It took a few years, and a collective effort by several neighborhood groups, but Gardere Lane will finally have sidewalks as early as this summer.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome on Wednesday hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the Gardere Lane Pedestrian Improvements project which will give residents in the community a safer path to traverse up and down the busy thoroughfare.
The $663,891 project involves the installation of approximately 6,000 feet of 5-foot wide sidewalks along the east side of Gardere Lane from Nicholson Highway to Burbank Drive.
Currently, people in the community are forced to walk along the narrow shoulder of the two-lane street to reach neighborhood stores and bus stops, or else plod through ditches littered with trash and debris.
Trying to walk along Gardere Lane is as dangerous as it is unsightly.
Karen Lee, president of the South Burbank Crime Prevention District, said there have been far too many pedestrian-related accidents and deaths because of the current configuration.
"I've been living here for 29 years; I've seen some stuff," Lee said.
At Wednesday's groundbreaking Lee said she was "tickled pink" to learn that she and others from various neighborhood groups in the Gardere Lane area will finally get to see sidewalks and lighting along the main corridor of their neighborhoods.
Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, said Gardere's lack of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure is reflective of a national trend her organization sees in pedestrian-related fatalities in predominantly black, low-income communities.
A 2016 report ranked Baton Rouge as one of the top 20 metro areas in the country most dangerous to pedestrians due to its lack of sidewalks.
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"The city definitely has a transportation system designed to move cars, not people," Atherton said. "When you look at past reports, people of color a more disproportionately impacted by pedestrian fatalities. They have not received the transportation investment that other wealthy communities have."
The city-parish has hired KCR Contractors to execute the project, which has a June completion date.
A Transportation Alternatives Program grant is paying for about 80 percent of the project's costs, with revenue from the local sales tax money generated by the 2005 voter-approved Green Light Plan paying for the remainder needed to build it.
Broome praised the yearslong efforts of Lee and others in Gardere to see the project come to fruition.
"There are a lot of people that are cheering this community on," Broome said in her address to the groundbreaking ceremony attendees.
Lee said the sidewalk project is small way to make a big impact for the neighborhood.
"This is going to be the greatest visual you can see of Gardere changing for the better," she said. "It’s been a long time, but you know what, we appreciate it."