Downtown Boise is known for being pleasant and walkable, but like any urban core, parking and traffic are continual challenges. Now an innovative new program is aiming to offer some remedies.
City Go is an all-inclusive membership association that deals with mobility needs, transportation and parking. Kaite Justice, the organization’s program director, recently sat down with the Idaho Business Out Loud podcast to discuss her mission to reduce single-occupancy vehicle use in downtown Boise.
This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you start us off by telling us about the City Go program and the options it provides to businesses and individuals?
City Go is providing for the first time an efficient multi-modal program that helps people commute in, out and around downtown Boise with the goal of reducing congestion, improving air quality and increasing economic vitality in downtown Boise. City Go provides memberships for businesses, for developers and for individuals.
One of the first major initiatives that comes from this is multi-modal transportation benefit packages. We call it the City Go wallet and this is really the first time where businesses and individuals can find information, purchase and manage those benefits. So when I say multi-modal, we’re talking about bus, van pool, carpool, parking, bike share, biking resources, safe walking resources, transit connections which can get you to and from your bus stop. Now you can find all of that in one place. So that’s really exciting.
Beyond that, there’s a lot of other interesting parts of being a member. You will receive expert trip reduction planning and help meet the needs or maybe the problems for your unique set of issues as a business. So that may mean mobility packages, but that may mean creating a parking cash-out program where you can incentivize people not to park because your parking resources are strained or a daily parking program. And so there’s a lot of different things that we can do to help businesses with their commuting needs and help provide benefits for their employees further.
Everyone can be involved and help guide the direction of sustainable strategies and growth management when it comes to our transportation sector. City Go will be very much guided by the voices of our members, so it’s not just public agencies deciding on that. It’s really a collaborative effort to figure out what’s going to be the best options for our unique needs in downtown Boise.
How far out from downtown Boise does this extend?
That’s a tricky question because technically we cover the downtown Boise planning area, so we go Boise State around Ann Morrison, Whitewater, State and Broadway roughly. But transportation is fluid, right? You have people coming from Caldwell and from Star and from Kuna and from Meridian into downtown Boise or you have residents of downtown that may be commuting out. And so while we’re focusing on trips that touch downtown one way or another, we’re really talking about transportation availability throughout the valley.
What were the problems that you set out to solve when you created this program?
City Go was initiated as a collaboration to bring public and private partners together to address the problem of single-occupancy vehicle use in downtown Boise. So the major overarching goal of everything we do is to reduce drive-alone rates. In the beginning, the City of Boise, Capital City Development Corporation, Valley Regional Transit, Boise State and Ada County Highway District and Commuteride came together to start this and grow it so that we could work on that goal.
Right now, maybe the problem doesn’t seem all that big. If you commute in from Canyon County, your commute may be 60 to 70 minutes. It’s not great, but it’s not so terrible that you don’t do it. We just gripe about it a little bit. Same with parking. You may have to drive around a little bit, but usually you can find parking.
So we’re starting to see strain, but it’s not to its breaking point yet. However, we all know Boise’s growing very rapidly. We see it every day. We see it in our housing market, our transportation system, our workforce, etc. It’s very evident that it’s going to have pretty serious impacts. So it’s estimated in 20 years from now, by 2040, we will have an additional 20,000 workers in downtown Boise. And the population growth will equate to about 200,000 more vehicle trips every day on our roadways. That’s a lot of cars. That’s a lot of trips. That’s a lot more congestion.
So it’s not bad now, but it’s going to get worse. And if we don’t do anything to mitigate that, we’re going to see really terrible congestion, really bad parking strains, greater wear and tear, higher maintenance costs, etc.
When you talk about the drive-alone rate in the city of Boise, based on the last census, the drive alone rate is 80.6%, with the rest of the modes being around 20% and that includes telecommuting to work as well as all of the other shared mobility options. But recently we partnered with the Idaho Policy Institute and we did actual mode counts downtown. We were on the side of the road counting single-occupancy vehicles in the last month, and what we found was that the drive-alone rate coming into downtown is actually 90 to 91%. So what that equates to is about 39,000 vehicles coming into downtown every day.
