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The Idaho Walk Bike Alliance

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This week we highlight another organization in Idaho working to improve our outdoor areas. The Idaho Walk Bike Alliance is an advocacy group that seeks funding at the state and federal level to help communities make their streets and sidewalks safer for people who like to walk or who like to ride their bikes, but also for children walking to school and wheelchair users in the community.

To tell us about the work being done by the Idaho Walk Bike Alliance, I spoke to board member Bruce Olenick

The IWBA often works with organizations featured on past episodes, the Portneuf Greenway Foundation and the Portneuf River Vision Project.

“First and foremost, IWBA is an advocate for those kinds of organizations. So if they're applying for a recreational trail program grant that comes through the Idaho department of parks and rec, we write letters of recommendation. We contact legislators. We ensure that that funding is appropriated back to those kinds of activities.

Not only that, but IWBA has board members throughout the state, Sandpoint, Driggs, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Boise, and all of the board members get actively involved in what makes their region tick. In other words, I'm an avid mountain biker. So I get involved in trail building and connecting those trails back to the urban center.

And so it's really important that IWBA stays engaged with the Greenway foundation or the Portneuf River Vision Project to help shepherd them through some of those complex processes.”

This touches on the network of people within Idaho working to improve our outdoor areas. Olenick mentions that there is a lot of grassroots organization in the state working to make sure the resources are celebrated and projects are funded.

“I haven't found anybody that argues with our mission of making our sidewalks and streets more safe for our families and our children. In general, the cities have been more than supportive. I can give you example after example, the Greenway connecting to the wellness center or the Greenway connecting to the Farm Bureau building along I 15, the new Sterling Justice trail, connecting City Creek with Gibson Jack, we're working on a new Pioneer Trail system on the east side of town that is going to essentially double the amount of outdoor recreation activities and possibilities that people in town have. The support we have is fantastic.

The problem we run into though, is people don't know how to get there from here. Which is usually poised by funding shortfalls or planning shortfalls. It requires infrastructure, it requires time to think ahead, where are we going to be in five years, where we're going to be in 10 years and let's put that infrastructure in place. Once you pave it over. It's tough to back that up again.”

Olenick provided examples of projects the IWBA has helped along.

“Some examples of what projects have occurred using the transportation alternatives program for children, pedestrian safety program, several actually were funded by these programs. The Martin Luther King connector right here at ISU, actually was part of the complete streets program, Pocatello applied and got funding to make that a reality.

So ISU enjoys some of those funds that came to the city of Pocatello to make campus and make the area around ISU more walkable. The Bannock County Event Center is also now connected to the local neighborhoods. The Chubbuck elementary sidewalk project, Chubbuck did a fantastic job of re-integrating the sidewalks and the walking to school to Chubbuck elementary. Pocatello and Chubbuck’s area's have enjoyed anywhere from one to $2 million of these funds over the last three or four years. They're asking themselves those questions where they're saying we're going to be in 10 years. And as our population grows, our people are going to be able to move around and enjoy the city, not just from a car, but from their wheelchair or from their bicycle.”

“Starting right about now we start focusing on the legislative session. We start prepping for what type of bills we think are coming down the pike to earmark funding for these types of walking and writing projects. We contact legislators. We work with them all the way from late October through April in order to ensure. These kinds of projects and funding is secured. Our ultimate goal is to get hardwired funding for these projects every year, it has to be revolted. And in lean years, a lot of this funding goes away and we'd like to see that part of our transportation budget. So every year communities can depend upon this funding to integrate it into their overall transportation. So that's what we spend about six months of the year on the other parts of the year, we try to put on programs that bring advocacy to the forefront.

We sponsor something that's very popular called film by bike. And these are amateur filmmakers that take on all kinds of life experiences on their bike. People create these films and bring advocacy as well as sustainability issues and green issues forward and really fight for our ability to use alternative transportation modes within our urban environment.

We also sponsor a transportation conference where we bring in speakers and experts from across the country, as well as local engineering firms within our communities to talk about how we can plan, how we can do things better in order to make walking, riding, enrolling within our communities, our reality.

And then finally we encourage municipalities. We go out to cities and advocate for them by putting on seminars. So far our favorite is the looking glass academy, where we bring in two experts that talk about how to make your cities more walkable. In fact, they go so far as taking, uh, elected officials and putting them in wheelchairs or putting them in blindfolds and walking through the community, experiencing their commute from a different perspective to ensure that people who have needs or who just simply want to be able to walk to a grocery store can do that safely.

For as little as $10, you can become a member. You can visit our website. It's at idahowalkbike.org. And on the website, you can look at our annual reports, our strategic plan, the projects, and the type of advocacy work we do. And it's all right there. As transparent as can be.”

The Idaho Walk Bike Alliance runs entirely from member donations and occasionally grants, all state and federal funding goes directly to bettering the community.

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Katie Kelshaw is a graduate of Boise State University with a Masters of Arts in Political Science where she has since taught as an adjunct professor. She is born and raised in Pocatello, where her family are farmers and business owners. Katie is an active member in an advocacy organization called Action Corps Idaho, where she helps run campaigns around Climate Justice and a Global COVID Response.