Gene Groves has lived on Glenmore Avenue for 40 years. He has a driveway where he parks his car, but, occasionally, when friends and family visit, they park on the street.
But Groves’ street is lined with dedicated bike lanes. So when homeowners and their guests park on the curbs, they’re actually illegally parking in a path for cyclists and pedestrians.
And therein lies the source of a tense debate that has pitted the Glenmore Avenue homeowners and the cycling community against each other over whose interests should prevail.
Glenmore residents have, for years, allowed cars to park on the curb in the lanes near their homes. But recently, some avid cyclists started taking notice, alerting police to the illegal parking.
Now, residents say that given the option of being ticketed for parking near their homes or having bike lanes, they pick parking. More than 50 Glenmore residents signed a petition making up more than 90 percent of the homeowners along the route saying they’d like to see the bike lane removed.
The lane has been there since 2006, and it’s about three-quarters of a mile long. If removed, it would be the first time Baton Rouge, which has been working over the past years to expand its bike path network, will have erased one of the lanes.
Cyclists have responded in droves, organizing an Internet petition with nearly 500 names on it as of Friday afternoon, many from people outside of the capital region. They say removing a bike lane would be a step backward for Baton Rouge, a city riddled with traffic and striving for better connectivity.
“I would say taking a public right-of-way for private use is just wrong,” said Bike Baton Rouge board member Mark Martin. “To take a bike lane and turn it into parking, endangering cyclists who want to use that area as a connector, is moving backwards.”
Martin said the properties have long driveways and suggested wealthy people in the neighborhoods were just uncomfortable with having “the help,” such as maids and construction workers, park vehicles on their property.
“If the lawn man shows up, instead of pulling into their capacious driveways, which are two cars wide, and go all the way back to the end of the lot, they want them to park in the road,” Martin said.
Baton Rouge chief traffic engineer Ingolf Partenheimer said city-parish officials are interested in listening to the concerns of all of the stakeholders and aren’t ruling out any options.
But cyclists say it’s a safety issue. Louisiana has the third-highest rate of bicyclist deaths in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This year, the capital region has seen a handful of cyclist and pedestrian deaths and injuries from people hit by cars. In June, Elisabeth Oliver, a 63-year-old LSU professor was killed in East Feliciana Parish while walking her broken bike on a rural road. In August, Clifford Gouner was struck and killed on Goodwood Boulevard. Gordon Mese, a Mid City business owner, was honoring Gouner in a bike ride vigil the following day when he was struck and badly injured.
Groves said the neighborhood complained nine years ago about heavy traffic down their street, and the city-parish responded by implementing speed humps and restriping the street with the narrower lines, creating paths along the sides.
He said residents were told the narrower road would slow traffic and give people space to walk, jog and bike along the road.
“Before they did it, we asked, ‘Will this restrict our ability to park on our curb in front of our house?’ ” Groves said. “Their answer was, ‘Absolutely not.’ ”
A few years later, the paths got a face-lift that included additional signage identifying them specifically as bike lanes.
Groves said residents of the street have lived in harmony with cyclists for years and only recently began receiving warnings from law enforcement to stop parking in the lanes because of complaints from people outside their neighborhood.
“It’s people who don’t live here, who we’ve invited into our neighborhood so they could ride their bikes and see our beautiful lawns, and now they’re calling the police on us,” Groves said.
Groves said he and others in the neighborhoods are open to a compromise, but short of being able to park on their curbs, they would be advocating for the removal of the lanes.
The online petition posted by the cycling community — “Save Glenmore Avenue Bike Lanes” — has become a sounding board for cycling enthusiasts who want Baton Rouge to continue strides to make the city’s streets safer for bikes.
“Those lanes give me a rare moment of riding around BR without having to worry about being run over at any given time,” wrote Clyde Bates on the petition. “To get rid of them would be a travesty for the general public.”
Another supporter in the neighborhood, Sarah Schramm, said she rides her bike to work every day.
“I wish every street on my route had a bike lane,” she wrote. “We need to accommodate more transportation options, not reduce them.”
Sarah Dupree, another resident who lives on Glenmore, took to the petition to express her frustration with cyclists who were unsympathetic to what she considers to be a property right.
She noted that the residents of Glenmore pay “hefty mortgages” and they deserve the right to “work, pick up carpool, have people over to celebrate life and death without getting a ticket on our cars.”
She added that cyclists are no longer welcomed in the neighborhood.
“Get a grip and ride elsewhere. Because, you are not welcome in front of our house,” she wrote.
Lt. Jonny Dunnam, spokesman for Baton Rouge Police Department, said he was not aware of any tickets written to people in the Glenmore area for parking in bike lanes. However, he said, there was an instance recently where an officer was sent to the street to ask a construction worker to stay out of the bike lanes.
But Dunnam acknowledged that parking in the bike lanes is a violation of the law and said officers were not purposely turning a blind eye to it.
On Monday, a public meeting is scheduled to discuss the issue with representatives from the Center for Planning Excellence, city-parish staff and Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle. The meeting is at 5:30 p.m. at Ingleside Methodist Church.
Marcelle said she will propose a compromise to narrow the median and widen the street to allow enough space for both parking and bike lanes. But she said she doesn’t want to see the bike lanes removed.
“That would be my last suggestion that we get rid of the bike lanes,” Marcelle said.
“If we want to talk about walkable communities, saving the environment, saving on gas and having exercise for healthy communities, then we’ve got to talk about bikes and walking.”
Partenheimer said Friday he doesn’t yet have cost estimates for changes to the median. But Marcelle was undeterred.
“We gotta do what we gotta do,” she said. “They pay a lot of taxes.”