Since June 2014,
the city of Boise has been sharpening its focus on the Vista Neighborhood, particularly through its Energize Our Neighborhood initiative. The city has since partnered with the Boise School District to create a pilot pre-kindergarten program
at Hawthorne and Whitney elementary schools. On a smaller scale, the city has also worked with the Ada County Highway District to install new stop signs and sidewalks in the neighborhood, and will soon launch a partnership with the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs to expand youth activities in the area.
Some of the most ambitious proposals yet, however, surfaced Feb. 17 in a presentation by the Urban Land Institute, which charged a blue ribbon panel to examine the Vista Avenue area.
The panel chose Boise, along with corridors in Denver, Los Angeles and Nashville, for full case studies.
The panel, which included planners and public servants from around the United States, convened before a packed house at ACHD headquarters to talk about Vista Avenue, which runs 1.7 miles from the Boise Depot to the Boise Airport but has no bike lanes and only seven crosswalks. With 23,000 vehicles traveling the road each weekday, city of Boise officials have long called Vista Avenue a "gateway" to the city's downtown.
"But you really shouldn't be surprised to hear us say that Vista Avenue doesn't feel like a gateway," said ULI National Study Team member Tracy Kane, a Nashville attorney. "It's more like a go-through; something you go through to get to the airport, Boise State, downtown or your home."
Kane praised some of the public art at the Boise Airport as an introduction to the city, but quickly added that similar public art projects should continue down Vista Avenue to "add to that introduction."
ULI team member Dan Pleasant, director of transportation for the City of Charlotte, N.C., was more blunt.:
"Let's get down to business," he said. "You should consider converting Vista to one lane in each direction. Perhaps the center lane would be for left-turn lanes. And, of course, protected bike lanes. Additionally, you have some potential [Americans With Disabilities Act] liabilities on some of your sidewalks and curbs. The Department of Justice came into the city of Denver with complaints and it cost that city tens of millions of dollars. You don't want that."
For nearly 90 minutes, the ULI team discussed supporting more local businesses, greater access for pedestrians and bicyclists, and even the possibility of what Dr. Stuart Levin—a ULI team member and Raleigh, N.C. physician—said was the possibility of turning the Vista Neighborhood into the "Brooklyn of Idaho."
"An identity in the Vista Neighborhood doesn't fully exist right now," he said.
City and ACHD officials said they had plenty to chew on, but more than a few pointed to Boise's provocative jurisdictional set-up that has one governmental entity (ACHD) managing the roads while another (city of Boise) managing everything else.