By Nick BeJeaux
“Without a doubt, we are a car centric city and it isn’t realistic to just abandon cars. Most trips that people need to take are under three miles. That is a long way to walk or even bike for beginners. Still, there are people who want to walk and bike to where they need to go, but there’s no infrastructure.”
Baton Rouge is a city in transition – a place where “modern” is becoming less important than “user-friendly,” in a coming of age that many cities across the country are facing.
After a massive push to update Baton Rouge’s Capital Area Transit System, which has had some success, some in the community have begun to push changes that would make more independent transportation easier, like walking (jogging/running) and biking. The Sustainable Transportation Action Committee is sponsoring a petition to the Metro Council to adopt a “complete streets” policy, which would do exactly that. Members of STAC include AARP, the Center for Planning Excellence, the Mayor’s Office, and Bike Baton Rouge.
“This is not just adding a few bike lanes to Government Street – which is basically a highway through Downtown Baton Rouge. This is a paradigm shift,” said Beaux Jones, chair of Bike for Baton Rouge.
According to Jones the desire behind the petition, which has so far garnered 635 signatures, is to grow support for a policy – a Complete Streets policy – that will encourage city engineers and planners to make improvement projects beneficial to all users, not just the ones in motorcycles, cars and trucks.
“Without a doubt, we are a car centric city and it isn’t realistic to just abandon cars,” said Jones. “Most trips that people need to take are under three miles. That is a long way to walk or even bike for beginners. Still, there are people who want to walk and bike to where they need to go, but there’s no infrastructure.”
Marjorie Hodges, a signer from Baton Rouge, agrees with that statement.
“I see people with no place to walk on sidewalks walking down the sides of unsafe streets and I also see bikers who are not allowed to ride on sidewalks being disallowed to ride on the sides of streets by careless and thoughtless drivers,” she said. “It is my desire to see protection for all people.”
Within the next several weeks, a Complete Streets ordinance will appear before the Metro Council, and it’s the hope of the STAC that the online petition, along with a report vetted by traffic engineers and city planners, will help the council accept the ordinance.
“This petition is all about getting the concept of a complete street of the technical back room and bringing it to the public,” said Jones. “We need the full spectrum to be there when we present this; it’s all about awareness and support right now.”
While he is affiliated with an organization that promotes biking, Jones and STAC as a whole believe that adopting a complete streets perspective in city planning will benefit everyone – even the people that don’t own a bike.
“Having these kinds of infrastructure markedly improves health and economic development in cities,” he said. “Also, Baton Rouge is attracting more and more people that want to live in user friendly city. Why should we wait fro the demand when we have the opportunity to create it ourselves?”
To sign the petition, you can find it on Change.org by searching “Complete Streets Ordinance.”