Suppose you were in charge of an Inland Northwest city of about 215,000, an island of vibrant urbanity frozen in a tax- and transit-hostile hinterland. Now suppose your city had a transit system about on a par with Wenatchee, Washington — population 35,000 — with buses running at best every 30 minutes to 10 PM on the weekday, minimal Saturday service, and exactly no service on Sundays. What kind of transit investments would you make? Well, if you’re the Mayor of Boise, you look to a $111 million, “T-shaped” streetcar alignment, with a projected 2040 daily ridership of 1,400 souls.

The only official information I can find from the city doesn’t include minor details such as headway, transit lanes, or signal priority. One independent writer, who obtained a trove of data via disclosure request, writing in December, suggested that transit lanes are yet to be decided, and headways are likely to be 15 minutes. It’s difficult to quantify distance and travel time advantage on a T- (really, J-)shaped alignment, but some eyeballing of the map suggests that the furthest-separated pair of stations are about two miles walk apart. For an able-bodied person, the circulator would be worth waiting for only between a handful of station pairs.

What makes this poignant is that Boise’s same size sibling up north is a canonical example of what they should be aiming for. The Spokane Transit Authority recently passed (albeit on a second attempt) STA Moving Forward, a major package of improvements in service quality and quantity, whose banner project is a high-frequency, six-mile, $72 million battery-bus corridor, that is not at all J-shaped. Moreover, Boise appears to be trying to do the right thing with a rapid bus treatment on State Street, one of its principal suburban arterial connections, so it’s clear that someone there actually knows what effective medium-size city transit service looks like.

If Boise actually builds this park-and-trundle service, they are liable to find what every other “placemaking” streetcar has found: dispite cherry-picking only the densest, most-walkable parts of the urban area, these services have a very low ceiling. In February, Portland’s much-vaunted streetcar system bragged of serving a record 16,300 daily riders. This might sound impressive, until you realize that the rest of the transit system moved 317,000 people per weekday in same month, with MAX light rail and boring, uncool bus service doing the heavy lifting at 123,400 and 188,300 riders respectively. Of those 16,300 rides, a considerable fraction are surely cannibalized from walking, bikeshare, or transit service on adjacent streets, rendering them at best a wash if you care about cost effectiveness, energy consumption, or the quality of the downtown urban experience.

With the benefit of 15 years’ hindsight, perhaps we can generalize a little and say that cannibalization has been the theme of the American mixed-traffic streetcar “revival”. Every mayor, every body politic, has a finite amount of attention to devote to the issues of the day. Time and effort spent building slow streetcars is spent solving a non-problem, while real problems fester. Most local dollars that could be raised for a streetcar could be raised for other, more effective uses in the common good; meanwhile, the federal transit funding outlook is grim. Perhaps we can take this as an opportunity to refocus on things that actually work.

51 Replies to “Boise Puts “Cool Factor” ahead of Mobility”

  1. You also have to consider that, unlike Spokane, Boise is the Capitol and largest city in the state. Not that this makes the streetcar any better of an idea but it does explain a bit of their willingness to experiment.

  2. Thank you Bruce. Streetcars are cute and nice, but they mainly only serve as an economic development tool to entice developers to develop & invest along the routes. As such, they should be paid by fares & those whom will financially gain. Not grants.

  3. I think to have a streetcar work, you need great transit already…otherwise it’s just a waste of money. Once the Seattle City Connector is finished, it serves as an amazing complement to LINK and bus routes, while using a very strong route for connecting urban hubs.

    That’s just not what Idaho is doing, nor will it ever do at this rate.

  4. I don’t know Boise.

    I’m left scratching my head as to what the daylong target market for this system is. Students? Government worker midday trips? Shoppers? Evening club crowds?

    Is there a slope that this is encountering? Slopes don’t show on most street maps.

    Looping is fine for connecting a large area with a transit hub, but this looks like the hub is already in the middle and not at one end. It also looks like it would be tedious to ride all the way around this line to get to and from a single destination stop.

    I suspect this was created by a committee of people who never have often ridden a streetcar but wanted to please as many interests as possible — meaning that no single interest is served well.

