BOISE — In the softening evening light, skateboarders, bicyclists, pedestrians, and bus and car drivers navigated past Boise State University’s Centennial Amphitheater, near the Boise River Greenbelt.
The travelers offered an apt backdrop to an Ada County Highway District commissioner candidate forum Thursday evening, organized by the Boise Bicycle Project.
Molly Garner, a board member of the organization, stressed the importance of road safety ahead of the candidates sharing their views.
“Well-designed infrastructure is the single-most important thing that protects all road users, and vulnerable road users like bicyclists and pedestrians especially,” Garner said.
Two of the highway district’s five seats are up for grabs in the Nov. 8 election. In District 3, incumbent Mary May is being challenged by Miranda Gold. May was not able to attend Thursday’s event, said Nina Pienaar, Boise Bicycle Project’s director of bicycle advocacy and moderator of the event.
An additional candidate, Payton Khan, is registered as running for the District 3 seat, but was not present at the forum and was not mentioned at the forum, as reported by BoiseDev. It is unclear to Boise Bicycle Project founder Jimmy Hallyburton if Khan is truly running because despite the candidate filing, there is no contact information available for them, nor do they have a campaign website or social media accounts, the article said.
District 3 stretches from the Boise River in the south to the Ada County line in the north and west, to the eastern edge of the Boise downtown area.
In District 4, incumbent Kent Goldthorpe is being challenged by Neil Durrant. District 4 stretches between the county line in the west, east, and south, with rough boundaries of Interstate 84 and Kuna-Mora Road in the north.
Below are some highlights from the forum.
Miranda Gold served as an Eagle City Council member before moving to Boise.
“I’m really excited to be running and I think that ACHD is a really great opportunity for all kinds of priorities that align with my goals, including multimodal transportation: ensuring that we have complete streets and infrastructure that support all modes, for all users, all abilities, and we know our communities are better for that,” Gold said.
Goldthorpe has served on the commission for eight years. He said he has seen significant improvements in how the agency treats members of the public who share concerns about infrastructure. He said he often worries about how decisions the commission makes affect the public, including pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. A few years ago, he insisted on allocating part of the budget to beef up sidewalks.
He said he would like to ensure a continuation of the safe routes to schools program, which is backed by vehicle registration fees.
Durrant is a farmer in Kuna. He emphasized the need to think about safety and plan for growth.
“We should all be able to feel safe no matter what mode of transportation we are taking down the road, whether that’s in our own personal vehicles, whether it’s walking, whether it’s biking,” Durrant said. “We should not have to fear, ‘am I going to make it make it where I need to go today?’ because of other people and how they’re driving, or if the roads aren’t adequate, or the sidewalks or bike paths aren’t adequate for the needs.”
Asked if they would support changing speed limits on roads to promote safety, all candidates said yes.
Goldthorpe said the commission just discussed the possibility on Wednesday of reducing the speed limit on sections of Warm Springs Avenue.
“Happens all the time,” he said.
Durrant said it would be important to consider reducing speed limits in areas around schools, roads leading into large subdivisions and shopping centers, and other areas people tend to walk and ride bikes.
Gold said, “I have heard [in] pretty much every section of this district that there are folks that are facing speeding concerns, and so I definitely think that’s an important thing to look at.”
All three candidates present also said they would potentially support approving narrower roads to help make it easier to install traffic calming devices, such as sidewalk bulb-outs and chicanes, which add curves to the road or sidewalk that drivers must slow down to navigate.
Goldthorpe said the commissioners consider each road on a case-by-case basis.
“We look at every single request that we get to narrow the traffic lanes based on some of those factors knowing full well that narrowing the lanes is the single best way to slow traffic down and make us safer,” he said.
Making the county bike friendly
One of Boise Bicycle Project’s goals is to “transform Boise into the bicycle capitol of America,” Pienaar said. Candidates offered various ideas for how to do that.
Durrant said his district is fairly rural, and though adding bike lanes is often a good thing, it would be necessary for the commission to “weigh where the bike lanes or the bike paths make sense and where they don’t.”
Goldthorpe said he believes it makes sense to prioritize bike lanes and infrastructure beginning in urban cores and working outward. But he also saw opportunities in rural areas for wide, multi-use pathways. The commissioners ran a bill a couple of legislative sessions ago to allow such pathways where they were not legal before, and now, they are required for all new developments, he said.
Gold said there is potential for bike friendly routes in both the more rural parts of her district and the urban areas.
“I think there’s lots of opportunity to advocate for better bike infrastructure and connectivity as those projects come up and to make sure that it’s part of a larger comprehensive bike network,” she said.
Improving air quality
Candidates offered a variety of answers when asked how they would work to improve the Treasure Valley’s air quality.
Gold said people having access to other transportation options besides cars is important, and that the agency should “be really supportive of putting in the appropriate infrastructure and supporting transit goals for our communities so that we help offload some of that.”
Though the poor air quality in the valley is a concern, it can be explained largely by factors outside of the district’s control, such as forest fires, Durrant said.
Goldthorpe said improving air quality through reducing vehicle emissions has been a priority of the district, informing things such as the installation of roundabouts and what types of street sweepers are purchased.
State public transit funding
Idaho is one of the only states that does not provide dedicated funding toward public transportation, Pienaar said, and asked candidates what they would do to expand access to public transportation.
Gold said that partnering with other agencies to write grants for transit is one way to support those systems. She also believes that a local options tax would provide “the ability on a really local level to decide what we would like to invest in for our communities.”
Durrant said, “we are growing, we have an immense population, that’s coming through here, and whether that’s looking at rail or looking at better transportation through buses … I think it’s working with our state legislators because it’s not just an issue affecting Ada County.”
There has been “absolutely no appetite to create a permanent funding solution for mass transit” in the Legislature, Goldthorpe said. However, despite limits to how the district can fund Valley Regional Transit, he thinks the district can continue to support that transit system in securing grants for its operations.
All three candidates said they would support signing onto a letter asking the Legislature for dedicated transportation funding.
Goldthorpe said there had been “no discussion at the proper levels” about it, adding that, “for this particular topic, it would be crazy if we all on our commission did not sign onto a letter saying, ‘please begin this discussion. It’s important.’”