Braking Bad: Bike Share Program Caught in Crossfire Between City of Boise, ACHD 

Bizarre 'weighted' vote wiped out FY 2015 funding for BBSP

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter wanted to let off a little steam. Hizzoner's nemesis, the Ada County Highway District, had just slammed the brakes on second-year funding of the Boise Bike Share Program and Bieter thought an auditorium full of public officials and city planners ought to know about it.

So-called "walkability" guru Jeff Speck (Boise Weekly, Citizen, "Jeff Speck," June 26) had just shared his much-anticipated thoughts on how Boise could become more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly in a Sept. 17 presentation at the Boise Centre, when Bieter waved his hand to get Speck's attention.

"I would like to point out that just yesterday, our [Ada County Highway District] commissioners led an effort to pull funding from Boise's Bike Share Program," said the mayor.

Bieter's ire immediately triggered a buzz throughout the auditorium as attendees took note of the mayor's ever-escalating struggle with ACHD (BW, Citydesk, "Spokesman: ACHD Owes Bieter Apology," June 28.]. While Bieter's administration is responsible for every other inch of city-owned land, ACHD holds sway over all of the city's streets. Simply put, City Hall's authority ends at the curb.

Bieter was referring to a Sept. 16 meeting of COMPASS--the region's primary transportation planning board--where ACHD directors led the charge to move $326,000 away from the 2015 budget for BBSP, which is expected to be rolled out in 2014.

More befuddling than the effort to defund BBSP's 2015 budget was the actual vote taken by the COMPASS board: 500,496 (in favor) to 289,861 (opposed).

"I don't know if even I understand how [the voting] works," said Kelly Fairless, executive director of Valley Regional Transit. "COMPASS has this thing called a 'weighted vote.'"

COMPASS is the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, allocating millions of federal transportation dollars. Its membership includes elected officials from the cities of Boise, Caldwell, Eagle, Garden City, Kuna, Meridian, Middleton, Nampa, Parma and Star, as well as Ada and Canyon county commissioners, Ada and Canyon county highway district directors and representatives from the Capital City Development Corporation, Boise State University, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Idaho Transportation Department and Valley Regional Transit.

But an elite few wield more power at COMPASS than the rest; for example, the city of Boise, Ada and Canyon counties, and the ACHD each have three representatives on the board, while Caldwell, Meridian, Nampa and the Canyon County Highway District each have two members. All of the other entities have one representative. That totals 22 votes.

"And had that vote to defund BBSP been taken by a simple, regular vote, it would have been very close," Fairless told Boise Weekly.

But that never happened. In a bizarre distribution of power, COMPASS allocates "weighted" votes based on membership dues paid. For example, ACHD had 199,719 votes on Sept. 16 (66,573 for each ACHD member present) and Ada County had another 199,719 (all three Ada County commissioners were present). But the city of Boise had only one representative present, meaning it only had 96,512 votes. So when ACHD President Sara Baker moved to sweep $326,000 away from BBSP and reallocate it to roadway maintenance (ACHD member Rebecca Arnold seconded the motion) and Ada County commissioners joined their ACHD brethren, the lopsided vote doomed the prospects of funding for the second year of the bike share program.

"We were surprised and disappointed by ACHD's last-second move to cut the funding," Bieter told Boise Weekly. "Even more distressing: these federal dollars, which had been designated for high-priority alternative transportation programs to help the Treasure Valley address our air quality and traffic congestion issues, will instead be spent on basic road maintenance--something the highway district ought to be able to handle within its own budget."

Bieter was quick to add BBSP was still on track to be launched, albeit in a limited fashion, in 2014.

"We hope ACHD will reconsider in light of the compelling arguments--including those provided by Jeff Speck--that bike share programs encourage people to use bikes when they would otherwise get in their cars."

ACHD spokesman Craig Quintana pushed back, saying BBSP was never threatened.

"The bottom line is that the mayor has his facts wrong," said Quintana. "To say that ACHD killed it is playing fast and loose with what happened."

Quintana said COMPASS, and ACHD directors in particular, had already approved BBSP funding for 2014 but "wanted to evaluate it next year before committing to funding for 2015."

"Yes, ACHD was a part of that move but it was voted on by COMPASS," he said. "The mayor's allegation doesn't seem to be supported by the facts or the votes."

Fairless, whose Valley Regional Transit voted (in a losing effort) alongside the city of Boise, two Canyon County commissioners, the cities of Garden City and Nampa, Boise State, the DEQ and the Idaho Transportation Department to salvage the 2015 funds, said she remains optimistic about BBSP's future.

"This just makes it a little more challenging," said Fairless. "As a member of COMPASS, we're going to respect the decision and do the best we can with what we have in front of us."

Dave Fotsch, one of the bike share program's architects and who was named BBSP's first director on September 30, told Boise Weekly that he was in the room Sept. 16 when the "weighted" COMPASS vote moved the funds away from BBSP.

"We're disappointed," said Fotsch. "We thought we had gone through the process and made a good case for this."

Fotsch said BBSP's plans to introduce seven stations and approximately 70 bikes was still on track for 2014, but where to find the necessary funding to double that number by 2015 was now anybody's guess.

"But it's not over," he said. "We'll need to go back to COMPASS and prove it's sustainable. We'll keep trying."

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