    1. Actually, the Boise State University transit center is at the tip of the J at the south end, but I can’t imagine there being a ton of demand from there a fairly short distance into downtown. (Not shown on the map is a pedestrian bridge from the park to campus that is more direct to east downtown than the map indicates, meaning it’s about a mile walk from the BSU transit center to 3rd and Main). BSU is primarily a commuter school, and there appears to be very little on the west side of downtown where a ride on the streetcar might make some sense from campus, so not sure what they are aiming at here other than the “prestige” of a streetcar. That said, it’s been several years since I’ve been there so things may be changing apace…

      1. I checked the street view of Downtown Boise.

        Downtown Boise looks pretty flat. There doesn’t appear to be a slope issue.

        The area west of Downtown still appears to be low density. They don’t even appear to have paid parking required on several streets!

        I think you are probably right — it’s mostly about prestige. If it’s prestige, then they should have just left out the east-west top of the “T” and just run a north-south line from the campus to near the Capitol. That would have saved money as well as provided some semblance of direct service. If they wanted an east-west loop line, they could add that at a later time. This circuitous route design looks like a rider’s nightmare for one direction in every round trip involving this loop!

  5. Mr. Nourish comes off as pretty uninformed about the Portland Streetcar network and its relation with the rest of Portland’s transit system. There is no “boring” bus service to cannibalize, because the workhorse of the streetcar network, the NS Line, serves major population and employment centers (Northwest, Pearl District, Downtown, PSU, OHSU) and there is little to no redundancy serving all of these nodes (and there never was one, even before Streetcar opened in 2001). The Loop service is still relatively new and has been seeing growing ridership as the Lloyd District and Central Eastside transition to mixed-use neighborhoods with more residential development.

    Trains on the NS Line are routinely packed with commuters in afternoon rush hour and they’re desperately trying to acquire more cars (including Seattle’s original SLUT trains) to increase frequencies. The line also sees a lot of users with mobility devices, and the trains with their bridge plates are generally much more efficient with wheelchair boarding than the traditional lifts on TriMet’s bus fleet.

    1. Agreed, the NS line carries about 13,000+ of those 16,000 and is a workhorse. CL is the one of questionable value currently.

    2. For the record, TriMet’s bus fleet no longer have “traditional lifts.” All high-floor buses have been replaced with low-floor buses that have ramps.

    3. The routes may be unique but buses or trolleybuses could do them. I was in Portland last weekend and the streetcars were as slow-slow-slow as they’ve always been. In fact, there’s a new transit bridge and a west side transit viaduct that are used by streetcars, MAX, and a couple bus routes. I took a streetcar across the bridge and it was mind-gratingly slow, and so was the approach on both sides of the bridge. Later I took 9-Powell bus across the same bridge and it just booked along at 30ish mph like buses normally do, no slowdowns for it. Why can’t the streetcar do that? Why do they build rail infrastructure that’s so slow? It’s also slow on MAX Green/Yellow between Union Station and the Steel Bridge (and on the bridge of course). Why? Why don’t they spend a little more money so that the trains can run as fast as a bus does? (And when will Portland get serious about a downtown tunnel?)

      So Portland’s streetcars are slow and have stunted ridership like all American streetcars, but Portland’s do get more riders than others. That seems to be because of the unique corridors, the centrality of the corridors, and their dense and/our tourist-rich walksheds. In comparison the SLU streetcar is paralleled by the 40 and 70, the First Hill streetcar has a minor market and has a turn in the middle so it can’t replace trips on the 7, 9, 14, or 60.

    4. Yes, it’s weird that the author chose to compare the ridership of the Portland Streetcar to the entire TriMet network. When considered against other individual lines it’s one of the most used parts of the system, getting more ridership than all but two of TriMet’s bus lines.

      Say what you will about streetcars in other cities, but the Portland Streetcar is very well used.

  6. Well, seems like some big urban places that have top urban planners felt the need to install limited use, slow, expensive streetcars even though they have more pressing transportation needs. You know, places like here. So maybe that’s where they got the idea they needed a streetcar from.

