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If it’s a one-way street, you can’t get there from here

Anne Wallace Allen

One of the first things I noticed about Boise when I moved to Idaho six years ago was the prevalence of one-way streets. I picked up on this the very first day while driving north on 15th Street. At a light, I found myself staring across the intersection at a driver in my lane who was staring back at me.

Luckily, when the light turned green, I was able to make a left turn out of her path. I made a mental note then not to take the streets of Boise for granted.

Since then, I’ve survived a few other wrong-way blunders. I’ve seen realization dawn on other drivers that they’re going against the rest of the traffic. And I’ve learned the careful planning necessary for traveling in a car from, say, Big City Coffee to the Bandanna running store.

And I’ve wondered… why all these one-way streets?

As it turns out, I’m not the only one. The Capital City Development Corp. gets questions about them all the time. And when a team from the International Downtown Association visited Boise in 2008 they did more than wonder: They analyzed the downtown and issued a report recommending that the city change its streets back to the more traditional two-way pattern. The same conversation is going on in Nampa.

That’s because one-way streets are a lot more than a puzzling aptitude test for out-of-towners. They’re an unwritten declaration that the downtown area is a place to get through as quickly as possible. Study after study shows that drivers speed up on one-way streets and are far less likely to stop.

In Boise, you don’t need a planning expert to show you this. All you have to do is wait at the light on 8th and Front street as five lanes of high-speed traffic roar by. It’s a superhighway-sized roadway that bisects The Grove from BoDo, and it’s a little disheartening. Are we a downtown or not?

Anyway, the CCDC has taken all this to heart. Their mission is to promote a walkable, liveable downtown, a place where people can impulsively stop for a coffee or window-shop after dinner. It’s opposite to the paradigm the planners started using in the 1950s when they made the streets one-way. Back then, downtown was just a place to get through quickly on the way to the suburbs.

CCDC plans to change things up a little in the coming year. They’re part of a working group that also includes Ada County Highway District, the city of Boise, the Downtown Boise Association, and Valley Regional Transit that has commissioned a study from the transportation consultancy Kittelson & Associates, Inc. They’re going to look at converting 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and Jefferson streets from one-way to two-way. The ultimate decision will belong to the ACHD commissioners.

If the streets go two-way, fewer people will find themselves driving away from their destination, not toward it, because they’re trapped on a one-way grid. Fewer will make the adrenalin-pumping discovery that a wall of cars is headed their way. Driver’s ed classes won’t have to make a special stop in the capital city to teach new drivers how to navigate the one-ways.

Traffic will move through town more slowly, which research has shown leads to more impulsive stops at shops and restaurants. Hopefully in turn, drivers will start to see that the downtown area is not a place to rush through, but a destination with its own sense of place, always changing. And far less bewildering.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.


  1. Agree wholeheartedly! Our wonderful Saturday Market should not be bifurcated by the NASCAR event on Front Street. Also, if you \don’t like the downtown anyway,\ you should be indifferent towards a suggestion that would improve bicycle and pedestrian friendliness for those of who do like the downtown. Thanks Anne!

  2. Well, I may be a “North End Nut” but I don’t appreciate being called one by some newbe Eagle living probably from California moving wannabee. What a life… Slouching around in Eagle in some McMansion, driving some gas hog car back and forth to a beer joint to gawk at young waitresses. Why doesn’t Bob just stay in Eagle and hit the local sleaze bar, or better yet move back to where he came from?

  3. What a great idea! I’m so glad to hear the city is thinking about this. We have been saying the same thing in my running since I moved here from Connecticut some years ago. This isn’t New York, after all. The gals and I say, go for it.

  4. I thought all the cranks wrote for the (Un)Stateman, but I see at least one got away. I’ve lived here my whole darn life (except for some trips abroad courtesy of Uncle Sam) and we heard the same arguments when we made the streets one way, and have been hereing them ever since. Leave things well enough alone and worry about something else.

  5. Wilson Stockbridge III

    Personally, having moved here from a small Northern California coastal hamlet, I find the downtown charming, and think it would only be made more so if the streets were indeed two way, and the pace just a little bit slower. Slow is what attracted me to Boise; slow and peaceful, with friendly non-pretentious folks. I am certainly a newcomer, and do not want to say more than I should, but I will say that Boiseans should cherish what they have here, and protect it from the harried, hurried, masses who move here looking for something they know not what. In other words, people like me.

    Heeding Mr. Eliot

    With slow rotation suggesting permanence
    Nor darkness to purify the soul
    Emptying the sensual with deprivation
    Cleansing affection from the temporal.
    Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
    Over the strained time-ridden faces”

  6. I personally like the one ways, and don’t like the downtown anyway. Why wouldtnt I want to get through it as fast as I can? If I’m at Buster’s on Broadway and am going back to my place in Eagle, the last thing I want is a long drive down some senic front street. Get me cross town and back to Eagle civilization, I say. Let the north Boise nuts have the downtown.

  7. Whether or not we have one way streets, Boise’s downtown will languish unless and until there is something to draw residents of the greater Treasure Valley to downtown. Moving the Hawk’s stadium downtown would be a great first step, as would a more vibrant convention center. That said, creating a more hospital and slower paced traffic pattern–at least in the downtown core, could well be a great idea.

  8. We wont ever have a nice downtown area until we change back to good old two way streets. Downtown should be like a neighborhood. Why is everybody in such a hurry? This isnt New York or some other big city. I say it is a great idea whose time has come. Nor more RUSH RUSH RUSH. Plus im tired of always being worried about a wrong turn. Lot’s of people feel this way.

  9. I also moved here 6 years ago and noticed the one way streets in Boise.I said then and I say now Boise did a great job in moving traffic from one end of the city to the other.Traffic has to move no faster than the 35 miles per houror they won’t hit the lights right and they have to stop.Two ways will only produce more frustrated drivers.I also work in Nampa.The one ways over here are as simple as it gets and I have’nt heard of to many complaints