By Nick BeJeaux
Cyclists and bike-curious people of Baton Rouge, your dreams of a bike sharing program coming to the Red Stick may soon come true.
The Downtown Development District, recently announced that it has partnered with the Capital City Planning Commission, the Center for Planning Excellence, LSU, Southern, BRAF and many others to seek assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency to introduce such a program to BR.
“EPA put out their request for letters of intent for participants in their Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Grant and we all got together and wrote the two pages explaining why we needed this grant and the program we wanted to use it for,” Whitney Cooper, Development Project Director at the DDD. “We submitted in november and were awarded in January.”
Rather than money, the grant actually provides expertise and resources for any of the different types of projects outlined by the Grant.
“There are a number of different things that you could apply for under that grant, but we chose bike sharing because that we’re interested in doing,” said Cooper. “They’re offering the expertise and the funding for the plan, whereas otherwise we would have to locate funding and experts ourselves. That’s the great part about it, there’s no exchanging of money. You ask for it and the EPA sets up the two day workshop and bring the experts down here; they just provide everything.”
Those workshops will be scheduled anywhere between now and July and from there it will take 3-6 months to finalize the plan and begin construction. Cooper said that the workshops are open to anyone interested in the program, like cyclists and business owners. Already, the DDD has heard from many people who want to see a bike share program start up in Baton Rouge.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the number of phone calls that we’ve gotten from people saying that they want to learn more about it. I didn’t think it would catch on like this, but it did and that’s great. I think that this shows a latent interest that we didn’t know about. I suspect that when we get the date for the workshops and get the word out we’ll be hearing from people that we had no idea were interested.”
However, until the EPA arrive in Baton Rouge and studies the city there is no way of knowing how many stations will be planned in the city, or where they will be built.
“The EPA is basically coming to our city and telling us what they think would work here; we have no idea about the number of share stations,” said Cooper. “We know we want one in the city, and all of our stakeholders are interested in them. I assume a large concentration will be downtown and on LSU. We’ve never done this before, and we don’t know how to do it. When you go to a city like New york, you see it there and we more or less want the same thing for Baton Rouge.”
However, one eager cyclist is certain that introducing a bike sharing Program to Baton Rouge will be overwhelmingly positive for the City. Pamela Volentine Rushing is a court reporter and avid cyclist and thinks a program like this would be incredibly appealing to tourists, students and people who are curious about biking but don’t want to commit to anything just yet.
“That last demographic especially is literally the best thing about a bike share,” she said. “Increasing the number of people on bikes on the streets has been proven to make the streets safer for all users: people who walk, people who drive, people who bike, and people who are disabled, young, or elderly.”
Besides being enthusiastic, Rushing also has plenty of suggestions for the DDD and the EPA.
“Hopefully the bikes will have a way to carry things,” she said. “The ones in Chicago have a front metal basket and that’s kind of a big deal when you ride a bike. It’s a requirement that these bike share bikes have someplace to put a six pack or a baguette or a handbag or duffel bag or backpack (sweaty backs are so over).”
“If anyone brings up helmets this afternoon and should bike share bikes come with rental helmets (gross, the answer is definitely no), tell them to watch any one of the streetfilms from Amsterdam or Copenhagen – nary a helmet in sight. There are hundreds of thousands of people riding in city traffic daily on upright bikes carrying groceries and children, and in a careful and rather slow manner. It’s probably safer than walking.”
DIG will be reporting on this project as it develops.