When Noelle Allison dropped off her two kids at Buchanan Elementary School near City Park Lake a few weeks ago, they didn’t clamor out of a minivan.
Instead, they climbed out of a snug molded plastic bucket on the back of Allison’s Madsen delivery bike. The bucket — outfitted with little padded seats — loosely resembles a squat trashcan. It can carry all four of Allison’s children, ages 2 to 8, and has ample storage space, ideal for groceries and other items.
“The Madsen allows me to do most of my errands,” said Allison, who lives in a neighborhood near Highland Road and Lee Drive.
She doesn’t think twice about threading her robin’s egg-blue Madsen through traffic on her way to the Whole Foods Market near Jefferson Highway.
Her husband, Jesse Allison, almost always bikes up Highland Road to his job at LSU, gliding past the despairingly slow bumper-to-bumper traffic.
“A lot of times, driving and biking takes the same amount of time,” he said. “And if I’m running late, I take my bike.”
The Allisons admit they do own a Honda Odyssey minivan, but they’re committed to mostly bike travel for their trips around town.
What would make those trips to the grocery store or Buchanan Elementary easier for commuters like the Allisons — or indeed anyone taking to Baton Rouge’s streets on a bicycle — are more features such as dedicated bike lanes or off-street paths that give cyclists their own space, separate from cars.
Future BR, the first major rewrite to Baton Rouge’s comprehensive plan in 20 years, calls on the city to adopt later this year a “complete streets” policy, which means new and renovated streets would be designed to fit their neighborhood context and get built so that all users would feel welcome.
It’s what transportation planners call the “8 to 80” rule, meaning a street should accommodate all users between 8 years old and 80 years old, explained Ted Jack, assistant superintendent at BREC.
It could mean adjusting lane widths and speed limits to slow down vehicular traffic, as well as make room for sidewalks and bike paths or bike lanes, said John Fregonese, of Fregonese and Associates in Portland, Ore., and the lead urban design consultant for Future BR.
Florida Boulevard, Government Street, Plank Road, Scenic Highway, Highland Road and Nicholson Drive have been identified as corridors to get redeveloped as “complete streets,” according to an outline for what the final plan will include.
“This is one of the least cyclist-friendly cities I’ve ever been in,” said Travis Hans, who operates Midcity Bikes on Government Street. “The streets are more narrow and the drivers are more ignorant.”
It doesn’t take a cyclist or a motorist long to figure out that Baton Rouge has distressingly few crosstown streets. They are generally congested and nearly all lack a bike lane or a separate bike path. Amenities like these, say bike travel advocates, could send the dual message to cyclists and motorists that both are welcome and both have been accommodated.
“That would raise the safety margin considerably,” Hans added. “It takes the cars out of the equation.”
“If the idea is to get people out of their cars, you have to have the facilities to make people feel comfortable,” said Mark Martin, a member of Baton Rouge Advocates for Safe Streets.
With his activist streak, Martin is not someone to mince words. He summed up what he sees as Baton Rougeans’ overall perceptions of bicycle travel (and bike culture) by saying, “It’s either a rich man’s obsession, or a poor man’s last choice, or a kid’s toy.”
In addition to calling for complete streets, the Future BR plan makes a strong pitch for a city where biking to work is not a far-fetched idea intended only for the most intrepid — or some might say, suicidal — commuters.
“You have to look out for anything that can cause you harm, because there’s lots there,” said Joshua Weir, a regular biker on Perkins Road. He bikes to work at Capitol Cyclery.
The plan urges the city to adopt a comprehensive biking master plan that sets priorities about where bike paths and bike lanes should be and how they should be paid for, said Fregonese.
“I agree with a comprehensive plan, but have no clear understanding as to where the financing would come from,” Chandler Loupe, a councilman representing District 3, wrote in an email.
“Perhaps BREC can provide funding,” he added, making reference to the city’s parks department, which already has several off-street trail projects proposed in its Capital Area Pathways Project and funding set aside.
Bike advocates also support the idea of having a bike trails master plan, adding it is long overdue.
“They still haven’t come down and said, ‘We’re going to develop an honest-to-God bike plan,’ that says, ‘This is what we’re going to do in the next 20 years,’” Martin said. “And I’m not sure that having a plan … if the past is any indication, that they’ll do anything with them.”