You Take the Wheel 

This time, citizens will steer circulator process

North-south or east-west?

Rail or rubber?

Something or nothing?

The future is now when it comes to public transportation options. But Boise officials insist that this time they want you to take the wheel.

And that's where the above map comes in. They're hoping that Boise citizens will take a pen/pencil/marker and begin drawing their preferences for a downtown circulator. And instead of 2008's ill-fated attempt to sell the public on an east-west streetcar loop, this time officials want citizens to steer a new planning process, beginning with deciding whether a circulator should be dedicated rail or a rubber tire trolley. They also want to know if citizens prefer a loop that circulates from the downtown core to Boise State University (or beyond); or perhaps an east-west loop connecting St. Luke's Hospital to the YMCA. Perhaps most importantly, the city needs to know if citizens even want a circulator in the first place.

"Part of this conversation has to include the status quo," said Neal Oldemeyer, director of the city's Public Works Department. Simply put, Boise officials need to get a sense of what would happen if the city did nothing.

To the person, every city official Boise Weekly spoke with about the new process pointed to Boise City Councilwoman Elaine Clegg, who insisted that blank maps be given to the public to garner initial input.

"I was very adamant that we start the process with the public this time," said Clegg. "I envision this as an extended charrette process. We'll take those comments and give them to a steering committee to kick them around. But then we'll go back to the public and ask, 'Did we get this right? Is this what you meant?'"

Retiree Chuck Chappell studied the blank map hard before drawing his own idea of a circulator route.

"I can see myself hopping on and off a circulator in Boise, even for a few blocks," he said. "I know that Boise talked about an east-west route last time around, but I think a lot of people wised up and they're talking more about a north-south loop this time. Boise State is the most obvious destination to me."

Kyle Rosenmeyer couldn't agree more. He's a civil engineer now, but spent the better part of six years attending Boise State.

"In those six years at BSU, I could count on my fingers the times that I went from campus into downtown," said Rosenmeyer. "I always stayed on campus in between classes because I didn't want to lose my parking spot."

Meanwhile, downtown business owners and employees may be the most anxious to participate in the new process.

"We're talking about choices; and not just public tansit but bike shares and bike lanes," said Karen Sander, executive director of the Downtown Boise Association. "All of these pieces are about connecting."

And while the face of downtown Boise continues to change at breakneck speed--the Eighth and Main Tower, Jump, and a big change for the Grove Plaza --city officials insist that the new circulator conversation is not being driven by the development--but it sure doesn't hurt.

"The stars kind of aligned," said Oldemeyer. "We secured the federal grant money, and that triggered the new analysis. But yes, now is the right time to be doing this with so much going on at Boise State and downtown.

Two themes have already surfaced in early conversations with community stakeholders.

"A lot of people say they like the idea of rail because of its permanence," said Public Works spokesman Vince Trimboli. "And, we're also hearing that Boise State is the No. 1 destination. But it's the very beginning of a journey."

And like most journeys, it begins with a map.

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