Why is the Ada County Highway District election important? In 2020, a candidate won by four votes
Informed voters have very few resources to turn to when sizing up contests for seats on the Ada County Highway District. That is in spite of the fact that ACHD is in the extremely unique position of lording over the county’s thoroughfares.
“If the Boise Bicycle Project weren’t asking questions, you never get to hear [ACHD] candidates answer things like, ‘Would you be on board with reducing speed limits in some areas that you serve? Would you reconsider protected bike lanes on Main Street and Idaho Street? Would you sign on to a letter to the state, asking for funding for public transit?’” said BBP founder Jimmy Hallyburton. “So we’ve got all those questions in the voter guide that wouldn’t have been asked in any other sort of format.”
Hallyburton joined BBP’s first-ever full-time advocacy director Nina Pienaar to visit with George Prentice to preview this year’s ACHD election, and also to remind citizens that one of the last ACHD contests was decided by four votes.
“These are the roads that you walk, bike and drive on every single day. And these are people that you vote for …. people who are going to make streets safer for every type of user.”
Read the full transcript below:
GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Well, Election Day is coming very soon. And indeed, thousands of people have already made their choices on absentee ballots or in-person early voting in a number of communities. That said, the overwhelming majority of people have yet to make their choices. And a look at this year's ballot is, quite frankly, a bit overwhelming. From initiatives to statewide offices, every seat in the House and Senate races for Congress. So much more for our purposes. This morning, we're going to take a look at the all-important races for the Ada County Highway District. Jimmy Hallyburton is here, founder and executive director of the Boise Bicycle Project.
JIMMY HALLYBURTON: Good morning. Thanks for having us on. George.
PRENTICE: And Nina Pienaar is here. She is the first ever full-time advocacy director for the Boise Bicycle Project. Good morning, Nina.
NINA PIENAAR: Good morning. Thank you for having us.
PRENTICE: Nina. First off, what do you tell a stranger about your new role and what you do for a living?
PIENAAR: That's a very good question. So I've been with BBP for about three weeks now, and I'm really excited to be part of BP's mission and vision to become the second capital of America. And I guess as BBP's first advocacy director, I think my first goal is to find ways where advocacy can fit into and broaden the existing events and programs at BP. But I also really look forward to paving the way for safe streets and creating a meaningful role advocacy role in the community. That's essentially what I'm looking at the moment, and I'm sure things will broaden out as I'm here for longer.
PRENTICE: Nina It's my understanding that you have chosen Boise as your home and you come to us from South Africa.
PIENAAR: Yes. So, I've been in Boise for about eight months now. I was raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I am South African, but yeah, it's been really fantastic to be here and really enjoy Boise as a city and look forward to calling it home.
PRENTICE: Can I ask how Boise Bicycle Project came onto your radar? It means so many different things to so many different people in our community and I'm curious how they were lucky enough to find you and vice versa.
PIENAAR: I kind of found BBP within my first week of being in Boise. I've always been an avid commuter cyclist and mountain biker and I needed some supplies to fix up bikes. I did fly over with two mountain bikes. Yeah. So, they just struck me as an organization that I knew I wanted to be a part of. I had actually typed up an email to Jimmy kind of dreaming up this this role, and I had to look at the job listings and this position was actually available and I got really excited and I sent in an application and Jimmy got back to me and it seemed to all work out quite well. But yeah, BBP was always an organization that I was really interested in getting involved in.
PRENTICE: Jimmy Hallyburton To be sure, BBP is a nonprofit. So, talk to me about walking the fine line when it comes to politics, yet taking a lead in being a clearinghouse for good information.
