By Cody Worsham
A year ago, Baton Rouge experimented with a new-look Government Street.
For a day last April, the Center for Planning Excellence, the city-parish, and various other groups in Baton Rouge’s Mid-City neighborhood transformed two blocks of Government – between Beverly and Bedford Drives – from four lanes to two with a center turn lane and dedicated bike lanes.
Camille-Manning Broome, CPEX director, called Better Block BR “an epic success.”
“People were saying, ‘Wow, a little bit of transformation here could really change this place,’” she told DIG a year ago. “This was a way to demonstrate to the public what this area could be transformed into, and it was also a way for the city-parish to test out whether or not this could be done.”
Consider the test passed.
The transformation Better Block BR enacted for a day will soon be permanent, as Mayor Kip Holden announced a road diet for Government last week. The road will adopt the two-lane + center turn lane + dedicated bike lane formula from I-110 to Lobdell, thanks to a transfer of ownership of the strip from the state to the city-parish. Other transfers included Nicholson Dr. and River Road, but Government is the first up for a diet.
“I can’t think of a better place to start than with a road I believe will make a major difference in revitalizing Mid-City as envisioned in our FUTUREBR master plan,” Holden said.
Here’s a glimpse of the changes:
1. Less Lanes, More Flow
Government is already notorious for its stop-start traffic, particularly in both the east- and west-bound left hand lanes. On average, the street sees 270 crashes a year due, mostly from rear-end or side-swipe accidents caused by improper navigation of the left lane.
A dedicated center turn lane should fix that, without additional traffic congestion.
“Look at the street intellectually,” local businessman Gordon Mese, who owns Garden District Nursery, told WAFB last week. “It is a three-lane street posing as a four-lane street, because those two center lanes are always a left turn lane. It will not change the flow at all, but it will make it a lot safer and more usable.”
A road diet, also called a lane reduction or road rechannelization, is a technique in transportation planning whereby the number of travel lanes and/or effective width of the road is reduced in order to achieve systemic improvements. – From Wikipedia
2. Two Legs or Two Wheels
A report released earlier this year identified Louisiana as the fifth-most-dangerous city for pedestrians and cyclists. The data in the report, spanning a decade, revealed a 30 percent increase in such fatalities in 2012 alone.
Dedicated bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks introduced by Government’s road diet should go a long way in solving the problem. The roads will comply with FutureBR’s “Complete Streets” initiative, making them friendlier for two-footed or two-wheeled traffic.
“A big difference will be the dedicated bike lane,” Holden said, “and this is something I’m especially pleased to announce to help improve safety for our growing number of bicyclists on the roads.
3. Open for Business
While street traffic should see an improvement, foot traffic will likely pick up, thanks to sidewalk expansions.
And that means big money for Government Street businesses, who are excited about their business prospects now that the street should be more customer-friendly.
“We have always believed such a transformation will lead to further investment,” said Samuel Sanders, executive director of the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance, “and we will have a corridor that functions as a destination and signature area of our city, and not just a dangerous, high speed cut through as it is used today. I cannot stop smiling!”
Sanders pointed to groups like the Mid City Merchants Association and other residents and property owners who had been anxiously anticipating Holden’s announcement.
“(They) have been collectively holding their breath to see this happen,” he said. “They can finally breathe and know we will see it happen.”