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CdA trolley could connect development, downtown

Coeur d’Alene may get a rubber-tired trolley this summer to haul people between the Riverstone development and downtown – a 3.2 mile loop that could decrease traffic, provide relief from skyrocketing gas prices and make the city more accessible.

“It’s really important when you think about lifestyle,” Riverstone developer John Stone said. “You don’t have to get in the car. That’s the whole purpose.”

Stone, along with Black Rock Development, which is building riverfront condos in the Riverstone project, also thinks it’s crucial for the mix of shops, office space, restaurants and residences to have a strong connection to downtown.

Trolleys are used in Bend, Ore., to connect a similar mixed-used development known as the Old Mill District that’s not quite in the downtown corridor.

“They coexist and it’s very healthy for both,” Stone said.

Developers are talking with other businesses, the Coeur d’Alene Downtown Association and Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which is a partner in the free CityLink bus system, to figure out potential funding.

Stone wants the trolley’s schedule to mesh with CityLink, which operates three routes and has 23 stops.

The plan is to start with one trolley, likely costing about $200,000, and establish a route using Northwest Boulevard and Mullan Avenue until an off-road trail system is established using the railroad right-of-way that runs parallel to Northwest Boulevard.

The trolley would stop at Riverstone, the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene and North Idaho College.

It likely would then travel to the Coeur d’Alene Resort before making stops at the new downtown library and City Hall.

The trolley also would stop at the Kroc Center when it opens in 2008.

The trolley would give children more access to the new community center, and provide transportation options for the poor.

“It’s a modest way of mass transit,” said Roger Nelson, of Black Rock Development. “I like it personally because it’s not pie in the sky and is much more doable from an economic standpoint.”

City Attorney Mike Gridley said the trolley isn’t a top priority for the city, but it’s a great vision with lots of potential.

He’s glad the developers are taking the lead.

“If it evolves, and in two years from now when traffic is bumper-to-bumper on Northwest Boulevard, then maybe the city can partner,” Gridley said.

“It’s an idea that makes sense.”

Eventually, when Coeur d’Alene’s population warrants it and city streets are clogged with traffic, the developers would like to see some sort of light-rail system.

But that’s at least a generation off and much too expensive for many people to take seriously.

Stone recently worked with Washington State University architecture students who did a class project on a light-rail model for Coeur d’Alene.

He said the students knew little about actual costs for the project and the projections “scared everybody” who heard the presentation.

It’s the idea – and the conversation it sparks – that is important to Stone, not a theoretical plan.

For now, Stone said, he’ll start looking for a rubber-tire trolley to buy and hash out the funding.

He hopes the trolley can make its first run within 60 to 90 days.

“It’s worthy of a try this summer to see how it works and refine it from there,” Stone said. “Downtown wants it and we want it.”