  7. This reminds me of another 200k city that has tried a weird shaped streetcar system that doesn’t really go anywhere. Tacoma. Yeah, it looks cool on their chamber of commerce brochures but nobody rides it… Of course we are doubling down in Tacoma to see if we can get a real ridership if we extend it to a U shape… Eventually I can see a ridership if it gets to TCC, but it will just be cannibalizing existing bus service.

    1. What Pierce Transit service is T-Link going to cannibalize? There are no PT routes that go from Downtown to Hilltop via the Stadium District. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a shitty project whose dollars could be better spent improving mobility through Tacoma, but I don’t see many scenarios where someone would drop riding Route 2 for the T-Link expansion.

    2. My thoughts exactly. First, aside from the fact that Tacoma Link Hilltop extension resembles route 26 (which, if it doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because it was discontinued as part of the 2011 cuts due to budget cuts and low ridership. It’s shown in this old map: https://web.archive.org/web/20080811095104/http://www.piercetransit.org:80/dtmap.htm), it competes with direct bus service to TDS, and the direct bus wins. It’s probably going to be pretty fast from along MLK to 10th and commerce, but to TDS, it’s a silly U-shape that makes very little sense. What’s worse is when ST3 is built out, we’ll have a fast grade-separated rail line from TCC that does a U-bend up to Stadium with at-grade crossings, then down to TDS, erasing the speed advantage. If you’re going to Seattle, then that’s another 90+ minute light rail ride, unless you make it in time to catch the Sounder.

      TCC Link should have been a second line directly from TDS to TCC, or a spur off the Hilltop line along route 1. Now the whole ride from TCC to Seattle will be a silly zigzag of a ride (let’s go to Stadium district! Now let’s go to I-5! Now let’s go to downtown Federal Way! Now let’s go to I-5 again! Now let’s go to Highline College! Let’s go to I-5, no, highway 99, no, 518, no I-5 again, no 599, wait, Rainier Valley! Oh right, I’m supposed to be on the other side of I-5, better cross under beacon hill.)

      1. True, the ride from the airport station to Town already feels long enough, couldn’t imagine riding all the way from Tacoma, especially Tacoma to UW! (Though a ride from Federal Way seems borderline bearable). Beefing up Sounder frequency and speed seems like the way to go.

  8. I spend a few days in Boise 2 years ago attending a conference downtown. I stayed at a hotel along the river about 2 miles away. I used the bikeshare system to commute – similar to Portland it allows you to lock bikes away from docks, so I parked a bike right at the hotel bike rack each evening.

    I did not use the local bus system, since even along a major road corridor into downtown during peak hours, there was like 30 minute frequency, and no span to return to the hotel later in the evening.

    Instead of this streetcar plan, I recommend Boise look into what Bellingham has done for buses. It appears the primary goal is to create high-quality transit between BSU and downtown. Bellingham has done this by combining infrequent routes into a specially branded corridor with guaranteed frequent service between WWU and downtown. The special stops and buses are quite visible and easy to remember, resulting in a bus service that transit newbie might consider using.

    1. Agreed. The Streetcar bubble in American cities is primarily driven by Federal dollars.

      Yet another example of why free money from the government isn’t necessarily better than actually paying for something locally.

  9. Usually love Bruce’s writing, but given CityLab’s Detroit hit piece here’s hoping hindsight shows this month ends up being the low-point in lazy streetcar bashing.

    1. I thought both hit pieces were pretty on point. These infrastructure investments are primarily real estate investments, not transit solutions.

      1. Congratulations, STB. Now you’re not just comparing applies (the Portland Streetcar with 7.2 miles of track) to oranges (MAX with sixty) but rather applies to an entire field of cantaloupes (POBS).

        The Pearl and South Waterfront districts might very well have developed anyway, but Portland’s commitment to their growth was made concrete (and steel) by the coming of the streetcar. The Eastside waterfront district is starting to change now, too.

        Gee, I wonder why all those POBS lines passing through on Burnside, Morrison and Hawthorne roared (certainly not “trundled”) by the dereliction for all those years. Surely having frequent buses should have been good enough to bring the developers running!

      2. The CityLab piece honestly doesn’t even merit analysis.

        As to this, how about a phone call or even an email to find basic answers or get a take from a planner or politician in Boise before publishing? It’s a city of 200,000 souls, as the post mentions. They can’t be that busy, and surely some people there believe in what they are doing. It would be nice to know what they think.

