The perception in Baton Rouge is that bicycles are for recreation, not transportation. The Advocate even ran an article several years ago touting upcoming construction of "destination-bike paths." Bike paths should not be destinations, they should be a means of getting to a destination. If we designed our infrastructure to allow people to safely ride bikes to work, school or run errands, it would also benefit motorists by reducing the number of cars on the road. Loading a bike on a car to drive it to a bike path does not help traffic.

Instead, we build barriers to bikes. We have hundreds of miles of bike-safe roads that go nowhere. Cyclists can ride around their subdivisions, but many can't get to any practical destination without getting on an unsafe road. The Great Wall of Baton Rouge, also known as I-10/12, can be crossed downtown and in places as far east as Valley Street (just west of College Drive). South or east of that, only brave cyclists or those who really need to get somewhere will attempt a crossing.

There are some well-designed bike paths like the levee path. But there are also poorly designed ones such as the Brightside path. Unsafe conditions on that and other paths induce cyclists to ride on the road instead, resulting in a small percentage of motorists who take it upon themselves to "teach" cyclists to stay on the unsafe bike path. In those cases, a poorly designed bike path is worse than no bike path at all.

Encouraging transportation by bicycle is a cheap alternative to most traffic alleviation proposals now under consideration. Here are some suggestions to that end:

  • Traffic signals should respond to the presence of bikes, not just cars as many do now. You can wait at some red lights all day, but unless a car comes along it stays red.
  • Build short paths that connect safe subdivision streets to each other and to practical destinations. Use existing safe streets as much as possible instead of building long, more expensive bike paths that parallel them.
  • Make the interstates more porous (crossable) for bike traffic.
  • Instead of poor quality shoulder-grade asphalt and road bed, construct smooth bike paths with materials at least equal to that used for motorized traffic (Bikes have thin-walled, high pressure tires.) Install a median or barrier to prevent broken glass and other road debris from accumulating. (Turbulent flow behind motor vehicles eventually sweeps road debris to the side of the road.)

Not everyone will want to run errands or commute on a bike, but if we make it possible for those who do, there will be fewer cars on our busy roads.

David Kneiling

engineer

Baton Rouge