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ACHD Commission delays 8th Street bikeway decision again

An illustration of a proposed bikeway with a person walking on the left side, someone biking and a line of cars parked.
Ada County Highway District

For the second time in a month, the Ada County Highway District Commission has delayed a decision on a new bikeway design for 8th Street in Boise’s North End.

On May 25, the group heard a compromise to the original proposal, a response to several churches and a school on 8th Street which said the design would have hurt their communities.

The updated proposal retained ADA parking spots on 8th Street in front of St. Michael’s Church instead of moving them around the corner onto State Street, and swapped the single side of parking from the east to the west side of the street in front of St. Joseph’s Catholic School and St. John’s Cathedral.

The school and church community said the first plan removed a parking lane used as a student pickup and drop-off lane each morning, and critical parking spots. Even though the update returned parking in front of the buildings and removed landscaping to create a 21-foot sidewalk, the bike lane in between didn’t change.

That wasn’t good enough for James Novak, president of the St. Joseph’s Parents Association for the upcoming school year.

“While moving the parking lane and thus reestablishing a drop-off lane on the west side of the street is a good start, with the new configuration students would have to cross a bike lane, creating potential conflict between a cyclist and a student,” Novak said.

Novak was one of many people to testify before the ACHD Commission against the updated proposal.

ACHD held open houses and surveys regarding the potential design of the bikeway this winter and received more than 180 responses to the plans, most in favor of the traffic and parking reduction to add two protected bike lanes on either side of the street. Members of St. Joseph’s and St. John’s delivered a petition at the April meeting with around 500 names opposed to the project.

At that April meeting, Commissioners asked staff for more parking and traffic usage data in the area. New data show somewhat higher volumes of traffic and parking at peak school and worship times than first presented. Novak called it just a snapshot.

“While the staff has gone out and spoken to stakeholders, you should listen to stakeholders, especially those that know the situation best: St. Joe’s parents and St. John’s parishioners,” Novak told commissioners. “We live and breathe that block; we know it better than anyone in this room. I ask that you weigh our voices accordingly.”

Another concern: the proposed bike lane closest to the school and church flows southbound, opposite of traffic. That's known as a contraflow lane. It is separated from the traffic parking lane by a three-foot raised curb.

St. Joseph’s Principal Tammy Emerich testified reducing traffic lanes would lead to backups at peak times. She said harried drivers looking for a way out of traffic could create more danger for students.

“I would ask that you please trial this concept before implementing it fully, or respectfully consider other corridors for the safety of my students,” Emerich said.

Commissioner Jim Hansen agreed that moving the bikeway away from 8th Street,possibly to 9th Street, might be a better fit.

“It’s the connections to the contraflow bike lane," he said. "If people don’t feel they have safe connections, it’s not going to get used."

Some of those logistics would be worked out in the design phase, following ACHD approval of an overall concept.

Commissioners voted to return the proposal to staff for more revisions.

In an email, ACHD staff say new proposals without a contraflow bikeway would require new analysis and contract renegotiations, and could also require, depending on how different a new proposal might be, a new round of public outreach and feedback.

This story has been updated with a response from ACHD which arrived after deadline.
This story has been updated to reflect that Mr. Novak is the incoming St. Joseph's parent's association president for the 2022-23 school year.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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