Boise Bike Week: Wheels, e-Scooters and Shoe Leather 

"We have a chance to be different and set the gold standard."

The boy, no older than 9, walked his diminutive green bike over to Colby Spath.

"Oh, this is completely flat, bud," Spath said, looking down at the bike's utterly deflated back tire.

With minutes to go before a group of approximately 20 grade school-aged children and a handful of Safe Routes to School volunteers pedaled out of the Whitney Elementary School parking lot, Spath set to work patching the inner tube. He conducted similar adjustments and repairs on at least three other bicycles of various sizes before takeoff.

The old saying goes, "It's as easy as riding a bike," but the Safe Routes to School program, a partnership between schools, the Idaho Walk Bike Alliance and a smattering of local and state organizations, has introduced many children to the more sophisticated rules of the road. On their ride across the Boise Bench, along the Greenbelt and through downtown Boise, the self-styled "Wolverines" learned about keeping pace with one another, how to use bike lanes, safety around cars and being aware of their surroundings. They were pedaling their way to meet their District 17 legislators—Representative John Gannon, Representative Sue Chew and Senator Marianne Jordan—at the Idaho Statehouse.

Later, over coffee, the group's leader, Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance Board President Lisa Brady, said the training will make the Wolverines better cyclists, and, when they're old enough, more conscientious motorists.

"It's changing the behavior of a driver, especially a young driver, around bikes," she said.

click to enlarge HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry

From Sunday, May 12, through Saturday, May 18, the TVCA will celebrate Boise Bike Week along with cyclists across the Treasure Valley. As in years past, there will be crowd-pleasing events like the famous kick-off party at Highlands Hollow Brewhouse (Monday, May 13), National Bike to Work Day (Friday, May 17) and Bike Prom at The HandleBar (the theme this year is "Western/Rodeo") on Saturday, May 18. This will also be the 10-year anniversary of the high-profile deaths of several Boise cyclists, who will be honored during the 2019 Ride of Silence on Saturday, May 18. The message that the road should be a safe place for all users ties the events together.

"Maybe Bike Week is our best platform for that," Brady said.

Her view of road users is expansive. In the last year, three companies—Bird, Lime and Spin—distributed e-scooters on Boise streets, and since then, the devices have become nearly ubiquitous, particularly downtown. Brady added to that pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, skateboarders and others using non-automobile forms of transportation, all of whom have rights to space on roadways, sidewalks and bike lanes. None of them, she said, should be excluded from the broader conversation about transportation.

It's a simple notion with a complicated road forward in car-centric Boise. Front and Myrtle streets—the west- and eastbound lanes of Highway 26, respectively—give greater weight to people driving through Boise to the suburbs than people moving between neighborhoods, downtown and the Greenbelt. On some stretches of State Street, a pedestrian can walk more than half a mile before coming to a crosswalk, and many neighborhoods lack sidewalks, making pedestrian and wheelchair use dicey. Several major thoroughfares have also expanded, sometimes at the expense of private property, to make room for more cars. The net effect, Brady said, is that many motorists see non-motorists as second-class commuters.

"They only see you on a skateboard, and not you as a road user," Brady said. "We give privilege to motorists more than anything."

click to enlarge HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry

Concerns over the roads themselves are as fraught as those over the law. Idaho is the home state of the Idaho Stop, which lets cyclists treat stop lights like stop signs and stop signs like yield signs, decriminalizing the way many cyclists have long used roadways. Recently, other states have begun to adopt the Idaho Stop, but many motorists and some cyclists see the law as granting special rights to riders. Brady said she has heard "rumblings" that lawmakers may try to rescind it. Meanwhile, TVCA and others have reached out to the Idaho Department of Education to put bicycling on statewide physical education curricula, and bike organizations across the state have pressed for enhanced penalties in bicycle-related accidents in which the motorist is at fault.

Following turnover on TVCA's board of directors that brought on "a younger trend" of members, Brady said it will also resume its bi-annual bike counts, which paints bicycle ridership in terms of hard data for ACHD and COMPASS.

"If we're not doing the counting, who's doing the counting?" she said.

A combination of technology, roads, people's behavior on roads and the law will determine the future of cycling in Boise, and that notion glows at the heart of Boise Bike Week. At a State Street community "block party" hosted by Valley Regional Transit on Saturday, May 18, the Route 9 bus line will run at 15-minute intervals while people take in a traveling trolly exhibit, live music, kids' activities and food truck fare. At an adaptive bike fair that same day, they can try out modified bikes, tricycles, recumbent bikes and other variations on a pedal-power theme. There will be bike-themed happy hours and coffee klatches, a gear swap and a ride to end polio—cases have been reported in Afghanistan and Pakistan—that day, too. Hopefully, Brady said, those and other events will foster a culture around biking, making the streets safer and more equitable for all.

"We have a chance to be different and set the gold standard," she said.

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