By Nick BeJeaux
Change is always an interesting process, even painful from time to time. Baton Rouge is a city rife with change, and nowhere is that causing more friction than in the growth of BR’s bike culture.
As the Red Stick tries to become more accommodating to bicyclists and pedestrians, some residents are afraid that too many changes are coming too fast. Specifically, cyclists and residents of Glenmore Avenue have publicly clashed over the use of bike lanes in the area, and DIG caught up with both groups to find out how heated this conflict really is and how it may be resolved.
From Bike BR
Mark Martin is the chairman of Bike Baton Rouge, a group of cycling enthusiasts that works to make biking in BR safe and enjoyable.
“In the larger view, this is a discussion over the use of public property,” said Martin. “That’s because the bike lanes that are on Glenmore are travel lanes, and it’s illegal to park in a travel lane. The neighbors of Glenmore have just been reminded of that, but they want to park in the street.”
Before we go any further, it’s important to realize how important Glenmore Ave is as a bike route in BR.
“Glenmore is the only street that connects from Government to Bawell Street; other than Acadian and with the traffic their, taking that route is suicide,” said Martin. “Hundred Oaks, Broussard, Claycut – all of these are other important routs and they all cut across Glenmore.”
Glenmore also connects to Capital Heights, which links into Jefferson Highway, and Bawell joins Acadian to Corporate. In short, this area is the hub of bike lanes in Baton Rouge, so the ability to travel through it in safety is a great concern for cyclists.
“It’s the core,” said Martin. “It’s the key to at least half a dozen bike routes.”
Considering hat Glenmore is a public street, and the City’s plans to incorporate more bike/pedestrian infrastructure, it might seem odd this dispute is going on. Martin is less surprised.
“Because humans are involved,” he said. “But I suspect that the people who live there think the street is theirs. They were informed, unceremoniously, that this is not the case and they reacted as surprised people often do. They got protective; they felt like they were under attack.”
But, despite the ruffled feathers at a public meeting a few weeks ago where bikers and residents laid it all out on the table, there have been signs of cooperation.
“There’s always hope,” he said. “In the last week or so, there’s already nobody parked in the bike lanes out there; they’re already adapting.”
Martin hopes that, with time, The Red Stick can pedal on.
“Our fervent hope is that there will be more bike and pedestrian infrastructure,” he said. “This [conflict] was inevitable. This city has done so little for non-motorized infrastructure, so as soon as it starts doing something about that there’s going to be backlash.”
From a Resident of Glenmore Avenue
Hugh Raetzsch is the president of Lyons Specialty Company and a resident of Glenmore. He says there are more than just signs that the two groups are starting to cooperate.
“I sit on a committee of Glenmore residents that has been put together to address the bike lane issue,” said Raetzsch. “It was pulled together by councilwoman Denise Marcelle to bring together people on both sides to find a solution.”
The solution the committee is looking for, Raetzsch says, is one where both the residents and the cyclists can coexist.
“We’re not looking to be unreasonable, we just want to figure out a way to coexist,” he said.
Raetzsch has only been living on Glenmore for about eight weeks; around the time this particular storm started brewing. However, he believes that this dispute is rooted in when bike lanes narrowed the road nine years ago.
“For the last eight and a half years, this wasn’t an issue,” he said. “It wasn’t until recently that the bike lane designation was put there, or people simply became more energized to fight against the cars that periodically park in the lanes.”
Raetzsch stressed the vehicles are only occasionally parked in bike lanes. For the most part, people use their driveways. But when there’s construction going on, or if someone has guests, Raetzsch says it’s only natural to park in those lanes and that bikers should be able to safely adapt. Ideally, Raetzsch and his fellow Glenmore residents hope things can go back to the way they were a few months ago.
“People were not ticketed, or harassed,” said Raetzsch. “I’ve people out in front of my house chalking up the bike lane, taking pictures of peoples cars, posting them on social media, and calling the police on us. That’s not the way this should be handled.”
Raetzsch admits that there are clearly two sides to this dispute, and some actions taken were less than civil in his mind. But he thinks overall, the divide in the community is overblown in the media.
“I don’t know if they [the media] are deliberately hyping this, but I do know there are instances of incorrect reporting,” he said. “ When the coverage of the meeting came out, it described a very heated argument, with people yelling at each other. I was there; that just simply wasn’t the case. Everyone was generally respectful.”