        The cannibalization argument is a cheap borrow from anti-transit activists. All improvements — heck, all service changes — cannibalize existing ridership (and pedestrian trips and bike-share, etc.). Yet it is somehow a fact we highlight front-and-center only when we discuss streetcars.

        There have been lengthy debates here about whether SDOT’s 20,000-24,000 daily ridership estimate for the Center City Connector is a realistic number — or, more precisely, how *unrealistic* it has to be for the project to not merit $60 million in local dollars. Now go ahead and google “Rapid Ride G ridership estimate.” It’s a $120 million project and — forget about “percent of riders cannibalized” — you won’t even find a mention of ridership estimates in Zach’s big posts or anywhere else. Yet it doesn’t seem to you that we are approaching different modes less than equally, that perhaps groupthink has damaged analysis?

        As Bernie brings up, how much of Boise’s project is in local dollars? Since public outreach showed a preference for rail, were those local dollars even available for bus service? At what point would you argue that transit agencies should ignore the results of public outreach? Is it right that we continually defended the cost of Center Link because it was “hopefully” part of a future network, but that we never bring up future expansion when discussing the ROI of nascent streetcar systems?

        And what is total ridership in Boise? What is ridership on Boise’s most productive lines? What is, you know, any context at all? Why do I read this piece and debate whether it’s worth my own time to track down such basic info?

        The sideswipe at Portland leaves equally many questions. 16K is a whole lot less than 300K. Duh. You can pull out most any transit product and highlight the fact that it is but a fraction of total transit service, if you want to take cheap shots.

        You can do it with Link compared to Metro, but you don’t.

        So, how big is Portland’s streetcar network compared to its bus and light-rail networks? What are the basic service comps like cost-per-mile and riders-per-mile? Do we completely discount Portland’s economic development claims, and if so why? How inflated do they have to be to not have any merit?

        Not to mention that holding up Portland’s streetcar as “much-vaunted” feels entirely like a straw man. How frequently do you hear serious people bring it up in a wholly positive light anymore?

        I know it’s volunteer, and good gravy do I appreciate all the work, but was anyone in a heated rush to read about a streetcar in Boise?

        Also, re: “These infrastructure investments are primarily real estate investments, not transit solutions.”

        Worst-case scenario, so what? Demonstrate that they are *bad* real estate investments or subtract the future tax revenue from the local tax dollars spent. I’m not even making an argument one way or the other. But, again, the amount that is lazily presumed in these debates lately is ridiculous.

      3. As to this, how about a phone call or even an email to find basic answers or get a take from a planner or politician in Boise before publishing?

        Because the blog tries to maintain a cadence of two posts per day, and sometimes that means people have to start in on posts at 9 PM the night before. Modulo now-departed Zach, we’re all volunteers, and getting callbacks from agencies or electeds we’ve never talked to before can take longer than we have.

        Is it right that we continually defended the cost of Center Link because it was “hopefully” part of a future network

        I sure as heck didn’t defend that, and I’m glad the McGinn era streetcar network proposals have died.

        All improvements — heck, all service changes — cannibalize existing ridership

        Service improvements either induce new trips or take from some other transportation mode. When transit takes from cars, that’s a good thing for the environment and the city. When transit takes significantly from walking or biking, that outcome is at best a wash, and more often it’s money that should have been spent elsewhere. The Boise alignment clearly seems to compete with walking, and if you read the press quotes, its proponents seem to think that’s a good thing.

        How frequently do you hear serious people bring [the Portland streetcar] up in a wholly positive light anymore?

        Perhaps you deal with more serious people than me, but out here on the internets, Portland is the last streetcar project that people will still try to cite, so I guess that’s a qualified yes.

        Your points about a lack of context on Boise’s status quo are fair; again, I didn’t have time to do much research. The basic facts, however, are that Boise is a city of 215k people with no Sunday bus service, shitty Saturday service and basically no all-day frequent service, ever. In that context, I don’t feel I need to show up with a ream of data to prove that many peoples’ basic transit needs are not being met by the existing system.