HALLYBURTON: You know, that's a really good question because there's a lot of non-profits that are out there that get really apprehensive of being involved in politics. A lot of times, board of directors are really hesitant because there is a fine line in which you can walk. You can't endorse. You can't do a whole lot of lobbying. You can't spend a lot of you can't spend any money supporting a specific candidate. But what you can do is you can educate people on the issues, and you can educate people on who's running, what they stand for. And as long as you do it from an educational lens, you absolutely can do it. And it's something that we've done for a really, really long time. This year we hosted our third ACHD Commissioner Forum. That's a county highway district where we actually ask the different elected officials questions. And we started doing this several years ago because what we saw was we're donating thousands of bicycles to kids every single year, 10,000 since we started in 2007. We're teaching them how to ride these bicycle safely. We're getting helmets on their heads. We're getting lights on their bikes so people can see them. But these kids still have to ride their bikes on the roads here in our community. And unless we're building roads and infrastructure, that's safe for them to ride on. These bicycles can only connect them so far. And our elected officials are the ones who make those decisions on what those roads are going to look like. So we sort of knew that that was our next level of responsibility, was getting involved in these elections, making sure that people were aware of them because they are these down ballot elections that a lot of people don't know of and letting people know how important they are. These are the roads that you walk, bike and drive on every single day. And these are people that you vote for ….people who are going to make streets safer for every type of user.
PRENTICE: And, Jimmy, one more layer to this and it is the essential layer: we have to remind ourselves, we are in this unique position where a county highway district and not the City of Boise has the ultimate say in oversight of our roads.
HALLYBURTON: That's correct. And I think it was the early seventies, maybe 1971. We created a special district - the Ada County Highway District then began to manage the roads for all over Ada County. And at the time it was actually probably a good thing. We had some streets that were in some pretty bad shapes. And so this coordinated effort kind of helped redirect tax funds to the roads that needed them. But today, however many years, 50 years later, we're the only major metropolitan area in the entire country that doesn't own and manage its own roads, which is a little bit tricky because you might have a city who really wants to see a certain type of infrastructure, a certain emphasis on less single occupancy vehicle use, who wants to see their roads go one way and you may have a highway district that wants to see those go a different direction. And the example that we often use is several years ago, I think it was 2017, the city really wanted to have protected bike lanes on Main and Idaho Street, and they actually came in as a pilot project for a little bit and we were one of their earlier cities in the country to put in these protected bike lanes as a pilot. But a month later, the commission decided to remove those and they never came back. And then we became one of the only cities in the country that ever removed their protected bike lane project. And so you can see why there's a really big issue when you have elected officials on one side that want to vote one way and elected officials want to vote another side on a different land use agency. And so it's a little bit tricky and it makes Boise very unique in.
PRENTICE: Let's talk about voter guides and in particular BBP's voter guide and and its essential nature. What makes a really good voter guide?
PIENAAR: That's a really good question. So essentially what we've done is we've taken the questions that we've asked at the forum and we've put it into four different basic forms that people can access it. So the very first one is go to our website, have a look at our voter guide. We've got a summary up there of each candidate running for each district. Basic questions. Just giving the viewer a basic essential guide to what are the questions? What are they looking at? How do they access more information about each candidate? What are the key questions that we've pulled out from the forum that we think? Basically highlights issues in Boise. The next form is we have a executive summary, which kind of delves a little bit deeper into what we're looking at. We have a full transcript of the forum and lastly, the full recording to the forum as well. So really we're offering the public many different ways and different forms to access information on each candidate and make an informed decision on who they want to vote for. So I think an important aspect to the the best voter guide out there is to really just give everyone as much information as they can get to make an informed decision on who they want to shape the streets for them for the next four years.
PRENTICE: I was just going to say kudos to you in making it so user friendly, which quite frankly, a number of voters card guides aren't. So let me ask you both to weigh in on this. And Nina, I'll ask you first what I find fascinating in any voter guide and in this one in particular is what's in between the lines, which is to say sometimes people choose not to participate. Sometimes there's a non-answer, sometimes it's a vague answer. But what I find so interesting in this particular voter guide and listening to the audio file along with it is very telling.
PIENAAR: Yes, we unfortunately were unable to get three of the running candidates down to attend the forum. But that didn't mean that we weren't able to extract information that we were hoping to get to share with the public. So, yes, there's definitely hidden agendas here and there. Jimmy, I don't know if you want to weigh in here. I think, you know, Boise and the political scene is a little better than I do.
