O PELOUSAS — Some of the oldest Opelousas residential neighborhoods will soon become scenic pathways for a new bicycle route that will connect two city parks on opposite ends of the city.
Cyclists will pedal nearly a five-mile round trip on a route that features historic homes, including bungalows dating back to the 1930s and a former Confederate governor’s mansion, which served briefly as a state capitol during the Civil War.
City officials approved the route this month.
Yvonne Normand, a member of the Opelousas Parks and Recreation Commission, said the proposed bicycle trail is the first of its kind for the city and St. Landry Parish.
“Share the road” markers are to be painted and posted soon to warn motorists that the streets will be used by bicycles.
Normand, who also represented the Opelousas Sunrise Rotary Club, said the Lafayette District Rotary Club is donating $2,000 from a club-funded grant to pay for the paint and templates to designate the route.
Normand said another $3,000 for the project will be contributed for the same purpose by the Sunrise Rotary Club.
Assistance from youth groups will be solicited by the club to help paint the roadways, Normand said.
Melanie Lebouef, Opelousas tourism director, said the route is a perfect compromise for cyclist safety as well as to join the north and south ends of the city and to tour residential areas.
“I think this is a start and it may lead to creating other bike trails through the city and possibly outward to other ends of the parish,” Lebouef said.
There are no designated routes that are safe for bike riders who want to use Opelousas streets, Normand said.
Normand said the length and direction the path will take was proposed by the 30 members of the Sunrise Club as part of a civic project.
The direction of the route is designed to avoid the more congested areas of Opelousas, Normand said.
That includes the blocks surrounding the St. Landry Parish Courthouse in the central part of the city in addition to one-way streets that serve as conduits for motorist traffic heading north and south.
Instead the cyclists will move along Liberty Street, the city’s widest street, which Normand said provides fewer opportunities for motorist and bicycle conflicts.
Also eliminated as part of the bicycle trail, Normand said, was a portion of Railroad Avenue, which is heavily used by commercial vehicles.
Although Railroad Avenue is a wide road that is smooth and well-lighted, it is also part of La. 349, said Normand.
LeBouef said any proposed inclusion of Railroad Avenue into the bike trail also would mean the city would have to sign a cooperative agreement with the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Normand admitted that it will take a while for bikers and vehicles to recognize and respect one another.
“There will be a learning curve. I think that’s a good thing, because (motorists) need to recognize our bikers,” she said.
Mayor Reggie Tatum said some of the streets on the bikeway are perhaps too narrow to accommodate both the cyclists and vehicles.
Tatum said, however, that the relative safety of using narrower residential streets instead of wider ones utilized more frequently by vehicle traffic is a risk worth taking.
Creating a particular path for bikes is something that will help move the city forward, Tatum said.
Bike trails are being integrated into communities in order to enhance lifestyles, promote exercise and attract tourists, Tatum said.
Normand said the club members, when contemplating which route to use, favored using streets instead of proposals to include sidewalks.
“The sidewalks are not wide enough and some of them have cracks and crevices, which means we can’t use them,” she said.