Cyclists gain paths, but gaps remain
Bicycle riders in East Baton Rouge Parish have more bike lanes, shared-use paths and well-marked shared roads than ever before.
But bicycling advocates say many of those routes don’t connect; bike lanes are often cluttered with distractions; and there are not nearly enough bicycle racks in the city.
“We’re on our way, but I think we’ve still got the long stretch to go,” said Bruce Wickert, who heads the Capital Region Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “We’ve made a really good first start.”
Bicycling advocates have hounded city-parish and state officials for years about expanding and connecting biking accommodations across the metro area, but only recently has the city-parish yielded to their requests, shifting to its increasingly proactive role of increasing the bicycle-friendliness of Baton Rouge.
In 2009, Baton Rouge became the first city in Louisiana to receive the designation of “bicycle-friendly community” by the American League of Bicyclists.
Since then, the total length of conventional bike lanes in the parish has increased by more than 50 percent to almost 27 miles.
The total length of paved shared-use paths, like the one in front of LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center on Perkins Road, has roughly tripled since 2010 to about 23 miles, according to the City-Parish Planning Commission.
Road signs marking shared roads, or “sharrows,” have also increased, serving as reminders that unless otherwise prohibited, bicycle riders have the same rights as cars when it comes to driving on public roads, with the exception of interstates where it is illegal to ride bicycles.
“With the anticipated formal adoption of ‘Complete Streets’ policies in 2014, it is anticipated that both biking and pedestrian opportunities will be further expanding in the parish,” said Amanda LaGrange, a grants coordinator in the Mayor-President’s Office who oversees the bike program.
The Complete Streets Work group was created by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development in 2009 to develop a series of policies that would balance the safety and convenience for everyone that uses state roadways, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders.
Some of the ongoing bike projects include:
- BREC’s Ward Creek Trail, a 12-foot-wide shared-use path that will eventually connect the Mall of Louisiana to Siegen Lane, is nearing completion, awaiting only a bridge that will allow people to cross the creek itself.
- The Capital Area Pathway Project, for which construction began months ago, eventually will connect Essen Lane, BREC’s “Extreme Sports Park” on Perkins Road, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the LSU Rural Life Museum and Perkins Rowe.
- Next year, construction will begin on the Downtown Development District’s Downtown Greenway, a proposed 3-mile shared-use path that eventually will connect Memorial Park to City Park, LaGrange said.
- The 15-foot-wide Mississippi River levee path, which connects downtown Baton Rouge to BREC’s Farr Park on River Road, is funded for a 7-mile extension to Ben Hur Road, said Bryan Harmon, deputy director of the city-parish’s Department of Public Works.
Harmon said the idea is to extend the path to L’Auberge Casino & Hotel or about another mile past its current funding point.
“The idea is to go from an origination point to a destination,” Harmon said. “Really it’s to tie downtown Baton Rouge to something.”
The assistant chief administrative officer for Holden, John Price, said he’s had preliminary conversations with representatives in New Orleans about extending the levee bike path to New Orleans.
These projects along with many others in the works represent the ongoing effort by bicycling advocates to connect various routes so that tens of thousands of people can more safely and efficiently pedal around the city.
“It’s definitely time to start thinking of these things as people movers,” said Beaux Jones, director of Bike Baton Rouge, a bicycle and pedestrian safety organization formerly known as Baton Rouge Advocates for Safe Streets.
One of the many headwinds bicycle riders face, Jones said, is a lack of adequate parking.
“Across the city, it is piecemeal,” Jones said about the number of bike racks available to riders.
He estimated there are less than a dozen in all of downtown Baton Rouge.
A recent development that may begin to alleviate that problem is a $100,000 federal grant obtained by the Capital Region Planning Commission.
A portion of the grant will fund a yet-to-be-decided number of bike racks in downtown Baton Rouge, said J.T. Sukits, CRPC’s ride share coordinator.
In addition, Jones said, Bike Baton Rouge has joined with Iron Design LLC, a Baton Rouge architectural fabrication and design studio, to provide 30 bike racks to local businesses interested in increasing the bike-friendliness of their locations.
A single bike rack can hold two bicycles, Jones and Sukits said.
Chris Clark, director of the Baton Rouge Bicycle Club, said such developments would boost the local economy by encouraging local shopping while simultaneously decreasing the amount of cars on the road.
After all, Baton Rouge is one of the most congested midsize metro areas in the nation, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2012 Annual Urban Mobility Report.
Wickert, the leader of the bicycle committee and an avid bicycling promoter, said dedicated bike lanes such as the ones on Glenmore Avenue and in the Capital Heights neighborhood have increased nearby property values and encouraged more people to ride bicycles.
Still, Wickert said, while dedicated bike lanes offer added security to bicycle riders, if the lane is riddled with “curb cuts,” such as driveways or intersections, that safety net shrinks.
“People want to be in a place where they can get around other than by car,” Wickert said.
An interactive online bike route mapping tool can be found at http://www.brgov.com/bikebr.
An updated map of the comprehensive citywide bike and pedestrian plan can be found online at theadvocate.com.