Downtown greenway shifts away from I-110

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG Elizabeth Mossop, left, of design firm Mossop Michaels Spackman, discusses greenway project options Tuesday with Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG Elizabeth Mossop, left, of design firm Mossop Michaels Spackman, discusses greenway project options Tuesday with Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District.

The planned downtown greenway that will connect City Park and Memorial Stadium through downtown will not run under Interstate 110 as much as originally planned because of logistical complexities in the area between Expressway Park and North Boulevard.

Instead, designers are looking at incorporating East Boulevard into the 3-mile bike and pedestrian pathway, with two major nodes under the elevated highway.

Those nodes, which would be at Expressway Park and at North Boulevard, are opportunities for transit stops, retail shops, skate parks, bike lockers, lighting, public art, pop-up markets and similar programming, designers said at public workshops Tuesday.

The Downtown Development District already has $3 million in federal funding for the greenway. However, the final budget could be between $4 million and $12 million, depending on the scope and number of amenities that are ultimately chosen.

Elizabeth Mossop, of the design firm Mossop Michaels Spackman, said there are already areas under and around the interstate that people are using without any programming or amenities, which is among the reasons that path is not needed for the greenway.

Expressway Park, which is mostly just grass, is used by nearby residents for pickup football games. Skaters and even bicycle polo players use the area under the interstate just north of North Boulevard.

“There are real opportunities to make these a real hub for coming into downtown,” she said.

Mossop said the key to the greenway is as much about what it connects as the greenway itself. She noted 40,000 residents live within a mile of it.

Five major points along the route, which would track mainly Interstate 110, East Boulevard, North Seventh Street and Spanish Town Road, are major opportunities to connect other existing bike-share roads and various amenities. Those include seven BREC parks, the Mississippi River levee bike path and the North Boulevard Town Square.

It’s not just amenities the greenway can connect, she said, but Baton Rouge’s chopped-up streets as well. For example, Mossop said the greenway could help make Louisiana Street, which is now bisected by the interstate, whole by pulling people through the area under the highway.

“The important thing about the greenway is how all these things link through it,” she said.

Mossop and Davis Rhorer, executive director of the DDD, said the opportunities with the Expressway Park area are potentially significant, along with the area at East Boulevard and Myrtle Walk.

Rhorer said he’s been interested in the design team’s work on how to get bike lanes along existing roads. He cited the idea of taking a portion of East Boulevard on one side of the neutral ground and converting that entirely to bike paths by moving the vehicular traffic to the other side.

Mossop and Rhorer pointed out that the project requires no land acquisition. They said many of the areas have more space than they need at current use. The design ultimately will be one that can be expanded and built upon in the years to come.

Clark Wilson, an urban designer with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, said that the greenway project qualified for federal dollars because of its stormwater runoff mitigation, urban tree canopy and alternative transportation focus. He also said the neighborhood revitalization component is a major selling point.

If the city makes investments in communities through which the greenway passes, it will encourage more investment from businesses and property owners alike, he said.

“That’s really what we were attracted to with this project,” Wilson said.

Mossop and Rhorer also believe the greenway could be transformative for those living in the center city.

“It would really change the way you would live in these neighborhoods,” Mossop said.

Rhorer noted the greenway can be a major selling point in attracting new businesses to locate downtown because knowledge workers want cities to be bikable and walkable. He said it could spur residential development, as the Buffalo Bayou greenway in Houston has.