In the aftermath of Carmageddon — the day that Baton Rouge ground to a halt because of a crash on Interstate 10 — there was considerable discussion that avoided what we believe is one key issue: connecting the Baton Rouge street grid.
Instead, experts focused perhaps a bit too much on the conventional wisdom that Baton Rouge has too few arterial routes connecting north and south.
As with most instances of conventional wisdom, there is a good bit of truth to it. One example is the Central Thruway, which has been years in the building; Mayor-President Kip Holden called it the most complex highway project ever undertaken by city-parish government.
Traffic flow depends on major arteries and smaller streets connected into a grid so that people can get alternative routes to work or other destinations.
Two useful steps have been taken in Holden’s two terms. One is the “Green Light” bond issue that will expand major streets, including Central’s thruway. The plan was designed with connectivity in mind, according to city planners.
And Holden strongly endorsed a property tax for public transit, one of the ways that we can increase the carrying capacity of existing arterials.
However, the city-parish has failed to do what is already required in law: Ensure that new streets, including those through every subdivision, connect to the street grid wherever possible.
Why is that so important? “A better-connected street grid offering more alternative routes to efficiently connect residents to their destinations is ultimately the best preventative solution for this kind of situation,” said the Center for Planning Excellence in the wake of Carmageddon.
“Not only would a better grid prevent complete disasters on the scale of Carpocolypse, it would ease commute times on a daily basis, improving productivity, quality of life, and even health for Baton Rouge residents — or residents in any community that deals with congestion issues for that matter.”
What’s the problem? Politics.
Over many years, despite times when the Planning Commission staff or the Department of Public Works urged politicians to follow the law, the Metro Council — sometimes even the Planning Commission — too often waived the legal requirement that streets be connected. Part of it is city hall’s dominance by development interests, which marketed one-entrance subdivisions.
Neighborhood associations were often the villains: Faced with a couple of dozen protesters from a subdivision, who argued with straight faces that a million cars would speed past their homes every day, the politicians tended to fold to pressure and put that short-term political decision ahead of the public interest.
A long series of small bad decisions has resulted in a large bad problem.
As CPEX noted, there are few shortcuts that get you anywhere in Baton Rouge. It doesn’t take a fiery crash on Interstate 10; even a small collision on any number of arterials at rush hour can jam up traffic for hours.
Even though connectivity is already in the law, and the FutureBR master plan pushes it, the fact is that there are probably at least 20 or 30 points in subdivisions across Baton Rouge where streets end abruptly because of past political blunders.
If the city-parish government were more serious about responding to Carmageddon, it would push the Metro Council to vote on an immediate package where those connections would be easily done.
After all, the public paid for and owns those streets. Building them so only a few get a benefit from them is wasteful and contributes to gridlock.