A long-anticipated plan to make St. Charles Parish more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly may soon become a reality, thanks to a master plan in the works that will call for more bike lanes and safer crosswalks.
When finished, the St. Charles Parish Comprehensive Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan will be the first master plan of its kind created for a largely rural parish in Louisiana, according to Gavin Gillen, a consultant working on the plan.
"Orleans Parish and Jefferson Parish, which are urban and suburban, already have some type of plan in place," Gillen told St. Charles Parish Council members recently. "The goal of this plan is to make the St. Charles Parish area safer for all residents."
Gillen, who works for All South Consulting Engineers, said the master plan is still in "preliminary stages" and is slated to be finished by January 2018.
In the next few months, he said, the company will be working with members of the public, industry leaders and parish officials to get input about where to put jogging-friendly sidewalks or biking paths.
The first set of public input meetings are slated to be held in April at Destrehan High School and Hahnville High School. The dates haven't been confirmed.
At present, few bicycle paths exist in St. Charles Parish. They are mainly along the Mississippi River Trail on the levee and on Fashion Plantation Boulevard in Hahnville.
That existing network has "little to no connectivity to provide safe and practical means of travel other than motor (vehicles)," and there are "few standards or any incentives" to promote safe walking or biking, according to a scope of services document for the master plan.
Moreover, according to the document, the parish’s subdivision regulations contain requirements for sidewalks but do not say that those sidewalks must be linked to a broader network, creating a "hazardous situation" for those traveling through subdivisions on foot or bike.
"With the development of each new subdivision, the safety and connectivity issues are compounded," the document said.
It underscores that over the past 10 years in St. Charles Parish, approximately 20 percent of all traffic fatalities were pedestrians or bicyclists.
According to the Louisiana Crash Data Reports, there have been four bicyclist and 16 pedestrian fatalities in St. Charles Parish since 2005.
Officials have also said that, in line with national trends, walking and bicycling are expected to continue increasing in St. Charles Parish, making the master plan even more important.
The $220,000 study is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and is being administered by the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Officials said that potential roadwork resulting from the completed plan could be funded by grants obtained by the parish, or through the Regional Planning Commission.
Parish officials are partnering with the RPC to oversee creation of the plan, according to Dan Jatres, the New Orleans regional transportation safety coordinator at the agency.
Jatres said the RPC decided to help St. Charles Parish secure funds for additional bike paths in part because parish officials had already made "significant investments" to the trails along the Mississippi River.
"They’ve made a significant investment on building out trails on the Mississippi River, and we are nearing the point where we're wrapping up those projects," Jatres said. "So the question was: What are the next steps? How can we better connect the residents of St. Charles to those trails and to other amenities of the parish like schools or parks?"