Some Boiseans love bike bars. Others loathe them. What’s next for the controversial rides

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Posted at 6:13 PM, Aug 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-18 20:13:58-04

This article was originally published by Hayley Harding in the Idaho Statesman.

One Boise man, fed up with “bike bars,” the mostly-man-powered trolleys where riders drink alcohol while pedaling through Boise’s streets, decided to do something about it.

The unnamed resident of Bannock Street took a video of one peddling past his downtown apartment. And, while he recorded himself, he threw water balloons at them as they drove underneath his window. When he decided that wasn’t safe, he opted instead to use a water gun to soak the patrons below him.

He recorded the whole thing on video and sent it to the city of Boise.

“That’s just the level of discontent that some residents have with these operations,” explained Craig Croner, who works in the city clerk’s office, druing the Boise City Council’s Tuesday work session.

The council did not take a formal vote during the work session, instead opting to just weigh in on the concerns.

Bike bars have been around since 2012, although they were originally used mostly for people on pub crawls. In 2013, Boise City Code changed to permit alcohol on bike bars, allowing for them to be used as they often are today: a way to travel around Boise while drinking beer or wine.

Patrons have to bring their own alcohol on the rides, which have motors to help them get started but are mostly powered by riders pedaling. The bikes themselves are generally pretty slow as a result, one of Boiseans’ biggest complaints about them. The bike bars slow traffic, particularly during peak hours, and will sometimes park where it is not legal, causing headaches for drivers trying to work around them.

Boiseans have also complained to the city that the bars, which often play music as they drive around, create excessive noise as they drive past — regardless of the time of day. People on them will also sometimes partake in what Croner called “drunk and disorderly conduct,” including falling off, trying to high-five nearby drivers, public urination or jumping into fountains.

Now, the city needs to figure out what to do to try to prevent people getting frustrated or even hurt.

Croner presented three potential ideas for handling the bike bars: keeping things as-is, taking away licenses altogether or modifying existing laws to put limits on the bike bars and their patrons.

Council Member Holli Woodings said that she was in favor of reworking the existing law, which Council Member T.J. Thomson also preferred, saying he would oppose eliminating them altogether.

Council Member Lisa Sánchez said that she would want to take a more conservative stance and would want to eliminate them, citing safety concerns particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Council Member Patrick Bageant said he would also consider removing them because of the disruption they cause.

“My general attitude is that you should be able to do whatever you want as long as you’re not bothering other people,” he said. “These things are almost custom-made to bother everybody else to the maximum extent possible.”

Council President Elaine Clegg said that she felt that patrons drinking alcohol while on the bike bars made the vehicles “more disruptive,” as did the amplified noise.

She favored what she called a “middle ground solution that gets them back to what they were when they were first introduced.”

Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton, who runs the Boise Bicycle Project and said he felt he had to weigh in because he is “the bike guy,” asked about whether the city had ever issued tickets to the bike bars for illegal parking or other violations. Croner said that after the tickets are paid, the same types of behavior occur.

“The police have had instances where they’ve tried to get them to turn down the noise, and it works for a day or two,” he told the council. “And then, you know, two days later they’re right back.”

Hallyburton also suggested potentially limiting bikes during peak traffic hours, which in downtown Boise is generally about 4:30 p.m. to about 6:30 p.m. He said that he’s seen many people who disliked them in Boise — except for their riders.

“I used to joke around during my campaign that if you wanted to win an election, all you had to do was campaign that you’d get rid of the bike bars because everybody seemed to dislike them unless they were on them,” said Hallyburton, who was elected to his first term on the council in November. “Then you seem to be having the best time in the entire world. I’ve never seen anybody ride and it not have a tremendous time.”

He proposed putting restrictions on the bike bars during peak hours and eliminating amplified noise from the bike bars. Hallyburton wondered if that would still make the bike bars a viable business for proprietors but said he didn’t see a “tremendous value” to anyone except the patrons on the bike bars.