do something about all these other people in all their cars, so I can quickly and comfortably drive to work alone in my car?"
Unfortunately, traffic affects all of us. Today (June 28) is another "yellow" air quality day. It's not my doing... but I'm breathing it, just like everybody else. (It doesn't impact me nearly as much as it does those poor folks with respiratory ailments and such, whose activity is severely curtailed.)
Some seem to be convinced that the solution is to widen the roads, and add traffic lanes.
You can see it along Ustick Road... the close-in Ustick residents, some of whom have lived there since it was a narrow little country lane, are losing their front yards so the farther-outs will have an additional traffic lane to occupy.
Anybody who thinks we can keep up with additional traffic with additional asphalt is a fool. It hasn't worked anywhere else... why would it work in Boise, Idaho? "The Connector" was supposed to be the solution. Remember?
There's some handwriting on the wall. 2007 will almost certainly be the year that the Boise Valley falls into air-quality non-compliance. The movers and shakers will have to come up with a mitigation plan, if they want to get more federal dollars for road projects.
What will they do to lessen air pollution, while continuing to add 500 cars a month to the mix?
Are you willing to do anything?
In November, we'll be voting on who we want for Boise's mayor.
Although the mayor's direct involvement in traffic issues is minimal, he has a big bully-pulpit from which to voice his opinions. And he is charged with representing the interests of his constituents - the citizens of Boise. (NOT the Citizens of Treasure Valley, nor the developers.)
What has the current mayor done to mitigate the impact of the thousands and thousands of people driving to their jobs in Boise, from the boondocks of Ada County... and also Canyon, Gem, and Elmore, and Boise Counties? Should he be doing more? Just let nature take its course?
I'd support a mayor who would, in turn, support these measures:
- Support improved mass transit, both rhetorically and monetarily. (Mass transit will always have to be subsidized by the taxpayers, just like the roads. But I don't think it's adequate to just keep throwing taxpayer dollars at the current system, which is obviously of very limited value to very few citizens. Perhaps the traditional "spoke and hub" system has run its course. Maybe it's time to explore alternatives, like shuttle buses for downtown and other business/office centers, more park-and-ride lots out at the periphery, etc. I am NOT an expert, but I know people will be reluctant to ride a bus that's a major inconvenience at both ends.)
- Support tax incentives, building codes, etc., that will encourage more alternatives, fewer single-occupant vehicles.
... For establishing and maintaining those park-and-ride lots.
... Building codes that encourage lockers, showers, sheltered bike parking, wherever a certain number of people will be employed (to facilitate walking, bicycling, etc.).
... Less reliance (via building codes) on huge parking lots.
- Support the establishment of HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes on I-84. I'm thinking from Boise to Nampa, and only during "rush hour" (From 6:30 to 9:00 am eastbound, from 3:30 to 6:00 pm westbound). If you want to drive alone, that's your privilege. But people who pool up, or take a bus, will get an advantage.
- Support development of bike/pedestrian paths along the numerous canal banks. Canals run everywhere! They're not convenient for everybody, but they could provide transportation corridors for a certain percentage of the population. (Some people wring their hands and cry how dangerous they would be for the children. So are roads, when used irresponsibly. Kids don't belong on canal banks if they're not mature enough to do so safely and responsibly. We need a change of attitude, and a lot of pressure brought on the canal companies. Who better to do it than the mayor?)
Maybe someday a light-rail system could be established between Boise and Nampa/Caldwell. And the right-of-way should be maintained with that as a long-term goal. But I'm not convinced it would be in our best economic interest to do any more with that idea at the present time.
Or... just go ahead and Eat it! Sit back and watch, as the federal road dollars dry up and "rush hour" becomes "rush two hours," and then "rush three hours." And Boise drops off the "desirable places to live" lists because of the sprawl and pollution and terrible traffic.