October 28, 2012
In his recent letter to The Advocate, Lt. Col. John LeBlanc speculated as to the causes of recent increases in the number of motorcycle, pedestrian and bicycle deaths in the area. He offered possible explanations regarding the motorcyclist and pedestrian deaths, but seemed at a loss to explain the rise in bicycle-related fatalities. I would like to offer a possible explanation.
The number of people riding bicycles throughout the country has steadily increased in the last few years. This may be partly caused by higher gas prices, but a lot has to do with people just rediscovering the joy of riding. More cyclists on the road mean more chances for bicycle/car collisions. The chances of an accident also go up in areas such as Baton Rouge, where primitive planning fails to take into account other forms of transportation along the roadways. How many roads do you know of that actually have sidewalks for pedestrians or bike lanes for cyclists in Baton Rouge? If you’re not driving a car, you are quite literally in harm’s way on our roads. A couple of miles of bike paths mean nothing if they’re not connected to anything else.
My wife and I visited Colorado Springs last weekend. It is a city of similar size and cost of living to Baton Rouge. We were amazed at the difference in the city’s infrastructure. Parks and open spaces are everywhere in Colorado Springs. They, and for that matter the whole city, are connected by a network of bike lanes and bike/pedestrian pathways. The Pikes Peak Greenway runs north and south for 30-plus miles through the city, and numerous branch paths lead off from it all directions.
The other amazing thing we noticed is the number of people who actually use these paths and parks. I suppose that is one of the reasons Colorado consistently ranks among the healthier states in the country. You know where Louisiana ranks.
So why can Colorado Springs have such a user-friendly network of safe and well-maintained pathways, and Baton Rouge can’t? It all comes down to priorities. Colorado Springs embraced the concept of alternative transportation and healthier lifestyles years ago. Baton Rouge has yet to do so. It’s not about money. Bike lanes and pathways cost little compared to adding another lane to an existing road. It’s just about priorities. In Baton Rouge, the safety of cyclists and pedestrians obviously doesn’t rank very high on the list of our concerns.