Our Views: New study, old realities

It’s good for the entire state of Louisiana when the new IBM building will open in downtown Baton Rouge, as the state is already reaping benefits from the location of an iconic tech name here.

That imprimatur is important, not to mention the substantial tech jobs associated with the building under construction.

But IBM also is participating in civic life in Baton Rouge, which has been awarded a grant form the company’s worldwide Smarter Cities Challenge.

IBM announced Tuesday that Baton Rouge is one of 16 cities worldwide — including four in the U.S. — that won the $500,000 grant, which will be used to explore innovative ways to address traffic and public transit issues in Louisiana’s capital city.

“I believe that IBM and the IBM team will give us our first in-depth and impartial look at the best solutions for our outdated transportation systems,” Mayor-President Kip Holden said. “These will be solutions based on the best practices throughout the world.”

We are delighted with the Baton Rouge initiative to seek the grant, although we’d suggest to the mayor that many of the solutions already are known. The city’s own FutureBR master plan, pushed with strong leadership from Holden, seeks to rationalize a transportation system that has snarled traffic in Baton Rouge.

For its size, the capital has one of the worst traffic problems in the country.

Later this year, IBM consulting teams will spend several months studying transportation issues in Baton Rouge, then three weeks in the Baton Rouge region analyzing data and meeting with government officials, businesses, residents and nonprofit groups. At the conclusion of the study, IBM will provide a comprehensive recommendation for solving Baton Rouge’s transit problems and later will provide an implementation plan.

The reality is the recommendations will track much of FutureBR’s focus on connecting roads into more of a traffic grid and adding bike paths, sidewalks and streetcars for the city streets and commuter rail to New Orleans for the business traveler.

While Holden and others have pushed for constructive solutions, including major projects authorized by voters in a 2005 bond issue, the fact is the solutions to Baton Rouge’s issues are not a mystery. What has been lacking is the political will to get more of the solutions done.

As the nonprofit Center for Planning Excellence has preached, smart growth policies are vital to a dynamic economy such as Baton Rouge’s.

Objective data is fine. The subjective problem is enough people, leaders and voters who are willing to advocate for the physical solutions to gridlock.