Trying to walk along Gardere Lane is as dangerous as it is unsightly.
Pedestrians are forced to walk in the street or along ditches where trash bobs in the murky water. Crossing the street is nearly impossible at high-traffic times with no crosswalks, while parents pushing strollers in the road are left at the mercy of drivers who often cannot see them at night.
But the low-income neighborhood on the south end of the parish is on the brink of a transition, residents and community activists say. And that change begins with sidewalks, which have finally been paid for, signed off on and approved after several years of requests.
“It’s going to light a candle in this community that you’ve never seen before,” said Gardere resident and community activist Crystal Pichon.
The Metro Council earlier this year agreed to a nearly $1.3 million project to add sidewalks to Gardere Lane, which Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe said he has hoped for since he took office six years ago.
Construction should begin on the sidewalks within two years, as engineers still have to finish designing them. The plan is for a 5-foot sidewalk to run along the west side of Gardere Lane, while a 10-foot multiuse path for walkers and bikers would snake down the east side of the road.
The multiuse path will run alongside the BREC Hartley-Vey Ball Fields and Gardere Lane Park. The park is also slated for upgrades soon, and community members will build a playground there in late May or early June, according to BREC.
The sidewalks, playground and other improvements are a sign of the good things to come in the neighborhood, said Reginald Brown, who works with the Gardere Initiative to better the quality of life for those in Gardere.
Residents throughout Baton Rouge have complained over the past few years about the city’s layout and roadways, which often force travelers to drive or risk their lives to cross streets with no crosswalks.
The concerns have recently made their way up to local government, and the Metro Council approved a complete streets policy late last year meant to encourage more walkability and bikeability throughout the city.
Gardere is notorious for pedestrian and biker dangers. The closest the street has to a sidewalk is a worn patch in the grass next to the ditches lining the street.
Construction issues with the ditches have made the project more expensive because they will have to be converted to culverts, Loupe said.
“I saw them cleaning the ditches the other day and I was beside myself,” Pichon said.
Juan Cruz, who is also involved in the Gardere Initiative, walked along Gardere Lane on a recent Friday and collected litter — a Sprite can, a flattened plastic water bottle and more — in a brown paper Burger King bag. Yellow egg cartons, empty milk jugs and plastic bags floated in the ditch next to him.
“That is the entrance to a $365 million development — L’Auberge (Casino and Hotel),” Loupe said. “Trash and grocery carts and bed frames and mattresses accumulate on the side of the road.”
The death of cyclist Barbara Jacob in 2012 attracted attention to Gardere Lane’s safety hazards. In that accident, one vehicle knocked Jacob off her bicycle and a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction hit her.
Politicians, engineers and residents have been working to ensure that another Barbara Jacob-like tragedy does not occur. Pichon said the sidewalks should bring peace of mind for the people who walk and bike the street, as well as those who drive down Gardere Lane and cannot see at night if someone walks into the road.
Loupe, who represents the Gardere area, said the holdup in adding sidewalks was the cost. Federal grant money will pay for 80 percent of the sidewalk construction costs, while the other 20 percent will come from local sales tax dollars approved in 2005 under Mayor-President Kip Holden’s Green Light Plan, said Green Light Plan spokesman John Snow.
Now that the money has been secured and the Metro Council has signed off on the work, engineers must finish designing and planning the sidewalks before construction companies can bid to build them.
Pichon, Brown and Cruz are looking forward to the many improvements that the sidewalks will bring, but Pichon said she is most excited to celebrate International Walk to School Day with the children at Gardere Community Christian School.
“I can’t have International Walk to School Day with no sidewalks,” she said.