        Your many other questions I’ll try to respond to in summary, because while they’re good, I’m not paid to be here, and I’m tired and I want to go to bed.

        1. This is a blog post and not a think tank study. Some of the questions you’re asking about incentivizing development are genuinely hard for anyone to answer convincingly. Cost and metrics data are more doable, but they balloon a three-hour post into a three-week post. Sometimes I spend weeks crafting a data-heavy post, sometimes I bang out an op-ed. Most electeds advocating for transit projects I consider to be shitty have written zero data-heavy posts and lots of op-eds with sloppier reasoning than this, so I consider my karma balance to be positive.

        2. I care about all forms and modes of urban transportation, and I want money to be directed in the most effective way, at every level of government. I’m not TCC or the DSA or whatever Boise’s equivalents might be, and I’m not trying to maximize the flow of federal dollars to my city. It makes sense for cities to follow federal incentives, but if those incentives are flowing to projects I think are far from the most effective thing we should be doing, I’m still going to call that out.

        3. Yes, you can make it rain for bus projects as well as for rail. Metro did it with RapidRide A-F, SDOT is doing it in a much bigger way with RapidRide G, and Spokane is doing it with their Centeral City Line. Likewise, city electeds who put their mind to it can get local money for downtown improvements that don’t involve building streetcars.

      4. “The basic facts, however, are that Boise is a city of 215k people with no Sunday bus service, shitty Saturday service and basically no all-day frequent service, ever. In that context, I don’t feel I need to show up with a ream of data to prove that many peoples’ basic transit needs are not being met by the existing system.”

        We can make a pretty good estimate of the service level and ridership just from this information, plus Bruce’s “buses running at best every 30 minutes to 10 PM on the weekday”. 200K is the size of Spokane, which was one of my favorite cities in earlier years and which I visited again last fall. 30-60 minute weekday service and no Sundays is like Community Transit during its no Sunday period, with no Swift or 15-minute corridors. So, if you’re in Spokane with that level of service and don’t have a car or don’t want to drive. how easy would it be for you to get around? Would you be satisfied? Would you say that there’s generally a bus going “where you want to, when you want to”? Most people may be able to adjust to it for two work trips a day, but if they’re doing all their trips on the bus including getting groceries, if would feel like a hardship a lot of the time, and you wonder why anybody would put up with it if they can just drive. So ridership would be very low compared to the population, like in Snohomish and Kitsap County. Most riders would be the poor, children, elderly, and disabled, like on Pierce Transit. It would not be making a significant contribution to the city’s getting-around. And if you compare it to the network in a similar-sized European city, the latter would be like Portland! Lots of frequency, full span, lots of ridership, and lots of usefulness to the community. Boise’s anemic network for its size is replicated in 90% of American cities. So then the question becomes, how do you get from here to there? How do you get to a Portland-level transit network in Boise?

        You might start with one streetcar line, or you might start with several frequent bus routes. The latter would be more effective; that’s Bruce’s point. I know nothing about Boise so I can’t say what percent of trips this streetcar line will cover. Maybe it’s most of them if it really connects all the densest areas. But probably not. This means that even if the streetcar is frequent, that only helps the small fraction of people who live near it, not everybody else who lives away from it. That sucks when you’re in a city with one frequent line and your trips can’t use it. But a network of several frequent routes could serve more people.

        “how much of Boise’s project is in local dollars? Since public outreach showed a preference for rail, were those local dollars even available for bus service?”

        Fair point. They might not have voted for more bus service. Suburban King County voted for ST 2&3 but not the last two Metro propositions.

        “At what point would you argue that transit agencies should ignore the results of public outreach?”

        Somewhat fair point. ST researches what will get the most votes and what pleases the cities the most, and goes with that. (Some purist transit fans don’t believe that, but they’re 20 or 200 people compared to the at least a million spine-minded voters in the region.) But, a transit agency should also look at what at what gives the greatest non-car mobility to the largest number of people, because that’s what the agency’s supposed mission is, and that means pushing back at people who who advocate for an ineffective solution. It’s even more critical when the existing level of transit is lower. Seattle can afford to ignore the ineffective streetcars because there are so many frequent buses and light rail around them. But if Snohomish County did what Boise did: one streetcar line instead of multiple Swift lines and frequent bus corridors, it would really be a disservice to the people of Snohomish County.

