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From right to left, Bike Baton Rouge president Mika Torkkola, cycles down Ardenwood Drive just north of Florida Blvd., leading a tour including Andy Piner, Marlon White, Heidi Sonnier, BBR board member Sarah Schramm, Logan Anderson and others, after Baton Rouge's Sustainable Transportation Action Committee (STAC) unveiled its pilot project for safe walking, bicycling and transit use in the city, Thursday. With no existing bike lanes, Ardenwood is a candidate for a 'road diet' that would slim its five-lane section between Florida Blvd. and Renoir Avenue to two travel lanes, a center turn lane, and have bike paths and sidewalks on each side.

Baton Rouge needs to step up its offerings for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users, an advisory board says.

The Sustainable Transportation Action Committee performed a pilot study last year that looked at options for nondrivers in Mid-City. Now, with the lessons from that work, they've released a map detailing bus ridership, access to public facilities from public transportation and places with high instances of bicycle and pedestrian crashes.

STAC leaders aren't advocating any specific projects yet, but they hope the data will back up any future efforts they make to improve city-parish roadways.

"There's no arguing with the data," said Denise Bottcher, head of the Louisiana chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, one of the agencies leading STAC.

As some people age, they may drive less and become more reliant on buses, taxis and ride-sharing apps to get where they need to go, making the issue important to AARP, Bottcher said.

STAC officials are presenting infrastructure as a health and safety issue.

Donna Collins-Lewis, who represents the Metro Council on the committee recalled a terrifying instance of watching a person in a wheelchair trying to cross Florida Boulevard. It's one of the thoroughfares she wants to emphasize when looking for funding for sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes.

"We just want to make it livable for people and safe," she said.

However, STAC also is prepared to make more philosophical arguments.

The group's data includes information on obesity and diabetes. City-parish leaders hope if they make East Baton Rouge an attractive place to walk and bike, it might encourage residents to do so, helping them trim down in the process.

Assistant chief administrative officer Rowdy Gaudet said if the city-parish can pitch sidewalks and bike lanes as a public health issue, it could open up more grant money.

"We haven't gotten to that part in the game yet," he cautioned.

Warren Kron, the city-parish's geographic information services manager, said his team was tasked with creating a document that could be used to show concrete ways that investments in Baton Rouge's infrastructure would benefit residents. Such information can be used to prioritize projects and help the city-parish apply for grants, he continued.

"What we're involved in is, 'What's the process?' " Bottcher said. "STAC is proposing that we use data."

Collins-Lewis hopes that by showing people how many pedestrians are struck by cars on roads like Airline Highway and Florida Boulevard, it will lead to discussions about making the routes more friendly to walkers and bicyclists.

Those roads, as well as Plank Road "pose some significant issues" to pedestrian safety, said Rachel DiResto, who has represented the Center for Planning Excellence on STAC, though she recently stepped down as executive vice president at the non-profit.

She said she hopes the group's work will emphasize where there are gaps in service.

Many roads in East Baton Rouge are actually maintained by the state. However, the city-parish is in the process of acquiring ownership of several major routes including all or portions of Perkins Road, Bluebonnet Boulevard, Siegen Lane, Highland Road, Nicholson Drive, Jefferson Highway and Old Hammond Highway.

DiResto said as the city-parish takes on more responsibility for its roads, it will be important to advocate for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users.

STAC leaders hope their efforts will be rewarded.

"It's not easy work," Bottcher warned.


Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.