Federal highway officials designated Baton Rouge a "focus city" for bicycling problems back in 2015, and the recent deaths of two bicyclists in separate crashes on Siegen Lane and Stanford Avenue show the problems continue.
On Nov. 6, a Jeep knocked a 57-year-old cyclist off his bike on Siegen Lane. The man was subsequently hit by two more vehicles. Two weeks later, an LSU professor was biking on Stanford Avenue near campus when he was struck by a car. He died later in the hospital, according to the Baton Rouge Police Department.
The Federal Highway Administration branded Baton Rouge six years ago because of a high number of collisions and fatalities, said Reed Richard, BREC’s assistant superintendent of planning and natural resources.
Whitney Hoffman Sayal, BREC’s director of trails, says large parts of Baton Rouge aren’t laid out in a manner that would benefit bicyclists. Connector routes link neighborhoods, rather than streets in a grid, so bicyclists must often venture onto busy roads and streets to cross many areas of the city.
“We are certainly trying to make that better, but it’s not just infrastructure. It’s also education and awareness,” she said. “I think that, collectively, people in Baton Rouge recognize it as a problem.”
Lynley Farris, president of Bike Baton Rouge, said the “car-centered culture” in the city presents obstacles to implementing new, pedestrian and bike-friendly policies.
“As a city, we just haven’t embraced biking as a viable and necessary form of transportation,” Farris said. “But we’re headed in the right direction.”
Farris said she works with state government and BREC to modernize “discriminatory” language of pedestrian and bike ordinances.
“Some of these laws are over 50 years old,” she said. “One of them went so far as to jail cyclists who didn’t follow the ordinance.”
Richard said that even though New Orleans bends around a large curve in the Mississippi River, the city is still largely built on a grid, with many streets running roughly parallel to one another.
Baton Rouge doesn’t have that grid system.
“You’re limited to a lot of collector roads, so many subdivisions that aren’t connected,” Richard said.
He said if cyclists want to get to shopping centers, they have to cross or travel along traffic-heavy areas like Essen Lane, Perkins Road, Siegen Lane, Stanford Avenue and other multi-lane roads that are dangerous, especially at night. North Baton Rouge has more of a grid-system, letting bikers avoid some major streets.
The state Department of Transportation and Development features a map on its website detailing how well the demand for bicycling meshes with infrastructure available. Most of East Baton Rouge’s routes are red, indicating a poor match.
Planning officials said the public asked several times in various hearings for the city-parish to build a network of multi-use pathways. Since 2015, the city has taken a number of steps to improve conditions for bicyclists.
In 2018, voters approved the MovEBR plan, a $1 billion, three-decade series of transportation improvements that include bike lanes and bike paths.
And last year, the city-parish adopted a pedestrian-and-bicycle master plan that would designate 100 miles of marked bike lanes and 250 miles of off-road paths for bicyclists and pedestrians. Adopting the plan was just one step in an effort to secure federal grant money for projects.
"The 250 miles of trail will supplement off-road trails such as the health loop that will connect Bluebonnet, Siegen, Essen and Perkins Road, the trail to connect Southern University to Downtown Baton Rouge and the trail that will connect Perkins Road Community Park to the Lakes area, among others,” Richard said previously.
Pending city approval, BREC is set to spend $40 million on construction projects in 2022 that include expanding trails and bike paths in East Baton Rouge Parish that would help bicyclists move across the city more safely.
Once constructed over the next two years, riders will be able to travel from the Siegen Lane corridor to Scotlandville without having to bike great distances along major thoroughfares, Sayal said.
“The safest place to be is off of the road,” she said.
BREC said regional planners envision a network that would extend into other parishes. The idea is to plan for a system that doesn’t just connect people with downtown, Southern or LSU, but has a network covering the parish and beyond.
Farris said while residents wait for more infrastructure, cyclists can find the safest biking routes through the city on Bike Baton Rouge’s website.
Metro Editor Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report.