By Quinn Welsch
Young families, runners and cyclists turned out in Mid-City two weekends past, as the Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), a state nonprofit planning organization, demonstrated what potential improvements to the area’s bike and pedestrian paths might look like.
The weekend-long event, dubbed Street Smart, was in support of Baton Rouge’s proposed Complete Streets ordinance, which aims to make the city’s neighborhoods more accessible, safer and less congested. With the help of the city’s Department of Public Works, CPEX created temporary bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, walking trails and signage at 11 different locations in Mid-City, from Bernard Terrace to Valley Park.
The nearby neighborhood associations provided their input on the potential improvements, citing safety concerns for children, connectivity to the schools in the area and connections to all the bicycle lanes, said Camille Manning-Broome, Senior Vice President at CPEX.
“This is really about the quality of life, safety and livability of our neighborhoods,” she said.
The demonstrations included a wine walk for adults, bicycle tours, a running group, and a children’s play date at Webb Park.
The Complete Streets ordinance will be brought to the city council for a vote on Nov. 22. The ordinance began with FutureBR, the city’s 20-year land use plan, which calls for more environment-friendly practices and more options for transportation. Bike Baton Rouge sparked the recent interest when it called on the Metro Council to adopt the Complete Streets policy in August with a petition, which now has more than 1,000 signatures.
Though Baton Rouge is designated as a Bike Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, it is rated “bronze.” (New Orleans, with the same rating, is the only other city designated as bike friendly in Louisiana, which is ranked 32 in the nation by the league.)
If the ordinance is passed, that rating could begin to change for the better. CPEX is hoping to have a final plan for the Mid-City area finished by the end of December with improvements finished within a couple years, provided that everything goes accordingly.
The Capitol Heights neighborhood is the beginning model for making areas in the city more livable, walkable and even profitable, Manning-Broome said. The property value in Capitol Heights is high, and houses for sale are snatched up pretty quickly, she said.
Boosting property value isn’t a major concern, but if changes influence more investment, the area will likely continue to grow and become safer, said Tyler Hicks, a Capitol Heights Neighborhood Association board member and property owner in the area.
A survey of 15 real estate markets around the country found that one-point increases on WalkScore.com increased property home values from as $700 to $3,000, according to the Complete Streets plan on the city’s website. The plan claims that the same can be said of improved bike paths as well.
“As far as people my age go – people in their 20s and 30s and even younger – they want to live in Capitol Heights because it’s a nice neighborhood, a green setting, that’s still close to urban amenities,” Hicks said. “We’re really planning on staying here for the long haul.”
“The millennials are moving to places where they don’t want to have to have car,” Manning-Broome said.
The hardest part about making these changes is getting people to change their attitudes towards alternative modes of transportation, Manning-Broome said. New polls from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that more than 90 percent of East Baton Rouge Parish workers relied on a single occupancy vehicle to get to work; 1.5 percent walked and .7 percent rode a bicycle.
As local cyclists and Bike Baton Rouge Mark Martin points out: About one percent of the population will ride anytime. About four percent will ride most of the time. About 40 percent want to ride. The rest wouldn’t do it with a gun to their head.
The change is cultural, and as they are made over time, drivers, cyclists and walkers will adapt, Manning-Broome said.
“Just as we laid out our highways and infrastructure, we’re laying out our future structure,” she said.