By most accounts, the Greenbelt trail that runs along the north side of the Boise River in Garden City was conceived as a bicycle path.
Now a group of Idaho bicyclists has gone to court to regain their rights to ride their bikes on a 1.5-mile section of the trail that has been marked as a dismount zone in Garden City for about 3 years.
As you can see from a regional trail map, the Greenbelt is part of a network of paths running in fits and starts along both sides of the river in Garden City, Eagle and Boise. But walking your bike for a mile-and-a-half is like having no trail at all, especially for those who need it for commuting.
That's why Citizens for an Open Greenbelt is suing Garden City and the State of Idaho.
This is a complex issue that goes back 30 years, when the state required a developer to build a “bicycle path” on public trust lands adjacent to the river in 1980. After years of delay and a lawsuit filed by the state, the Riverside Village development agreed to build a trail through its greenbelt in 1996.
Then in 2007, Garden City banned bikes on the trail through the Riverside Village development and made it a misdemeanor (later changed to a traffic infraction) to violate the ban. When bicyclists sought help from the state of Idaho, officials deferred to Garden City's decision.
Garden City Mayor John Evans says the section of trail isn't fit for cyclists riding along at 10 mph to 20 mph amid pedestrians. It's a gravel path that's quite narrow in some sections, Evans says.
Garden City mapped out a 2.5-mile detour for cyclists through the Riverside Village development, but that crosses 20 intersecting streets and 44 driveways. COG member Gary Segers asks, “Now would you think that's safe? I don't think so.”
COG summarizes their lawsuit in three major points:
“– This disputed section in Garden City (Riverside Village area) was intended, designed and created for bike riding.
“– The State and Garden City have arbitrarily and wrongfully limited the citizens’ right to utilize a public bike path for bike riding.
“– Garden City enacted an ordinance that is unreasonable, arbitrary and in violation of prior agreements for which they were a party to.
“This was not an easy decision for COG as we had hoped either the State or Garden City would respect the interests and needs of the bike riding public in the Treasure Valley. But they chose not to. As much as we’re glad this case is moving ahead, it’s unfortunate that we could not resolve this without the need for legal action. Now both the State and Garden City will be committing taxpayers’ money and resources to defend this lawsuit.”
An editorial in the Idaho Statesman takes Garden City the side of the bicyclists:
“It is downright ridiculous that this battle has reached this point. The responsibility rests with Garden City. It’s City Hall’s job to fix a mess of its own making — and outside the courtroom — by providing recreationists and cycling commuters an easy, uninterrupted bike path through town.”
The newspaper makes some recommendations that other trail corridors be built as alternatives. But, to me, it sounds like the easiest and quickest resolution is to reopen the Greenbelt trail to bicyclists. If it's judged unsuitable for bikes and pedestrians, then Garden City needs to get out there and upgrade it for all users.