Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux said Tuesday he will decide this summer whether the new bikes lanes on West Bayou Parkway should stay or go — a debate that has spawned dueling petitions and sparked a social media firestorm in the cycling community.
Robideaux, who took office in January, said he will review traffic and safety data, consider the competing views and then make a decision within the “next couple of weeks” on a project that had been supported by the prior administration.
“We are going to weigh all of the information,” Robideaux said. “We want to be sensitive to both sides. They both have legitimate cases to make.”
City-Parish Government re-striped a portion of West Bayou Parkway last year, removing a center lane to create a two-lane road with bike lanes on each side.
The change prompted an immediate backlash from some residents, who complained of worsening congestion and the potential hazard of drivers swerving to get around vehicles waiting to turn.
Opponents delivered a petition to Robideaux in May with the signatures of roughly 230 residents seeking removal of the bike lanes.
On Monday, supporters of bike lanes launched an online assault under the banner of “Forward Lafayette,” with a Twitter feed, Facebook page and an online petition that had garnered 1,600 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
Cycling enthusiast Mark deClouet, a spokesman for the group, said he learned of the petition opposing the bike lanes a few weeks ago in a meeting with Robideaux.
“He kind of charged us to go out and show the support,” deClouet said.
DeClouet said he feels removing the bike lanes would be a big step backward for a city just beginning to embrace the concepts of cycling, walking and other alternative modes of transportation.
He said enhancing options for cyclists is critical to keeping Lafayette vibrant, attractive and competitive.
“Young professionals, they flock to bike lanes. They flock to connectivity,” deClouet said.
West Bayou Parkway is one of a handful roads in the city where vehicle lanes have been reduced and bike lanes added — one of the few options to offer space to cyclists in a road network that is largely built within the city limits.
Bike lanes were carved out of St. Mary Boulevard through the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus and along a short stretch of Bertrand Drive near Johnston Street.
Similar changes are planned for Congress Street in the downtown area, where city-parish government plans to bring the four- and five-lane stretch down to three, with added bike lanes and on-street parking in some areas.
Those projects have attracted little controversy, but a state Department of Transportation and Development plan this year to reduce a portion of Moss Street from four lanes to two lanes with a turning lane in the middle and bike lanes on each side attracted heated opposition.
Roughly 4,000 residents and business owners in the Moss Street area signed a petition opposing the plan. The state has made no decision on whether to go forward with it.
DeClouet said the Moss Street flare-up prompted his meeting with Robideaux a few weeks ago.
“I could see this spilling over into West Bayou Parkway,” deClouet said.
Robideaux said he generally supports growing the network of bike lanes in the city.
“Whether West Bayou Parkway was the best place to start is the debate right now,” he said.
City-parish staff studied traffic patterns along West Bayou Parkway when planning the bike lanes, and turning lanes were kept in place at some high-traffic intersections in the area.
City-Parish Public Works Director Tom Carroll, who was retired when the bike lanes went in but returned to his old post this year, said he is not aware of any studies comparing traffic patterns and safety issues before and after the bike lanes opened.
Carroll said that, in general, removing a turning lane for the sake of new bike lanes can work if done right.
“It seems to make sense when you don’t have a lot of turn-lane movements to provide bike lanes there,” he said.