HALLYBURTON: Yeah, absolutely. And those I think hidden agendas are when we're asking somebody a question and it's a bicycle and pedestrian forum, their agenda is that probably answer those questions in a way that bicycle pedestrian progressive community is going to want to hear. And you kind of have to figure out, well, do they really think this way or is there something more to what they're saying? And so as you look through the questions that people answered and you can kind of tell who's really familiar with these issues, who's been doing a lot of the work. And a lot of times when somebody answers something, you can tell that that's the first time that they've ever heard this question before. And so you can tell that they're maybe a little bit newer to the scene, but also that this may not be on their radar quite as much. The other thing that you notice is who shows up to the forums, who answers the questions and who doesn't. And you can try to extract some information there and say like, oh, well, maybe this means that. And I think the question that a lot of people are asking is what does it mean that Mary May decided to not show up to the forum a couple of days beforehand? And the reality is we don't know the answer to that question. There's a variety of different things that are out there. All the candidates answered are a questionnaire that we sent out. But when it came time for the forum, Mary May did pull out. She had something else that was was going on. We tried to offer another opportunity for her to answer the same questions offline and we weren't able to get a response there. .And so you don't really know what her answers to some of these questions are. And so you kind of have to like, feel out like, okay, well, how would this person have answered this question? When you're an incumbent, you can kind of go back and you can look at that person's history. And so, you know, the voter guide you asked this question earlier, George, is like, what is a good voter guide? Hopefully it's a one stop shop where you can find all the information that you need to find about candidates, their histories in a place to kind of learn a little bit more about why these elections are so important. And this is really one of those ones where if you live in one of the districts, District three, which is a lot of North Boise Eagle is in District three and then District four, which is kind of further out towards Meridian in South Boise, if you live in one of these areas, this is actually probably your vote that might matter the most or have the biggest impact on this year's election because there are going to be tight races and this is going to affect your life every single day, every single time you get in your car, every single time you take the bus or start to walk or start to ride your bicycle, this has a really large impact. And so a good voter guide is going to give somebody a place, a central place, to really figure out which candidate aligns with their values the best and need.
PRENTICE: Need we remind ourselves, in 2020, an ACHD race was decided by only four votes.
HALLYBURTON: Yeah, that's just so unbelievable. We hosted a forum that year as well. And you're referring to Alexis Pickering that won that that race. We hosted that out at the Botanical Garden and we were the only organization that hosted a forum that year. We're the only organization that hosted a forum this year as well. And we did work with a couple of different partners Idaho Walk/Bike Alliance, Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance and the Idaho Sierra Club to help us figure out what types of questions they would want to ask as well. And so if we weren't…andithese other bicycle organizations weren't asking these questions, you would never get a chance to hear these candidates answer things like, would you be on board with reducing speed limits in some of the areas that you serve? Would you reconsider protected bike lanes on Main Street and Idaho Street? Would you sign on to a letter to the state asking for statewide funding for public transit? So we've got all those questions on the voter guide that wouldn't have been asked in any other sort of format. And that might be the difference of four votes like it was a couple of years ago.
PRENTICE: Nina, It's so interesting with these partnerships that did help craft these questions. Right? In one moment it was safety and another, it might have been air quality.
PIENAAR: Absolutely. Yes. With the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance, Idaho Walk/Bike Alliance and the Sierra Club, we came together and we crafted a set of questions to basically just cover every aspect of transport out there. So we covered air quality, pedestrian safety. Would the candidates be interested in reducing speed limits or other traffic calming measures to make our streets safer? And I think all those questions are really important to us. These candidates, essentially, will have firsthand what our streets look like in the next four years.
PRENTICE: I'd be remiss if I did not remind our listeners that early. Voting continues in Ada County. As a matter of fact, there is more opportunity for early voting in Ada County, including the mobile voting unit. Absentee ballot requests. That deadline is October 28 and then, of course, November 8th comes Election Day and all the madness that comes with that. Nina Pienaar is the first ever full time advocacy director for the Boise Bicycle Project, and Jimmy Halyburton is the founder and executive director of BPP. Thank you. Thank you so very much for putting this together and giving us one more much needed tool as we decide our future. And thanks so much for giving us some time this morning.
HALLYBURTON: Yeah, thank you, George. It's been fun to talk with you.
PIENAAR: Thanks so much, George.
Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren
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