Consultants working on new Baton Rouge health district say traffic flow must improve _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- David Green with consulting company Perkins+Will gives a presentation at a public hearing for the proposed Health District in south Baton Rouge Wednesday. A draft of plans for the district should be released in November.

Consultants who are working on a proposed south Baton Rouge health district say they want to reduce the amount of traffic and create a network of low-volume roads in the Essen Lane-Bluebonnet Boulevard-Perkins Road area.

Karina Ricks, a principal with NelsonNygaard, a transportation planning firm based in Washington, D.C., said 42,690 cars travel along Essen Lane every day. In contrast, 21,800 cars a day travel along Brookline Avenue, which serves as the main traffic artery of Boston’s medical district.

“If you take 10 percent of the traffic off the road, the roads flow freely,” said Ricks, who spoke at a public hearing Wednesday night at the Perkins Road Community Park. The hearing was designed to get community comments on the proposed medical district.

Ricks and David Green, a principal with Perkins+Will, the firm that has been getting comments on the medical district, used downtown Baton Rouge as a model for how traffic should flow through the area. Downtown has a network of neighborhood streets with low traffic volumes, so there are a number of different routes to get to a destination. While the medical district has 25 intersections per square mile, downtown has 230 intersections.

Fixing the traffic problems in the area will not be easy, said John Spain, Baton Rouge Area Foundation executive vice president.

“There are not a lot of new places where we can build roads and things,” he said.

But it is critical, because of all the activity that’s already happening in the medical district, and the construction that’s slated to happen in the near future, like the children’s hospital Our Lady of the Lake plans on building and the continuing expansions of Baton Rouge General Bluebonnet and Pennington Biomedical Center.

“We want to look here today and 10 or 15 years down the road,” Spain said.

The medical corridor was identified as a key district in need of redevelopment in the FutureBR comprehensive plan that was established in 2011. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is overseeing the master plan for the corridor. Since January, consultants with Perkins+Will have been getting comments from key stakeholders, such as Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, General Health Systems, Woman’s Hospital, Ochsner Medical Center, Pennington Biomedical Research Center and The Neuromedical Center.

Green said the district has “an amazing set of assets” including the hospitals, health care facilities and the BREC park.

“You already have in place a number of assets that most people are trying to find to create these kinds of districts,” he said. “The thing that really hasn’t happened yet is the creation of a consistent vision for planning future development in this area.”

A framework for the district has been developed and posted online at Comments that came from Wednesday’s meeting will be included and added to a “rough final” report that will be done by November, Spain said.

Some of the components of the health district could include a four-year medical school and a nationally recognized clinical research center for diabetes and obesity, playing off research currently being done at Pennington.

Donna Jones and Linda Liljedahl, who live in Brandon Hollow, a neighborhood off Summa Avenue, say they support the development of a medical corridor. Liljedahl said she would like to see the health district become more like her neighborhood, with plenty of trees and sidewalks.

“I just don’t want it to become too planned,” Liljedahl said. “But I would love to see the traffic get better. Perhaps this would help.”

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.