Tough times call for tough fiscal choices. So when the City of Boise grants $25,000 for 15 downtown bike lockers, some may wonder about the city’s spending priorities. After all, Boise has laid off employees and is holding several positions open at the Boise Police and Fire Departments. So why did the city install the 15 bike lockers, eight at the Capitol Terrace Garage and seven at the Eastman Garage, at the cost of more than $1,600 each?
The locker project was funded by a Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant, a program that is part of the Planning and Development Services departmental budget. The PDS budget comes out of the General Fund, which means it’s paid for with taxpayers' dollars.
Neighborhood associations can apply for grants on the city’s website. A committee then looks over the applications, and forwards them to the mayor's office with their recommendations. The mayor can approve the application, ask for further information, or reject it altogether. The committee is comprised of representatives from PDS, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, the Art and History department, a City Council member (currently Maryanne Jordan), and Theresa McCloud with the mayor’s office.
McCloud says the Neighborhood Reinvestment program has been around for about 15 years, and despite having $500,000 allocated this year, it spent only $340,000. The rest went back to the General Fund.
She says the improvement projects do more than just fix sidewalks and build playgrounds. "If our neighborhood associations come together over a project, it does so much more than just putting a light on their street, it binds them together as a neighborhood, and it has them working together and being resourceful."
Indeed, it sounds like the Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant program funds worthwhile projects every year. But $25,000 for bike lockers?
The Idaho Freedom Foundation contacted Karen Sander, Executive Director of the Downtown Boise Association. She said the idea arose from a survey which showed cyclists wanted a place to store their helmets, shoes and backpacks along with their bikes.
The lockers were unveiled on September 11th, but since then, only one has been rented. That begs the question, is there really any demand for the $1,600 lockers? Sander says they’re working on that. "The marketing pieces just went out last week. We sent out some press releases, and Republic Parking included a flyer in their parking passes last week, so we’re just getting geared up on letting people know they’re available." She says the cost of marketing is included in the $25,000 grant.
The lockers cost $15 per quarter to rent, with a $50 refundable deposit. Working the numbers, that means it will take more than 26 years for each locker to pay for itself, assuming continual occupancy. Being as they’re made of what appears to be fiberglass or plastic, it remains to be seen whether they’ll hold up that long.
On the other hand, a quick internet search found a 16-bike rack for $550 at http://www.bikerackshops.com/groupoutdoorracks.html. Just one of these racks would provide the same amount of parking, for less than 3% of the cost of 15 bike lockers, or parking for about 530 bikes for the same price.
As we said before, the Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant program pays for sidewalk repairs and street lights, landscaping and playgrounds…projects many would say are worthwhile uses of their tax dollars. But some might draw the line at $25,000 for 15 bike lockers.
So what about $20,000 for artwork on downtown traffic control boxes? We’ll take a look at that in our next report.