Bicycles lined the outside of a Mid City church on Monday evening. Cars were packed into the parking lot and several vehicles parked on the shoulder of the road, blocking the bike lanes at the corner of Capital Heights Boulevard and Glenmore Avenue.
The view outside almost perfectly illustrated the fight that was happening inside the building.
For weeks, the dispute has been brewing in Baton Rouge, pitting cyclists from around the city against homeowners who live on Glenmore Avenue. The debate arose because people were parking cars in the bike lanes along the road, which is against city ordinances.
Cyclists want the homeowners, who have driveways, to stop allowing guests to park in the bike lanes because it endangers cyclists by pushing them into the street. Homeowners want the right to park near their homes and have space for guests and family.
The meeting on Monday at the Ingleside United Methodist Church was standing room only with about 200 people in attendance. Moderators pleaded for civility, but tempers flared throughout the meeting with shots fired on both sides.
The two sides yelled across the room at each other throughout the evening. At one point, as Glenmore resident Gene Groves tried to speak past his allotted time, the cyclists applauded loudly to drown out his comments and prevent him from being heard. They didn’t stop clapping until he gave up.
“The bikers have made this into a kind of war,” said Arthur Abercrombie, a Glenmore Avenue resident who wants to be able to park in the bike lanes near his home. “It doesn’t need to be.”
Abercrombie and some other Glenmore residents said at the meeting that this conflict arose from bicyclists who had reported cars were in their designated lanes.
The homeowners responded with a petition with 53 names representing more than 90 percent of the people on the street who said they’d just as well have the bike lanes removed.
But Abercrombie and others said they would still support the bike paths if they could be allowed to continue parking near their homes.
Cyclists, backed by city-parish staff and law enforcement, said it’s illegal to park in the bike lanes. A change would have to be made if the homeowners wanted the additional parking.
A few compromise solutions were floated.
One proposed solution included building a bike path in the median, which is the case in Southdowns on Stuart Avenue. However, building a lane in the median would take more time and money.
A less expensive idea submitted was turning the bike lanes into a wide shoulder that would allow homeowners to park and give cyclists enough room to bike while staying off the main road.
“That’s not a compromise,” cyclists shouted when that idea was explored, noting that they were losing a dedicated bike path.
A more promising solution proposed was restriping Glenmore so there would be bike lanes on one side of the median and designated parking on the other.
No decisions were made Monday, but Leo D’Aubin, with the Parish Attorney’s Office, advised the group to embrace mediation and to come up with a compromise that satisfies both sides. He said if 10 affected families petitioned the city about traffic problems, they could request a study that could yield a recommendation for change. Any changes would have to go before the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council.
Some Glenmore residents asked why their situation couldn’t be modeled after Park Boulevard in the Garden District, where cyclists share the road with drivers and cars park on the shoulder.
Baton Rouge Traffic Engineer Ingolf Partenheimer noted that Glenmore has dedicated paths and Park Boulevard has sharrows, which simply alert drivers that bikers are on the road. Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle pointed out that Park Boulevard residents have smaller lots and less off-street parking.
Another Glenmore resident said he resented the fact that “outsiders” were coming into his neighborhood and dictating where he could park. The cyclists in the room shot back in almost unison that the “streets belong to everyone.”
Some of the cyclists indicated they were not interested in compromise. One woman said cycling is a safety issue for people without cars and that she was unsympathetic to homeowners who needed additional parking.
“To me, this is your problem, this is not our problem,” she told the Glenmore residents. “Figure it out.”
Fairleigh Cook Jackson, a mother who lives in the nearby Hundred Oaks neighborhood, said she bought her home in the neighborhood because of the bike paths.
“My taxes pay for all of the roads in Baton Rouge, just like everyone here,” she said. “Each year, traffic increases, and people text when they drive and people drink and drive, and it’s just not safe. … The only way to keep kids safe is a designated bike lane.”
Marcelle said the staff would evaluate the costs for some of the proposed compromises. She said she doesn’t want to remove bike paths, but she also acknowledged that the homeowners along the route had some power in the situation.
“I don’t want all of you to push them into a corner where they come and feel like they have no where to go,” Marcelle said of the conflict.