I began this column armed with fire and fury about the widening of South Boulevard and the oncoming destruction of the beauty of that road we know and love. As I did more research, however, my fury has dimmed, and I am left feeling more hopeful about our city leaders than I was before.
I believe that the outcry over widening the street is partially misinformation — the city’s proposal is to widen the street between 18th and 21st Street only. That section makes up approximately one-quarter of the length of the debated street — a widening of the entire street it would not be. However, mischaracterization or not, I do not agree with the city’s plan. The reason given for this change is the traffic congestion around the intersection with 17th Street.
With this logic, the city would have widened the intersection of Broadway and Memorial Drive back to Constitution Avenue or more, which clearly would have been counter to the proposed aims for the leisurely and scenic nature of Memorial Drive. South Boulevard is already widened to 18th Street — the city should prioritize the scenic nature of the street rather than traffic flow onto 17th Street.
One of the underlying points in this debate is whether or not South Boulevard should be an arterial on the same plane as Woodruff, 17th or Sunnyside. South Boulevard contrasts sharply in terms of the relative number of residences and pathways to schools and parks and warrants being characterized as a different type of street. The city rightfully created a new traditional neighborhood zone to preserve the nature of the city’s oldest interior streets. Why couldn’t we create a new designation for streets such as South Boulevard?
One aspect that the city must address is the feeling of insecurity while biking on South Boulevard now. The new striping plan feels less safe for cyclists than the previous striping plan. I sometimes ride my bike to work, and it feels like cars pass significantly closer than before. I would not feel comfortable riding with small children in the bike lane, though I admit I wouldn’t have felt comfortable with children riding in the street with me before. I am in favor, however, of clearly marked bike lanes to delineate space for cyclists and to remind cars to share the road.
The complexity of this debate is that the city isn’t against bicyclists and pedestrians. In fact, city officials are finally integrating bike lanes and lowering the speed limit in an effort to implement the changes that were recommended by the Connecting Our Community plan. The city is also building more bike paths along the canals, which would provide a safe, car-free path to our parks. I grew up here in Idaho Falls, and I never thought that I would be able to write those previous sentences.
For the record, the two road proposals on the table seem limited. If we want to prioritize pedestrian and cycling safety and the scenic, leisurely nature of the road, here’s another idea: create one lane going north and one going south with two wider bike lanes on either side. Rollandet, which already doesn’t have sidewalks and doesn’t connect children to schools in the same way as Boulevard, could be widened to accommodate more traffic.
My fury has dimmed, but I wonder, are you listening, city? You promised a time to reevaluate the striping plan, and here we are. I am here; I matter, and so do the other voices in this discussion.