I had a chance to visit Boise Idaho with my family this past weekend. It was a big weekend for cycling as one of the city’s signature events, the Twilight Criterium, took place on downtown streets last night. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stay around for the races, but while we were in town we were able to get some cycling in and I wanted to share my observations with you.
For those who don’t know, Boise is Idaho’s largest city. It is the seat of government and also the home of the state’s largest university. The city itself is surprisingly compact and has a population of just over 200,000. That may not seem very large, but it is the largest city between Utah’s Wasatch Front and the PDX. There’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan vibe here. Someone recently told me that Boise reminded him of Denver back around 1980 and I would be inclined to agree, having first landed in the Mile High City in 1981 myself.
The Bike League rates Boise as a Silver Bicycle Friendly City. I looked at the League report card but it doesn’t shed much light on the reasons why the city is ranked so highly. I think it boils down to a passionate advocacy organization and the sheer number of cyclists. There’s not a lot of on street or protected infrastructure here outside of the fabled Boise River Greenbelt which stretches 25 miles from one end of town to the other. We had a chance to ride the greenbelt through downtown and Boise State’s bicycle friendly campus and it was delightful. The pavement was in good shape, the route well marked and the crowds of people polite and friendly.
What Boise lacks in protected bike lanes it makes up for in other ways. South 8th Street between the river and the capitol building is as nice a shared street as I’ve seen anywhere. It’s low speed, low traffic, nestled between two major arterials and yet provides critical connectivity through the heart of the urban core. This is exactly how it should be done. Kudos.
There are also a lot of nice, high quality bike racks here. In fact, I’ve never seen so many. It appears that most were provided by the city rather than privately. Many of them were full of bicycles…a sure sign that a place is bicycle friendly.
We utilized Boise Green Bike while in town. This bike share program is different than others I’m familiar with in that you can lock your bike to a rack anywhere in town (as opposed to a docking station) when you’re done using it. The electronics are on the bike itself rather than in a kiosk, and this dramatically expands the system’s reach. Even so, most of the bikes were located in the immediate downtown and Boise State campus area. The bikes themselves were well maintained and comfortable. The system was easy to figure out and use. The price was dirt cheap, $4/hour.
The older neighborhoods surrounding downtown were vibrant and alive. There’s no abandonment in Boise (or if there is we didn’t find it). As is typical in the west, population density is higher than you might expect, which makes getting around on a bicycle easy and practical. We especially liked the North End/ Hyde Park neighborhood and its eclectic mix of restaurants and shops. Just minutes from downtown, the North End was very popular with cyclists.
Last, but not least, I want to give a nod to motorists in Boise. It seems as though everywhere we went there was an awareness of cyclists and a desire to get along. Maybe it’s because the city is small and compact and you can get across it in ten minutes. Maybe it was something else entirely, but I noticed none of the intimidation and other bad behavior so prevalent in many other communities.
Jan and I agree. Boise is a city that we will likely return to. As nice as Green Bike was, next time we’ll bring our own bikes. There’s some awesome mountain biking located just up the hill from downtown, and having our own wheels will open up more terrain and give us an opportunity to explore this wonderful city more fully.