      5. Um the reference to “Center Link” is NOT the “Central City Connector”. BrownLine was meaning “Central Link”. That’s clear from the context.

        I didn’t know you were against Central Link. That’s an interesting Freudian slip.

      6. Brown Line,

        Thank you for questioning the anti-streetcar cabal. Just for some of the context you requested, the Portland Streetcar carries its 16 million riders per year on 7.6 miles of track. MAX carries its 123 million on sixty miles of track, so on a passengers-per-mile basis, they’re very close to equivalent (2.10 million per mile for PSC; 1.97 million per mile for MAX). And that’s with little exclusive ROW.

        As to why PSC moves slowly across Tillikum Crossing and buses don’t, it’s standard for rail vehicles to cross suspension structures more slowly than rubber-tired ones because the vibrations can be amplified by the harmonic nature of the structure. MAX crosses slowly as well, though not as slowly as it does the Steel Bridge.

      7. Tilikum Crossimg is a cable stayed bridge closer to a cantilever design. This design is used on a number of higher speed lines.

        I think the big issue with speed over the bridge is the complexity of the pedestrian, bike, bus lane and track at each end.

        Also, the buses are usually crossing the bridge a minute or two late while MAX is usually crossing a minute or two early. TriMet’s timed transfers, specifically designed to get passengers to their connecting route seconds after it leaves, doesn’t provide for maximum rider frustration if things run off schedule too much.

  10. I see no problem with building streetcars if they more resemble Central City Connector or Tacoma Link (or much of Toronto) in appearance, just give them their own dedicated lanes but can still use smaller scale vehicles and the simpler construction and less intrusive trackbed. Dont always need the full Link-in-the-Rainier-Valley type of extensive street rebuilds and heavy duty vehicles.

    1. it seems common, still, to figure that because streetcars are usually done poorly in the US there is no point trying.

      Try living in a functional European city for a while and this attitude starts looking as myopic as seeking car lanes to relieve congestion.

  11. Oh boy. As a native to the city of trees and a lurker here, I think I can shed a bit of light. Boise’s mayor, Dave Bieter, has wanted a downtown streetcar practically since he was elected 13 years ago, but the legislature is so hostile to any sort of spending (this last legislative session there was a proposal to forbid county highway districts from operating transit systems, which would have killed the bus network there since the ACHD runs it) there hasn’t been any work until now, it seems. I’m honestly surprised it’s made it to a proposal.
    More to the flesh of the proposal, I’m not sure who they’re trying to get to where here. That’s the downtown core, there’s shopping and other sightseeing destinations sure, but unless there’s been a huge restructuring of the downtown since I moved 4 years ago, I don’t see this doing anything more than shuttling people a few blocks from parking garages to the various sites and back. I suppose the tail to BSU would allow for easy access to the downtown night life for people coming from there. Really though what Boise needs more investment poured into the bus system, not a tram around the one-way grid.

  12. The important Shaker Heights car-line in Cleveland was a major part of a real estate investment. As were many beginning streetcar lines in late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to the amusement parks and cemeteries eager to attract patrons.

    I know transit faces some legal and regulatory prohibitions about building streetcar-equipped developments of its own. But seems to me there are no problems whatever about developers’ habit of giving themselves streets. Connecting with the rest of the city street network.

    Has anybody gotten any information from Boise about who all is supporting the streetcar, and what they expect to gain from it? Do we have any proof that the town ever had any intention of buying buses? If not, might the car-line have a better chance of encouraging more bus transit than if the car-line isn’t built?

    Portland and every other transit system in the world, sharing lanes with regular automobile traffic makes transit slow. Portland Streetcar has some beautifully infuriating examples. Solvable by reversing present pattern and letting car traffic and parking take whatever’s left, as streetcars now have to.

    By the cold numbers, there’ll be more moving passengers on reserved-lane streetcars than in a street full of automobiles free to stay trapped in completely track-free lanes.

    Haven’t taken any polls, but as a frequent urban customer, in a confined and commercially active place, I’d rather leave my car at the end of a streetcar line than sit in a traffic-jammed car while my favorite cafe closes. Anybody talk to merchants about this in any active commercial district anywhere?

