What I Learned at APA Idaho 2018

Playing drums is one of my favorite things to do. I love it because I can be creative and just play what comes to my head. Good drumming is like seasoning food; too much is bad, but not enough isn’t good either. An overly complex and flashy groove will dominate a song, but repeating the exact same rhythm over and over again is mind numbing. Day-to-day life can be like this sometimes. It can feel like you are stuck repeating the same verse and never hitting the chorus. Lately, I had been starting to feel like this. The office was starting to resemble a cocoon. But luckily I had the opportunity this past week to break out of the cocoon and attend a conference! Specifically, the annual APA Idaho conference in Boise.

By APA I mean the American Planning Association. I don’t mean the style guide you used for writing papers in college, or the American Psychiatric Association. This APA is the nationwide organization of professional urban planners. These are the people that create the vision for a community’s future and then make it happen. What I do as a civil engineer is a direct descendant of the work of planners. So although I was not the target audience for this conference, it was still valuable to rub shoulders with the folks in attendance and learn a little bit about the planning world.

Below are my takeaways from some of my favorite sessions, but I’ll put my concluding thoughts up here so they get more airtime. First, I was encouraged by the camaraderie amongst planning professionals. It felt like all the cities in Idaho were scheming together on how to make this state the absolute best. Second, I was impressed at the level of concern towards preserving Idaho’s rural landscapes and agricultural heritage. Even though we are the fastest-growing state in the country, there are a lot of caring people that genuinely want future Idaho to be wild and untamed. I’ll wrap this up by highlighting the conference tagline: “The New West – Passionate Planning for People and Places”. I was pleased to learn that the people holding the vision for our future places and spaces are indeed passionate about what they do.

COMPASS Freight Study: Using Data to Understand Freight Mobility

COMPASS is an acronym for Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho. They are the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Treasure Valley. Their job is to oversee planning for the Treasure Valley as a whole, not just the individual cities and counties. They provide many forms data and services such as demographics, air quality, travel demand modeling, mapping and GIS, traffic counts, etc. They also serve as a funnel to allocate federal funding to transportation projects and ensure that the funding is used properly. But the pride and joy of COMPASS is the Communities In Motion 2040 long-range transportation plan, which is updated every 4 years. The previous edition focused primarily on the movement of people, and the next edition will elevate freight issues in the Treasure Valley. COMPASS conducted a study of the freight system in the Treasure Valley to determine patterns in origin, destination, and cargo of freight trucks. A few things they learned from this:

  • Freight primarily moves via I-84
Freight clusters along I-84 corridor (from CPCS Working Paper 1-A)
  • The top two bottlenecks on I-84 are (1) Nampa between the Franklin and Karcher exits and (2) Eagle Road in Meridian
  • The estimated economic impact of traffic delays is roughly $1.1 million annually
  • The main types of cargo are electronics, refined petroleum, and pharmaceuticals
Top freight commodities by value (from CPCS Working Paper 2-A)

The Annexation & Development of Quigley Farm

Hailey, ID is a super cool little town, and it is about to get cooler. The city recently approved the annexation and development agreement of Quigley Farm, a residential development due east of downtown. The project will feature a bunch of cool amenities like community gardens, greenhouses, playing fields, direct access to BLM trails, and over 15km of new Nordic ski trails. It also features an innovative wetland treatment system for water reclamation and reuse. The presenters said that some of the reclaimed water would be used to make snow for the Nordic trails, which is awesome! Here are some lessons learned and advice from City staff:

  1. Be transparent with the community
    • Have a good looking website
    • Publish all project info for public comment
    • Hold special meetings by topic (there were 18 public hearings for this project!)
  2. There is power in “clustered” development
    • Concentrated development
    • Visual impact of open space
  3. Internal shift of staff culture led to project success
  4. Embrace forward-thinking design

I am super excited to visit Quigley Farm when it is complete! I was pleased to learn that the folks in Hailey are thinking different and pushing for innovation.

Will I Survive My Commute Today? The Daily Adventures of a Bicycle Commuter

As a cyclist myself, this was by far my favorite session of the conference. The presenter was Jaap Vos, head of the Bioregional Planning & Community Design program at the University of Idaho. He is also the director at U of I’s Urban Design Center in downtown Boise. Having been born and raised in the biking superpower that is the Netherlands, Jaap commutes to/from work via bike nearly every day. Some fast facts about biking in the Netherlands:

  • The average Dutch person bikes 300 times/year, or about 1000 km/year
  • 27% of all trips in the Netherlands are by bike

Jaap says that the key difference between American and Dutch roadway design comes from a subtle shift in thinking. The main goal of Dutch roadway design is not to prevent accidents from happening; rather, the goal is to create environments where mistakes don’t result in death. This mindset results in designers prioritizing biker and pedestrian safety over infrastructure costs, which makes a big difference in how things actually get built. Over the course of many bike commutes, Jaap has developed some opinions on Boise’s biking infrastructure. To support his opinions, he wears video-equipped Pivothead glasses during his bike rides to demonstrate design flaws and give people a first-hand perspective. His main point: we should start putting more thought into our designs so that they are practical and make sense in the long run.

Check out this suspended bike roundabout in the Netherlands. What impresses me about this is that at some point in the design process, somebody decided that this is the route they needed to take even though it would be WAY more expensive. Definitely a different mindset.

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