Boise’s Urban Bicycle Route System: 1976 to 2015


By PJ Mitchell, pmitchell@congeo.org

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Cover of the October 1976 Master Plan…this is cool stuff!

It’s difficult to think of Boise and to not think of bicycles. The Greenbelt and the Foothill Trails get a lot of attention for their great recreational appeal. But Boise’s also a moderate size city with favorably flat terrain and urban design features that can accommodate bicycling as a practical means of transportation. Bikes can be used to commute to work, grocery shop, run errands, get to school, and much more. In this series of interactive webmaps, we explore the proposed urban bike system from the October 1976 Master Plan and the existing system in 2015. Expose map legends by clicking on the arrow button in the top left corners. Links to stand-alone webmaps are available at the bottom of each.

1976: What existed and what was proposed

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Some key elements in 1976: Official urban bicycle route system options were scant to nil. Off-street Class I Multi-Use Paths were proposed for State Street, Fairview Ave, and Franklin Road. Unlike the current Greenbelt’s rustic setting, one might envision these as equivalent to modern “Cycle Tracks” on what have become some of the Boise MSA’s busiest commercial thoroughfares. The Franklin Road route is a stand-out, as it would have connected with another proposed Off-Street Path along the Union Pacific Rail Road right-of-way, then ending at Kootenai Street, a short distance from the start of the proposed Ridenbaugh Canal Path. This brings up the canal paths, which were a notably important component of the Master Plan. Canal Paths are today not officially considered public routes, yet they receive extensive informal social use. Also of note is Chinden Avenue’s former Off-Street Class I Multi-Use Path from Main Street to around 48th Street.

2015: Boise’s Current and Planned Urban Bicycle System

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Some key elements in 2015: Bike lanes stretch distantly into SW Boise and connect the sprawling SW neighborhoods south to north. In the downtown vicinity a handful of additional bike lanes have been installed beyond those proposed in 1976. One wonders if the evolution of 8th Street into a primary north-south route could have been predicted. The Greenbelt, with a few maneuvers from it’s proposal has been built well beyond it’s 1976 envisioning. Outside of downtown, the bicycle system appears to utilize a backdoor approach into accessing commercial services. Franklin Road, Fairview, Chinden, and State Street are today very unwelcoming routes for cyclists. In fact none of the more urban styled Off-Street Class I features have seen much progress (excluding the Pioneer Path).

Looking at the Existing Systems (all paths, lanes, routes) of 1976 (red lines) and 2015 (green lines) side-by-side

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1976’s minimal system is simply put: unrecognizable in 2015. For a more detailed look at the two systems mapped by class and including planned/proposed routes, click on the image below.

BoiseBikeStoryMap

Off-Street Paths

Most bicyclists feel safest riding Off-Street infrastructure. The Greenbelt is a good example of an Off-Street path. Also, for a more urban feel in the Treasure Valley the Federal Way “path” is an exceptional experience. Off-Street paths are likely the most noticeable difference between the proposed system of 1976 and that existing in 2015. While great attention was paid to the Greenbelt, other proposed Off-Street paths have gone almost entirely un-built: Canal Paths were deemed hazardous, the Union Pacific Rail Road right-of-way was purchased for commuter rail use, while the history of the commercial corridors is unknown to this writer. One may speculate those Off-Street routes would have given better neighborhood and commercial access outside the downtown core and increased overall ridership. In the final webmap below, we highlight the proposed and existing Off-Street Multi-Use Paths. Click on the image to launch the map.

BoiseOffStreetPaths