Boise’s Bike Culture Booms - Even in Winter!

Boise might be a little bike crazy. Consider: The Ridge to Rivers trail system, jam-packed with mountain bikers who appear during the first thaw of spring and throng the Foothills until the snow drives the last leaves off the trees. Or the thousands of fans who jostle for position along the Twilight Criterium race route every July. Or the bewigged, fancifully dressed hordes (nearly 10,000) who ride in New Belgium Brewing Company’s Tour de Fat every year. Or the hundreds of people who enjoy the tree-lined, bike-friendly Greenbelt that stretches along the Boise River.

But the number one sign of Boise’s obsession with bikes? This stat from no less an official source than the U.S. Census Bureau: Boise is fourth among U.S. cities with the highest percentage of people who bike to work.

One of those commuters is Peggy Jordan, who moved to Boise in the early 1990s in large part because Boise’s downtown core seemed cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly.

“As someone who likes to get around by walking or riding a bike, stumbling upon downtown Boise was a good sign,” she says.

Jordan is so enthusiastic about the benefits of riding her bike to work (“I’ve been bike commuting since 1976!”) that she has never accepted a job she couldn’t cycle to — and that included several years traveling between Boise and Meridian.

Jordan is in good company. According to the Census Bureau, the number of bicycle commuters in the United States increased about 60 percent between 2000 and 2012. Millennials (or people who were born, approximately, during the era between the Reagan Administration and the 2000 election) seem to place a higher value on modes of transportation other than the car.

That trend is playing out in Boise, according to Dave Fotsch, executive director of Boise Bike Share. “People want to work, live, and play in downtowns,” he says.

Fotsch came up with the idea for the Boise Bike Share almost four years ago after attending a conference featuring Mia Birk, who was instrumental in guiding the policies that have made Portland a famously bike-friendly town. He was inspired by Birk’s company, Alta Bicycle Share, which creates bike share systems for cities around the world.

Fotsch has been an avid all-season bicycle commuter for years and saw how bikes could help people take advantage of downtown Boise. “Cities that are bike friendly are pedestrian friendly, and that improves livability,” he says.

This April, Boise Bike Share is scheduled to place 114 bikes at 14 stations close to downtown Boise, from St. Luke’s to Boise State. The share system is designed for one-way rides between stops. A commuter will simply pick up a green Boise Bike Share cycle at one of the stations, ride it to his or her destination, and lock it up. (Ideally, the commuter will take it back to another Boise Bike Share station.) Boise Bike Share is still working out pricing, but users will pay a small fee for one-time use or have the option of opening a membership that will grant access for a week or year-round.

The project, now housed under Valley Regional Transit, is funded by federal money and investments from the private sector, including major sponsors SelectHealth and St. Luke’s.

“We want this system to be self-sustaining,” Fotsch says. “It’s a true public-private partnership.”

Boise Bike Share is just one of the many organizations promoting cycling in Boise and around the state; it’s joined by organizations such as the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance, Boise Street Smart Cycling, the Boise Bicycle Project, and the Idaho Pedestrian and Cycling Alliance.

Boise is changing to accommodate more foot and bike traffic, as well. Earlier this year, the Ada County Highway District experimented with buffered bike lanes, putting temporary lanes in place for one month. Thousands of people took advantage of the public comment period to weigh in about the lanes; ACHD commissioners voted not to extend the lanes’ trial period beyond its initial testing phase.

But that doesn’t mean buffered bike lanes, which offer more protection than downtown’s current bike lanes, aren’t still up for debate. As of the November election, there are two new members on ACHD’s board.

“Just the fact that ACHD was willing to try (the lanes) was a positive step,” Fotsch says.

Jordan, like many other bike lovers, will continue to ride no matter what. Cycling is essential for enjoying the seasons, she says, and doesn’t cut you off from the natural world the same way a car does.

Plus, she says, it’s fun.

“For at least a little bit, you get to be a kid,” she says. “You feel free.”

Dave Fotsch’s Five Bike Commuting Essentials

  • 1.Water
  • 2.Lights. Law dictates a light in the front; Fotsch has a reflector in back, as well, and is a liberal user of reflecting tape.
  • 3.A rain jacket.
  • 4.Ski pants and ski jacket. Idaho’s unpredictable weather can switch from snowy to muddy in a few hours, and that transition doesn’t work well with office clothes, Fotsch says.
  • 5.Helmet. “You can’t make another head,” he says.