The chairs were set up, music queued, fact sheets and maps printed, and lectern and ceremonial red ribbon wheeled out.
The Wednesday evening production organized by Baton Rouge officials was attended by heads of agencies, business leaders and elected officials — who briefly diverted a fire engine with sirens screaming — to celebrate the completion of less than half a mile of a bike and pedestrian path.
The event, however, is especially noteworthy for two reasons: It represents the latest expansion in a planned citywide network of trails. And presiding over the festivities was Mayor-President Kip Holden, cutting the last ribbon of his 12-year tenure.
Holden's last shearing occurred just a short walk from the first. After he took office, he was present at the openings of the Shaw Center and the Hilton hotel. The final ribbon-cutting married two focuses of his administration: downtown development and transportation alternatives.
City officials envision a web of bike and walking paths emanating from downtown. With the completion of the new "Greenway," bicyclists and joggers can take the levee trail straight down North Boulevard to Interstate 110. Next month, work will begin on another stretch down East Boulevard to Expressway Park. Ultimately, authorities would like to complete the route following South Boulevard from the park to the river, forming a downtown circuit a little over 2 miles long.
Next month, the city-parish will find out whether it can secure state and federal grants to extend the trails north up Seventh Street to the Capitol Lakes and East along Louisiana Avenue, which would link up with ongoing road work on Government Street.
Additional funds could link the system to Memorial Stadium in the northeast and City Park to the southeast. The parish parks commission can take over the trails at that point, said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District.
"We need to have off-road safe spaces," said Parks and Recreation Superintendent Caroline McKnight.
Bicyclists are excited by the prospect of a network that connects locations from the riverfront to the Mall of Louisiana to Blount Road near the airport, said Mark Martin of Bike Baton Rouge.
The recently opened trail is identifiable by the green pavement markers where the bike path crosses the roads. The design is debuting in Baton Rouge but will become standard statewide, Rhorer said. The trail is also green with flora, from flowers to live oaks. The downtown district is working with the local Arts Council to add some sculptures as well, he said.
The Greenway "will make the rest of the nation green with envy," Holden ribbed.
The new bike paths and pedestrian lanes are designed to connect more people to downtown, whether they live to the north, across the interstate or in Old South Baton Rouge, he continued.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who represents the area, said residents haven't always backed efforts by Holden, Rhorer and herself to improve downtown, that "they called us all crazy." However, she believes projects like the trails show that the downtown "economic resurgence" is spreading out to new neighborhoods as they become more connected.
"The boundary lines have been expanded," Holden said.
He encouraged attendees to keep working on improvements.
"Together we have made a difference," Holden said. "Don't ever drop the baton."
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