Baton Rouge getting bike friendly

Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- Signs posted throughout the city-parish alert drivers to cyclists on designated bike paths, such as this sign posted on May Street between City Park Lake and University Lake.  The city-parish has been working to make Baton Rouge more bike-friendly with an educational campaign, and creating designated cycling lanes.
Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- Signs posted throughout the city-parish alert drivers to cyclists on designated bike paths, such as this sign posted on May Street between City Park Lake and University Lake. The city-parish has been working to make Baton Rouge more bike-friendly with an educational campaign, and creating designated cycling lanes.

Bike lanes, paths and shared-use roads have almost tripled in East Baton Rouge Parish since 2009, say officials with the Mayor-President’s Office.

In 2009, there were only 23 miles of bike routes, and now there are 68 miles and several more miles in the works, said Amanda LaGrange, a grants coordinator in the Mayor’s Office overseeing the bike program.

Holden announced in 2009 a collaborative effort to work with LSU, the parish parks commission and other agencies to grow the biking community parishwide.

The program was designed to both inform the motoring public about how to accommodate cyclists on the road and to create designated areas for cyclists to ride.

Sharrows — painted road markers with bike symbols — were among the city-parish’s first phase of educating motorists and cyclists. Sharrows are not designated bike paths, but the symbols serve as a reminder that roads are intended for both cars and bikes.

John Price, assistant chief administrative officer for Holden, said designated bike paths are often expensive because they require widening of roads, but sharrows are a “cost-effective way to educate people that bicyclists have to be accommodated on the road.

“They have every right to be on the road, just as an automobile does,” he said. “As culture changes, as we think it has been, you’re seeing more bikes on the road.”

Ingolf Partenheimer, chief traffic engineer for the city-parish, estimated the city-parish has spent about $680,000 for sharrows materials. Designated bike paths are typically funded with state or federal grants.

The city-parish is currently working to extend or build new designated lanes for bikes, including the Mississippi River levee path.

In January, the second phase of the riverfront path was completed, extending it to about 5.5 miles from downtown to Farr Park, south of the LSU campus. The first two phases cost about $3.5 million.

This year, Price said, the city-parish received an additional $1.5 million from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to implement a third phase that will extend the path from Farr Park to Ben Hur Road — another 6.5 miles. Construction is expected to begin in 2013.

Bryan Harmon, deputy Public Works director, said the city-parish will then talk with L’Auberge Casino officials to see if they are interested in partnering to extend the path another 1.5 miles so it reaches the casino and the parish line.

Price also said he’s had preliminary conversations with representatives in New Orleans about potentially extending the bike path to New Orleans.

The city-parish will soon start construction on extending the bike lanes around the University Lakes from Stanford Avenue to Glasgow Avenue, Harmon said.

He said the $1.5 million project, funded with federal grants, will expand the roadway four feet on each side of the road for designated bike lanes on either side.

The Downtown Development District has also secured about $3 million in grants to fund the Downtown Greenway — a 3-mile network of pedestrian and bike paths that will connect Memorial Park to City Park.

The greenway will connect seven BREC parks and neighborhoods with LSU, downtown and the bike path on the Mississippi River levee.

Davis Rhorer, executive director of the DDD, said the pathway will feature botanical greenery, seating, lighting and possibly some “artistic pieces.”

“People don’t realize how close they all are in the inner city,” Rhorer said. “This greenway will show them. It’s a great area of the city for this kind of thing.”

This month, BREC broke ground on the Capital Area Pathway Project — a 7.4-mile pedestrian and bike trail which eventually will connect Essen Lane, the Perkins Road park, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the LSU Rural Life Museum and Perkins Rowe.

The city-parish has also included bike lanes in several of the projects in the Green Light Plan, a voter-approved, half-cent sales tax-funded road improvement plan. Harmon said some of the projects that added bike lanes were Comite Drive, Ford Street, Jones Creek, Nicholson Drive, South Harrell’s Ferry and Seven Oaks Avenue.

Avid cyclist Bruce Wickert, who said he logged almost 8,000 miles on his bike in 2012, said that years ago when he would ride his bike on Baton Rouge streets, motorists would yell at him to get off the street and throw garbage at him.

He said efforts from the city-parish and the Capital Region Planning Commission have helped improve the biking culture and put more bikes on the streets.

“I know there are more bikers on the street now,” Wickert said. “It’s a combination of our increasing demographics of people wanting to drive bikes, having the facilities for cyclists and the education effort telling people that bikes can be on the street.”

Price said the public education campaign has helped reduce cyclist injuries — causing a 32 percent decrease in bicyclist injuries from crashes in 2011 from 2010.

Nonetheless, there have been some high-profile incidents involving motor vehicles and riders this past year — including two deaths on Perkins Road — that serve to remind officials that there’s still much to do.

Price said the idea is not to put a bike lane on every highway, but rather to use smart growth principals to give residents the option of biking to areas near their homes.

“It’s a combination of infill and mixed-use areas, where people can get on a bike and travel to the grocery store and get back, rather then getting in their car, getting on a major highway and going across the parish,” Price said.