Today’s the big day! The city is holding an open house at 6 p.m. at the Maeck Education Center in the zoo to talk about their plans for South Boulevard. If you care about the future of this road, be there!
Photo via Business Insider from Hulton Archive/Getty
In 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge was completed—one of the greatest engineering feats to that point in history. It was a passion project for chief engineer Joseph Strauss and took such a toll on his health that he died one year after its completion.
But a pesky problem stood in the way of building the bridge as planned: Fort Point, a pre-Civil War structure and the only one of its kind west of the Mississippi, sat squarely in the construction zone. It could have been bulldozed. But Strauss said the fort was too important a landmark to be destroyed. So it remained—well, it didn’t just “remain.” The bridge’s design was adapted to include a steel arch towering over the fort and protecting it from destruction.
Idaho Falls isn’t San Francisco, and South Boulevard isn’t an old fort, but the similarities are clear. Some things of value can’t be quantified, and some things deserve to be protected. That’s why a host of locals are fighting for alternatives to the city’s proposed plan for South Boulevard. We don’t want dangerous bike lanes. We don’t want the street to function as an arterial road (a fancy phrase for a thoroughfare). And we certainly don’t want to widen the road.
Scene from this year’s Fourth of July parade on South Boulevard
Instead, we want to preserve a one-of-a-kind neighborhood with historic homes and the city’s largest park. We want to celebrate South Boulevard as a place—the place for the Fourth of July parade and the place out-of-towners like to drive on their way downtown because it’s beautiful. We want to promote safety for people on foot and bike because this builds a sense of community. We know times are changing and so is Idaho Falls’ traffic, but alternative designs need to be considered.
Are our arguments emotional? Sure they are. Some things—actually, a lot of good things—are driven by emotion and passion. But there are also facts and evidence supporting our position for those unimpressed with the immeasurable.
There’s the fact that South Boulevard was designated as an arterial road almost 60 years ago, probably because the hospital was located on the street back then. There’s the fact that design guidelines for bike traffic suggest a buffered bike lane should be provided on streets with extra lanes and high travel volume; because of the turn lane, there aren’t any spare inches for a buffer between cyclists and cars. And there’s the fact that many South Boulevard homes are eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, which will make acquiring federal funding for this road project a bit sticky.
The proposed changes are driven by the pursuit of progress, but progress isn’t measurable either. What one calls improvement others might call a setback—five thousand others who signed a petition to city leadership in this case.
So at the city’s open house today, we’ve got questions. We want to know how engineers measured level of service for pedestrians and cyclists on South Boulevard. We want to know if road planning is being completed in conjunction with community planning. We want to know how engineers and the mayor see South Boulevard in the future. And as respected engineer Gary Toth says, road widening, turn lanes, additional lanes and eliminated parking are all inappropriate strategies for an arterial road, so we want to know if city leaders truly believe South Boulevard should be designated as an arterial at all.
We say no. And we want alternatives. We pay your wages, and we’re waiting for creative solutions. South Boulevard is just pulsing with potential — what a fabulous opportunity and challenge to help it become all it can be! There is never just one solution to a problem, so show us what you’re exploring. Now it’s our turn to ask for evidence, and we’re waiting. •