Louisiana has the third-highest rate of bicyclist deaths in the nation, according to a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state’s bicyclist death rate fell 34.4 percent since 1975, but that was mostly due to the lower child mortality rate because children are riding bicycles less frequently, the report states. Only Florida — the most deadly state for cyclists — and Delaware had higher rates of bicyclist fatalities than Louisiana, according to the study. It involved 48 states, leaving out Alaska and Hawaii.
Gordon Mese knows how brutally bicyclists can be thrown off the roads of Baton Rouge — even from a bike lane.
On the night of Aug. 4, the store owner and former mayoral candidate was riding in a bike lane on Capital Heights Avenue when a vehicle blew through the intersection at Blanchard Street and struck him, he said, leaving him with a bloodied and bruised face and an “occult fracture” — a crack X-rays can’t detect — on his hip. The crash came during a memorial ride for a cyclist killed the previous day. Mese still can’t walk on his own, he said.
“When you drive a car, you take an extra responsibility because this is a very powerful machine,” he said. In today’s culture of yielding to constant distractions such as texting, he said, “the last thing (drivers) are doing is driving.”
The Baton Rouge Police Department couldn’t provide numbers Friday on how many bicyclist deaths have occurred in the city this year. There was at least one: Clifford Gouner on Goodwood Boulevard Aug. 3, the man Mese was honoring when he himself was struck.
And talk of local cyclist fatalities calls to mind Elisabeth Oliver, the 63-year-old LSU professor killed in East Feliciana Parish June 7 while walking her broken bicycle on a rural road.
Lafayette had one cyclist death this year and two in 2014, said Lafayette police spokesman Cpl. Paul Mouton. No such fatalities were logged this year by East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputies, said representative Casey Rayborn Hicks.
“The fundamental (feeling) towards bicycles is that we should not be on the road, that we are an impediment to someone who is in a hurry, that we are vermin,” said Mark Martin, president of the advocacy group Bike Baton Rouge. “I’ve seen people refer to bicyclists as ‘roaches.’ ”
Part of the problem in cyclist-driver relations is education, he said. Many drivers weren’t taught, or don’t remember, that under the law, adult cyclists are to ride in the street — not the sidewalk — and must be given at least 3 feet of space by automobiles, whether a bike lane exists or not, added Beaux Jones, a Bike Baton Rouge board member and vice president of Bike Walk Louisiana.
Bike activists say the presence of bike lanes can help make drivers more used to coexisting with cyclists. But cities like Baton Rouge and Lafayette lag far behind metropolises in other parts of the country when it comes to bike lanes, said Mese, who is also a part of Bike Baton Rouge.
There are only 13 streets with bike lanes in East Baton Rouge Parish, according to an official map by the city-parish planning commission.
In Lafayette, about 10 streets have bike lanes, said Jerrod Olivier, a board member of the group Bike Lafayette.
Bike lanes are painted pathways in streets designated for bicycle traffic. They differ from “sharrows” — chevrons painted in the middle of the street to remind drivers to share the road, and from bike paths, which are entirely separate trails for bicycles.
“I know it’s a problem, and I’m aware of it; the city-parish is aware of it,” said Gilles Morin, planning project coordinator with the East Baton Rouge Parish Planning Commission. He said though the League of American Bicyclists recognized Baton Rouge as a bicycle-friendly city, the municipality has not reached its stated goal of installing 67.6 miles of bike facilities by June 2010.
According to the CDC study, the cyclist death rate among adults in Louisiana ages 35-74 increased between 1975 and 2012.
The state’s annual bicyclist mortality rate from 1975-79 was 0.5 per 100,000 people, the report says. From 2008-12, the mortality rate was 0.33 per 100,000 people.
Florida topped the study with 0.57 deaths per 100,000 people, and Delaware was No. 2, with 0.38 deaths per 100,000 people.
Advocate staff writer Ted Griggs contributed to this report. Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.