Someday, Slidell residents will be able to use bicycles to get around St. Tammany Parish’s most populous city.
Designated bicycle routes will make two wheels a reasonable choice for running errands or getting to work, and the parish’s popular recreational bike path, the Tammany Trace, will be connected not only to Heritage Park but perhaps all the way to the St. Tammany Fishing Pier.
That cycling nirvana won’t emerge overnight, however.
The Slidell City Council last month adopted a bicycle master plan designed to transform an admittedly car-centric city into one where it’s safer and easier to ride a bike.
The time frame for the plan is 20 years. But the city also is pursuing more immediate goals, working with the parish to extend the Trace to the park, for example, and seeking grant money to create an easier crossing at the intersection of Front and Fremaux streets.
The master plan is blunt in addressing the city’s cycling shortcomings, describing Slidell as “a great place to live, but a bad place to bicycle.” The problems include sidewalks that are too narrow, too close to vehicular traffic and too apt to end abruptly, as well as main thoroughfares that lack suitable shoulders for bicycles. The street grid is often disrupted, making it hard to connect neighborhoods. And the city’s heyday of growth, from the 1960s to the 1980s, came at a time when alternatives to car travel weren’t seen as important.
But the plan also points out a range of ways to create bike paths in Slidell, from the most expensive alternative — building dedicated lanes — to widening a sidewalk or using a shoulder.
The master plan calls for seven paths totaling 20 miles. Three of those are interconnected circular routes — the Northern Loop, Middle Loop and Southern Loop — that will connect most of Slidell’s neighborhoods in different areas of the city.
There also are connections to recreational facilities. One path will connect Heritage Park to Camp Salmen and eventually the Tammany Trace, serving as a route for neighborhoods along West Hall. The Bayou Patassat path connects Heritage Park with Possum Hollow Park, and the Kensington-John Slidell path provides a way from Kensington subdivision to the John Slidell Park.
The next step, according to Eric Lundin, of the Slidell Planning Department, is to begin prioritizing the work called for in the plan. He said that will take a couple of months.
In the meantime, Slidell is pursuing other projects aimed at making the city more bicycle friendly.
The long-awaited extension of the Tammany Trace into Slidell is one of those. A $363,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation and Development and $56,000 in parish matching funds are paying for the extension of the rails-to-trails path into Camp Salmen. The parish expects to award bids on that work by November, spokeswoman Amy Bouton said.
The Slidell City Council approved a 2.5-mile route early this year to connect the Tammany Trace to surface streets that will lead into Heritage Park. A crossing at Carroll Road and West Hall Avenue that’s part of the project will be paid for with a federal grant. That plan is in the final review stage, and the amount of funding will be determined when it is approved.
Mayor Freddy Drennan also is pushing a plan to put a pedestrian crosswalk and signal at the intersection of Fremaux and Front streets to allow people to move more easily — by foot or bicycle — between Heritage Park and Olde Towne, Slidell’s historic district. Events often happen at both places at the same time, Drennan said, and the crossing would be a major upgrade for the intersection.
Dan Jatres, pedestrian and bicycle program manager for the Regional Planning Commission, describes the crossing project as an example of a relatively easy way for a city to expand its transportation alternatives. Front Street, which is part of U.S. 11, is a four-lane highway, and it’s now a barrier between two destinations. But making it safer and easier to cross will mean someone could have lunch at an Olde Towne restaurant, then take a ride or walk in the park or even get on a boat.
The City Council, which recently tabled a resolution to apply for a federal grant for that work, will take it up again this month. The deadline is July 31, Lundin said.
Drennan’s vision for a bike-friendly city doesn’t stop there. The city’s street projects on Pontchartrain Drive call for adding walking trails and bike paths along that thoroughfare, he said, and cyclist-friendly “complete streets” plans are being studied for U.S. 190.
St. Tammany Parish, which saw nearly 300,000 visitors to the Tammany Trace last year, also is bullish on bicycles. Parish President Pat Brister told the St. Tammany Chamber East recently that the parish’s long-term vision includes extending the Tammany Trace all the way to the St. Tammany Fishing Pier, on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
Communities that cater to cycling and pedestrians reap a clear benefit, according to Jatres. Besides the obvious health implications, when people are out walking and riding bikes, a city appears safer, more inviting and prosperous — creating what he called a self-fulfilling feedback loop.
“These are assets people are looking for,’’ he said.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.