No wasting time idling in traffic, no hitting that lingering red light, no honking at strangers.
Imagine the day when Baton Rouge residents commute by riding hundreds of feet high in the air as they snicker at unfortunate souls stuck in traffic jams below.
It may sound like an episode of “The Jetsons,” but the Baton Rouge Area Foundation is exploring the concept. Urban gondolas, or aerial lifts that are similar to cable cars or ski lifts, are all the rage in Portland, Oregon, and La Paz, Bolivia.
BRAF CEO and President John Davies told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge on Wednesday that the foundation is exploring traffic solutions as mainstream as bike share programs and as creative as urban gondolas.
“We can’t really fix the traffic problems ... by pouring more concrete, it just exacerbates the problem,” Davies said. “You just decamp your community further and further and further out into the suburbs.”
He called the urban gondolas the most “far-out” idea that BRAF has considered. He said the foundation has already gone through one round of studies on them, and some are pushing for a second round of research with gondola providers.
Davies deemed the urban gondolas efficient, noting that they require no rights-of-way, just landing spots. He said they could cross over and above the interstates, where drivers often sit in traffic bottlenecks.
Davies said other ideas for what BRAF calls “new mobility” include car share programs, bike shares and an early-in-the-works streetcar line to connect the Nicholson Corridor to downtown.
He said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx confirmed that he will push for full funding in the federal budget next year to pay for the streetcar project.
In his speech, Davies also touched on some of the foundation’s recent work. He echoed recent statements by city-parish public officials, public safety leaders and health experts, who all have said that Baton Rouge desperately needs a place to house and care for mentally ill people who get in trouble with the law.
“Prisons have become de facto asylums,” he said.
The foundation has identified the Baton Rouge Detox Center on South Foster Drive as an ideal place to house a mental health center. Many city-parish leaders have complained that Baton Rouge taxpayers spend millions of dollars paying for the mentally ill to sit in prison because they do not have anywhere else to go.
Davies said projections from economist Ray Perryman estimate that the city-parish could save $3 million in the first year of having a mental health recovery facility, and the city could save close to $55 million over 10 years.
“We’re just talking money, but this isn’t money, folks,” Davies said. “This is about morality and how we treat our fellow man.”
BRAF has not yet identified a funding source to build the mental health facility. City-parish leaders had hoped last year that voters would give the nod to increased taxes that would pay for a $16.6 million mental health facility as part of a $335 million public safety tax plan.
But the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council did not allow the tax proposals to go to an election, with many members questioning if new taxes were the only way to pay for the improvements.