    Also, where both streetcars and buses have reserved lanes and can pre-empt signals, term “ride quality” is an understatement for standing passengers. Probably because there’s major no side-to-side motion possible, streetcar passengers get a smoother ride.

    Streetcar tracks seem to stay smooth longer than concrete pavement for buses. Though maybe that’s because agencies bought the buses in the first place because buses are supposed to be slow and rough. Also, a vehicle that can steer around parked obstacles will be forced do do that a lot.

    Mark

  13. Are they really proposing a one-way loop?!? So you could take it west across downtown but not east? Yesterday morning I might have commented that mode-specific criticism is relevant here because nobody would ever propose a one-way loop like this for a bus. When I was in college Champaign-Urbana (no bigger than Boise, notable in the transit world for having residents of one area form a separate mass-transit district that didn’t operate any service in order to get out paying taxes to the real transit district) had several looping bus routes, but I’m almost sure they were all two-way, as they were in fact intending to be a useful public service!

    But then yesterday afternoon I came across a giant one-way bus loop, right in the middle of a city with an otherwise pretty reasonable bus system! So I didn’t realize it was one-way until I tried to catch a bus going the other way and couldn’t find the stop…

    1. I was in college in Champaign-Urbana in 2013, when they killed almost all of the looping bus routes. Up until then, there were several one-way loops… but there was always another bus route following the same one-way loop in the other direction. Now, there’s one infrequent one-way loop through campus (with many more frequent two-way routes), one two-way loop, and that’s it.

      Meanwhile, Chapel Hill, NC has had a one-way downtown loop through the University of North Carolina campus since the 80’s. They finally added a reverse loop around 2001, generally a block away.

    2. The streets in question are all one-way (save University Drive), so it has to be a single-direction loop because of the cars sharing the lane. I would be utterly shocked if they managed dedicated lanes for the streetcar, Boise just isn’t that kind of town (yet?).

      1. If it ran in a straight line or a simple L shape, then it would be a “one-way loop” but still every trip you can make in one direction would have a reasonable return trip. A one-way loop in this shape is just silly.

      2. Good opportunity to run dedicated contraflow streetcar lanes on those one way streets. Makes it easier to enforce too.

      3. Could work, just not sure if it’s politically possible in the city. Plus I wouldn’t put it past the legislature to try and change the traffic code to prevent that either.

      4. Politically possible or not, running this shape two-way is twice as expensive to build and operate forever. And it’s really only necessary because of the way the top of it works — the rest would just be duplicative, in a city that clearly doesn’t have much of an operations budget to blow on duplicative service.

        According to the document linked in the article, the western edge is a potential terminal for a BRT service to the west. What a slap in the face to its riders — you get off the bus, but transferring to the streetcar to continue east across downtown doesn’t work, you either ride all the way down to the University and back, transfer to some lower-frequency bus route, or walk! It would be much better to have the BRT run east-west across downtown on some one-way couplet, and have the north-south circulator just do a simple turnaround: Capitol to Idaho to 9th and back down south.

        It’s not just that streetcars are bad, or that loops are bad: this is a particularly bad streetcar loop. It’s an exaggerated version of One-Way Splits as Symbolic Transit. And in a state with as much transit-skepticism as Idaho, what it will come to be a symbol of is transit’s obsolescence and failure.

      5. Your solution sounds good to me. It is really dumb to force a transfer within sight of the vast majority of the BRT line riders’ destinations.

  14. I hope that you’ll review Everett Transit’s limited service in the near future! The timing would be great, since they have an online open house from June 1-June 22 and a visioning workshop on June 8 (Everett Station, 6-8 p.m.) and drop-in sessions on June 10 (Everett Mall, 4-6 p.m., near Massage Envy), and June 12 (Everett Community College, 12-2 p.m., Gray Wolf Hall Lobby) regarding their 20-year Long Range Plan, which they plan to release in early 2018. Insiders tell me that their plan is a “status quo” plan at this point, and with expenses exceeding revenues, that means a gradual decline in service that’s already bare bones (other than the #7) for the next 20 years.

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