Planners, residents and business owners spent the day Wednesday discussing how downtown streets could become friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians without taking too much away from motorists.
They were discussing the proposed three-mile greenway that will go from City Park along Louise Street and up the west side of the elevated Interstate 110, through Expressway Park to East Boulevard, back under the interstate, west along North Boulevard and north along North Seventh Street through Spanish Town and Arsenal Park and ending at Memorial Stadium.
The Downtown Development District, which is hosting three days of workshops and presentations, has $3 million in federal funding for the first phase, which will run from City Park to the North Boulevard Town Square. The total cost of the greenway is estimated between $4 million and $12 million, depending on the final design.
During a Wednesday afternoon session about North Seventh Street, discussion turned to the balance between on-street parking and bike paths. The easiest way to deal with the street’s disconnect at Convention appears to be to replace a handful of parking spaces on Convention with a bike lane for a half-block.
Property owner John O. Hearin said that while losing a few public spaces won’t kill a project, whittling away at on-street parking downtown should not be taken lightly. Hearin said he’d like to develop a half-block he owns along North Sixth Street between Convention and Florida streets into an apartment building with street-level retail.
Developers count on the availability of parking, he said. Smaller lots that have to “go vertical” with five or six stories to be financially viable need every space they can offer, including on-street parking.
Hearin said the property to the north, the old Baton Rouge Bank building, owned by Johnny Fife and Trey Trahan, could also be close to redevelopment as the economy improves.
“Those parking spaces in the future could possibly be very important,” he said, noting banks take things such as available parking into account when they decide on financing projects.
But Chris Clark, president of the Baton Rouge Bike Club, said parking will become less important as downtown transforms into a more bikable and walkable place that advocates say younger generations covet.
Even today, Clark and his wife tend to favor biking to restaurants in the Perkins Road overpass area because the route is more accommodating and it feels safer. Only the most hard-core cyclists, he noted, are comfortable sharing many roads with cars, even on designated shared roadways. With the greenway and other changes, he and others become new customers, he said.
Bike lanes, even at the expense of some parking, he said, “aren’t limiting for retail. Bikes are good for business.”
Of Generation Y, Clark said, “They don’t want cars; they want transit-oriented development.”
“We need to keep in mind the economic benefits that bikability and walkability will bring to this downtown,” said Elizabeth Mossop, the lead planner on the greenway project for design firm Mossop Michaels Spackman.
Mossop said designers aren’t taking the removal of on-street parking lightly. With the greenway moving through very different parts of the city, some streets have more lanes and parking than they need and others do not.
For example, East and North boulevards have space to spare in places. Preserving on-street parking and traffic lanes is exactly what put the greenway route on North Seventh, rather than Fourth Street, which many planners wanted because of its connection to the State Capitol.
East Boulevard is one road where planners have floated the idea of taking one side of the boulevard and moving northbound and southbound cars to that side. The other side would be used for parking and bike lines in both directions.
On the other hand, North Seventh Street north of North Street doesn’t have the luxury of ceding on-street parking because many Spanish Town residents don’t have off-street parking.
With its narrow width, that portion will likely have cars, bikes and pedestrians sharing the same space — similar to what the Dutch call “woonerf” — with signs and an elevated or alternative street surface to make the transition clear, Mossop said.