And then that’ll get even worse as we grow. So shifting towards more sustainable options is good now, but it’s going to be a necessity as we go further.
It’s like a preemptive step before the problem gets even worse.
Yes. A lot of cities don’t create such associations or really start to look to solve their problem until they hit that breaking point. A lot of metro cores see an economic downturn because of parking issues, because of congestion, it gets to the point where that downtown area is no longer desirable for employers. People don’t want to go to shop there or whatnot because parking is terrible. Congestion’s bad, and so people want to avoid it. City Go and all of our partners are looking to get something put into place before the problem gets there so that hopefully, unlike other cities, we don’t see that problem get as bad.
What further steps does Treasure Valley need to take to build an even better system? City Go is a step that we’re taking. Are there others that we can start discussing and looking at?
Definitely. I think a lot of it – and this goes for City Go and this goes for public transportation in general – is greater buy-in. We are all part of the problem, right? Any one of us, we get in our vehicle, we drive, we’re part of that congestion. And does that mean we should all get rid of our cars? No. But we need to think about what else we can do. Idaho is, I think, now one of only one or two states that does not have dedicated public transportation funding. And so what that means for us is that our system is significantly underfunded compared to other cities our size. And that’s likely not going to change.
I don’t foresee, at least in the next few years, us getting dedicated funding passed. And so to build our system, it really comes down to locally grown efforts having greater buy-in from the private sector, from our business community and individuals in our community to work towards and want to have better options. It’s going to come at a little bit of a cost to us, but we have to be that solution if we want it.
Where does your funding come from?
So it will come from a lot of different sources. For our first two years, those five partners that I mentioned – City of Boise, CCDC, Valley Regional Transit, Boise State and ACHD Commuteride – all put in funding for the first two years to get this up and going and sustainable. Going forward, we will have funding from membership fees as well, and we’ll work to bring in grants and other funding sources. But it’s definitely going to be a lot of funding streams coming from several different methods.
Do you feel like this program could become an example for other Idaho cities to adopt?
I definitely think it is. Part of the reason we started in downtown Boise is that’s where we are the most dense and that’s where the most options are now. But it’s a strategy that can be utilized in other cities and can grow, whether it’s grown uniquely with several different entities or we grow out to cover other areas. I think that we make it easier.
Speaking of the future, what changes do you foresee in Treasure Valley in 2020?
2020 isn’t too far in the future, but I think we’re going to keep seeing the strain of growth. We see it in our housing market; we see it in the transportation sector. It is just going to become more and more evident. So hopefully that helps bring the conversation to better solutions and better growth management strategies.
In 2020, you’re going to see a new City Go mobility app, which we’re really excited about, where for the first time you’ll be able to purchase and manage your transportation fares and passes in one app so you can really get around via one app on your phone. Our first phase of that is going to come out July or August time period. That should make it even easier for people to choose an option besides just their car.
How does an individual get started on this? How do they manage those different options?
You go to our website citygoboise.com and there’s a ‘how to join’ page for individuals. You can sign up and pay for your annual membership on there. For an individual, it’s $50 a year, which really you can save about $100 a month on some of the packages. So that pays for itself in the first one or two months. We have resources on our website about all the different modes. So maybe if you haven’t ridden before, you can figure out where your bus stop is, what times they go, what is the best option, what’s available where you are and find all the information on all of the modes in one spot.
To sum up for our listeners and readers, what’s the final thought you want to leave them with about the transportation crisis?
To think that we are the problem and we are the solution. So each one of us can make a choice to leave our car at home some days, even if it’s just one day a week.
Think about how you can make an alternative-transportation-friendly work environment as well. How do we build that culture where that’s an easy choice for people to make? A step businesses can do even more than individuals is make those options accessible, to really build the culture around it.
So if you decide to bike to work and you work someplace that doesn’t have bike lockers and doesn’t have showers and doesn’t promote it, then if you’ve never biked to work, you don’t feel as comfortable if those facilities aren’t available. The same with public transit. You promote those things internally. Where we work, we spend so much of our time. That culture is important, and that culture can definitely influence our commute options.