City plans to face off with ITD over Front and Myrtle streets

Teya Vitu//May 18, 2018

City plans to face off with ITD over Front and Myrtle streets

Teya Vitu//May 18, 2018

Front Street becomes an expressway during rush hour, resulting in an extended wait for crossing traffic. Photo by Teya Vitu.

Formal suggestions to make the Front and Myrtle commuter corridor in downtown Boise more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly will be submitted to the Idaho Transportation Department in summer, a city official said.

These suggestions are the outgrowth of a 2017 alternatives analysis for the two streets. The study was paid for by the Capital City Development Corp. and was jointly produced by CCDC, the city of Boise, the Ada County Highway District, COMPASS and the Idaho Transportation Department. The latter has jurisdiction over Front and Myrtle street, which also serve as U.S 20/26 highways.

The city and CCDC will likely present a mix of ideas discussed at a May 15 Urban Land Institute panel meeting on the Front and Myrtle Couplet Alternatives Analysis, said Daren Fluke, the city’s comprehensive planning manager.

These could include retiming traffic signals to give pedestrians more opportunities to cross the street (ACHD controls the Front and Myrtle traffic signals); adding more pedestrian crossings, especially between the Ada County Courthouse and Broadway; “right-sizing the road,” that is, lowering the number of traffic lanes; widening  the sidewalks; installing trees and street furniture; and adding weekend and evening parking on Front and Myrtle.

“It will be some mix-and-match,” Fluke said. “Probably not a full menu. This is all about a trade-off. We’re looking for a corridor that serves all the modes (walk, bike, car) well.”

ITD District 3 engineer Amy Revis was part of the panel discussion and indicated the transportation department was open to changes – as long as five lanes remain on Front and Myrtle and traffic flows unimpeded.

“Anything we do on Front and Myrtle has to consider a ripple effect on I-184,” Revis said.

Revis said the alternatives analysis did not explore all options. She’d like to include consideration for a pedestrian overpass at Eighth and Front streets; use of the 2½-foot shoulders at the edge of the roadways; and the exchange of sidewalk and landscaping in areas where the sidewalk is next to the curb.

“I think those are all ideas that need to be fully explored,” Revis said. “Those are benefits that have very minor impact on vehicle traffic. Weekend and evening traffic on Front and Myrtle – we’re open to that.”

Traffic at the intersection of Front and Ninth during rush hour demonstrates the imbalance for pedestrians, bicyclists , and cars on Ninth Street, said Matt Edmond, project manager of capital improvements at CCDC.

At Ninth, Front gets 1 minute 32 seconds green, while Ninth, in itself a commuter street gets 37 second green. At Eighth Street, pedestrians get 24 seconds to cross the street, while Front is green for 1 minute 50 seconds, Edmond timed.

“Asking pedestrians to wait two minutes is excessive,” Edmond said.

“Get me here, get me home”

There, of course, are two sides to the Front and Myrtle saga: the people walking and biking downtown, and the 30,000 or 40,000 downtown workers, many of whom commute west. It was noted, however, that even commuters ultimately have to walk downtown.

“Get me here, get me home, as quickly as you can.” That was the most common comment from Ada County employees surveyed by Larry Maneely, special assistant to the Ada County Board of Supervisors.

“We are in love with our vehicles,” Maneely said at the ULI forum. “We want control of our life.”

He noted the 250 employees (out of 700) who responded to the survey also opposed additional bike lanes, more pedestrian crossings, lengthening traffic signals for cross streets and narrowing Front and Myrtle to three lanes in some places.

Bryan Vaughn

Panelists noted that downtown Boise has changed dramatically since the Front-Myrtle couplet of one-way, five-lane highways was created in the 1980s, when the southern edge of downtown was minimally developed.  The couplet pre-dates BoDo, JUMP, the Simplot corporate headquarters, the Boise Centre, the Grove Hotel, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, WinCo, the Ada County Courthouse and nearly everything else that lines the length of Myrtle and Front streets.

“It’s a real issue we need to address,” ACHD Commissioner Paul Woods said. “There are not many cities I  see that succeed that are all, ‘Come in at 8 and go home at 5.’”

Along with the five lanes, the couplet has a couple examples of double left-turn lanes that are inherently dangerous for pedestrian, noted Brian Vaughn, development partner at Hawkins Companies, whose office is at Ninth and Broad – the street between Front and Myrtle.

“I won’t cross on the east side at Ninth and Myrtle because I was almost hit three times,” Vaughn said at the forum. “I’m concerned about accidents for my clients.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 18 and May 20.