Jimmy Hallyburton is executive director of the Boise Bicycle Project, a nonprofit he co-founded almost a decade ago in a former homeless shelter building in downtown Boise.
BBP started out as a way to make bicycles and mechanic training available to more people, but it quickly developed into the area’s de facto headquarters for affordable bicycling. Hallyburton said that since BBP started in 2007, it has taken in, fixed, and redistributed nearly 10,000 bicycles.
Nowadays, Hallyburton, a former firefighter, is one of the local leaders looking for ways to make alternatives to the car more accessible to Boiseans. BBP, which won a “leadership in motion” award last fall from the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, now occupies a growing space on Lusk Street near Boise State University. Last year, 500 volunteers donated more than 6,000 hours to the nonprofit, which has an annual budget of less than half a million dollars, and this spring BBP started a bicycle repair program for prison inmates called Shifting Gears.
Idaho Business Review spent some time with Hallyburton learning about the transportation landscape in the Treasure Valley and what he’d like to accomplish in coming years. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve said you would like to see stronger advocacy for getting people onto bikes in the Treasure Valley. What would that look like?
Boise really does have a pretty great bicycle community. It’s the fourth-highest bicycle commuting percentage in the country among smaller cities. There’s no shortage of bicycles.
What’s lacking in Boise and the Treasure Valley is more of the infrastructure, the advocacy for safer streets, better roads, and better laws.
We do have a good organization called Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance with a great, hard-working president, Lisa Brady. She’s also head of Safe Routes to School for the Treasure Valley.
The issue we face here is that almost any other city of our size, and even cities smaller, too, they have a paid staff who are doing bicycle advocacy. They have people going out advocating for laws, telling people who the more bicycle-friendly candidate is, things like that. As a 501(c)(3), we are restricted on what we can do. We can educate, we can get people a lot of information, but we can’t say, “this is who you should vote for.”
What kinds of laws would you support?
For example, there’s the vulnerable users law in Seattle, that has new penalties for motorists who significantly injure people who are walking, bicycling, or, for example, operating a tractor or a scooter or other vehicles.
If you hit somebody and kill somebody and it was your fault, even if you didn’t see them you can lose your license for 90 days, or be fined $5,000 or do community service or driver safety education. Sure, the person didn’t mean to do it, but there have got to be consequences so people take it seriously.
Another one is hands-free cellphone laws. Different studies say it’s as distracting to drive hands-free as it is to drive if you’re talking holding or talking on Bluetooth.
Boise has a ban on texting while driving, but it’s unenforceable, because are you texting, checking email, or are you dialing a phone number? Unless you hit somebody and it’s your fault, they’re not going to search the records.
Where the handheld devices law comes into play is not about the distraction of talking on the phone. It’s about the actual ability to enforce no texting bans or bans on being on Facebook or emailing or checking voicemail – those types of distractions that are unenforceable.
All the different states and counties that pass these laws see vast improvements. Not because people are less distracted in driving, but because you can enforce them.
What’s holding Boise back?
The city tries to take a lead, but the city is rather limited just because they don’t own and control their own streets. Ada County Highway District does. We have a good relationship with ACHD and the commissioners. But they have commissioners representing rural areas, say from Kuna, that’s the people who are voting them into office, so when they’re making decisions for the entire area, Eagle, Boise, Kuna, they may be focusing on some of the issues their own constituents want, not necessarily the needs of the specific area. We’re actually the only large city in the entire country that doesn’t own its streets.
It’s just such a car culture around here, and some of the people who are elected, they know their constituents, the majority of them aren’t necessarily concerned about these issues.
They don’t necessarily think bicycles belong on the road. Where there’s a lot of opportunity is when you start framing the question around youth and families. Sure, you don’t like bicycles driving two abreast on Hill Road, but who can argue with wanting a kid to ride around the neighborhood or walk or bicycle to school? So when we look at those types of questions, when we look for change, we frame things that way: as supporting your most vulnerable users.
What do you do to familiarize ACHD with these issues?
One thing we did last year is we have our huge Christmas kids bike giveaway, where we donated 622 bikes to kids, mostly from low-income families. It’s the biggest day of our year.
Last year, we had four commissioners come down to the giveaway. They were able to meet and see a lot of these families that we go and represent when we talk to them.
Probably one of the most impactful things we’ve done is give folks at ACHD a better perspective of folks who don’t have a choice to drive or ride. If I was just driving from Garden City to Kuna I wouldn’t ever see the need for a bike lane, but if I was working more closely with kids who are walking to school, or biking to school, I would weigh those things more openly and heavily.
I see that barrier breaking down when you frame it around children.
What’s your larger goal here?
Our goal is to make Boise the bicycle capital of America. If nobody else is stepping up to do that advocacy role, we’ll take it. We’d end up applying for 501(c)(4) status as well. Other organizations have done this. It would operate under the bike project’s roof and umbrella.
That definitely complicates things a little bit; that’s why it would be nice if somebody else would do it, and we could provide support from the people following us. But that’s our vision and at some point if that becomes the very clear next step that’s the step we will have to take.