Dig Baton Rouge

On the Edge

By Elizabeth Clausen

Gardere Lane is a pedestrian’s worst nightmare.

There are no sidewalks, no crosswalks, and no shoulders to walk on. There are open ditches on both sides of the two-lane highway. The speed limit is set at 45 mph – although residents say traffic travels much, much faster.

And yet, many Gardere residents have no choice but to walk. In order to catch the bus, they must walk to Gardere Lane’s bus stop, which is located about five inches away from the road. Meanwhile, cyclists have no choice but to ride in the street. The faded ghost bike, the teddy bear surrounded by deflated balloons and artificial flowers – all of them less than a mile apart – prove how dangerous the current situation is.

Sadly, these memorials are a common sight around Baton Rouge and Louisiana as a whole. According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Louisiana has the third-highest rate of bicyclist deaths in the nation. Looking at Gardere Lane, which is devoid of bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks and school zones, it’s not hard to see why.
Juan Cruz, a public health planner working in collaboration with the Gardere Initiative, said that area residents have been asking for sidewalks since the late ‘90s.

“It’s been years since the gas tax has been adequate to maintain the roadways,” he said. “I see people on wheelchairs and motorized scooters on the road, and I’ve seen moms pushing kids along the street. What kind of society would allow that to happen?”

The good news is that sidewalks will be built. This year, the Metro Council approved a nearly $1.3 million project to add five-foot sidewalks to the west side of Gardere Lane and a 10-foot multiuse path on the east side. Earlier this year (Feb. 18, 2015), The Advocate reported on the project, saying that construction should begin “within two years,” since engineers must still finish designing them before construction companies can place bids to build them. And before sidewalks can be built, the open ditches on both sides of the road have to be converted to culverts.

Officials at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development confirmed that the sidewalk project is still in the early review and design phase, so there is no available timeline for its completion as of yet.

The approval of a funded plan to build sidewalks represents a huge victory for the Gardere community. But in the meantime, the street remains extremely dangerous for the many pedestrians who traverse its narrow shoulders every day and alongside speeding vehicles.

“It’s a state highway, and that is one reason for inaction,” said Reginald Brown, Executive Director for Gardere Initiative. “We’ve requested a school zone speed limit area for the Gardere Community Christian School off Gardere and Innovation Park Drive.”

Brown pointed out that not only does a school zone not currently exist, but also the speed limit actually increases by five miles per hour — from 40 to 45 — right next to the school.

A decrease in the speed limit would not only mitigate the dangers of the roadway until the sidewalks are completed, but it would also serve as an inexpensive and relatively simple way to improve pedestrian safety on Gardere.

“A change in speed limit would be in concert with the city-wide plan to show sensitivity to pedestrians and bicycle riders,” said Brown. “The safety of our children at the ever growing Gardere Community Christian School, the South Baton Rouge Charter Academy, the several daycare centers along Gardere Lane and the Hartley-Vey BREC Park should be the highest priority for state and city officials. And given the steep ditches and minimal shoulder area along Gardere Lane, the hazards presented with a 40 and 45 mile per hour speed limit should be remedied as quickly as possible.”

Anastasia Semien, a Public Information Officer with the DOTD, said that there have been no official attempts to get the speed limit on Gardere Lane lowered. However, she said that the DOTD would be happy to study the roadway to determine if a lower speed limit is feasible.

“In general, a study would have to be completed before a speed limit is decreased or increased,” she said. “Factors considered include roadway characteristics, crash history and traffic volume, among other things.”

For now, the members of the Gardere Initiative are doing everything they can to continue to demonstrate public support and raise awareness for Gardere pedestrian safety.

And at least for now, it’s up to the roadside memorials along Gardere to do what the current speed limit signs can’t — get everyone to slow down.

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