St. Charles transportation plan

A proposed design for getting to the East Bank Bridge Park as shown in the St. Charles Parish Comprehensive Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan. The proposed additions are: 1.) Hybrid Beacon for route crossing of major street. 2.)High-Visibility Crosswalks 3.) Stop bars and appropriate signage indicating where vehicles should stop. 4.) 10' shared-use trail connects East Bank Bridge Park, Harry M. Hurst Middle School and the Destrehan Neighborhoods across River Road to the Mississippi River Levee Trail.

Most St. Charles Parish residents regularly go on walks or bike trips, and almost all of them think the parish should take steps to make it safer to do so.

Those are among the findings from a survey included in the parish's new Comprehensive Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, a 114-page report released this week that officials say will serve as a guidepost for future transportation policies and funding in St. Charles.

Over half of respondents to the survey said they walk or bicycle at least once a week, but more than 90 percent said the parish doesn’t have enough sidewalks or bicycle facilities.

And a large majority — 76 percent — thought the parish was not pedestrian-friendly and 69 percent said it wasn’t bicycle-friendly, according to the survey, released this week but conducted in 2017.

The master plan, which has been in the works since 2014, identified a number of problems with the parish's current bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and offered other recommendations.

Sidewalks and bike paths are intermittent, the report said, and over the past several years, safety hasn't been improving.

The plan stated three broad goals: to improve safety, increase transportation options and spur economic development.

To those ends, it recommended building more sidewalks and bike paths, which currently are found along only 2 percent of the parish's 4,500 miles of roads. The parish should require sidewalks at any new developments, the report said, and it also recommended creating trail heads and adding pedestrian signals on roadways.

Should the parish adopt all of the proposed improvements, the total cost would come to at least $60 million. The report suggested several funding options, including federal grants, private funding and applying for various grants offered by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

The Parish Council approved the plan by a unanimous vote at its meeting Monday, though members didn't authorize any of the proposed projects. Instead, the master plan will serve as a reference to guide future funding of transportation projects, according to parish Planning and Zoning Director Michael Albert.

“This document does not build anything," Albert said. "This document provides a menu of priority options for when something is budgeted for."

The plan was prepared by three New Orleans-area engineering firms, which worked with representatives from the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission, the Parish Council and other parish officials to come up with the final report.

The report states that the changes are necessary for public safety on St. Charles roadways, which had 81 crashes involving a pedestrian or cyclist between 2013 and 2016, with six deaths.

One concern, according to the report, is that there is no sign that roads are getting any safer.

“There is no significant downward trend in non-motorized fatalities relative to overall crash fatalities in St. Charles Parish, thus indicating that existing problems remain unsolved," according to the report. "Since St. Charles Parish deficiencies are greater than statewide deficiencies and statewide deficiencies rank so poorly nationwide, it is imperative to adequately respond by improving facilities and programs.”

Among the notable proposed projects are an 8.5-mile walking and biking path along Bayou Gauche Road, a 7-mile path along Old Spanish Trail and another 7-mile path along the West Bank Levee extending into St. John the Baptist Parish.

Gavin Gillin, who worked on the project with All South Consulting Engineers — one of the firms involved with preparing the plan — said St. Charles Parish is the first largely rural area he knows of that has commissioned a study like this.

Tara Tolford, a research associate with the University of New Orleans Transportation Institute, said there is a national trend focused on creating the same accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists in rural areas as in cities.

“Since most rural areas have very limited public transit, walking and bicycling are sometimes even more important,” Tolford said.

Follow Nick Reimann on Twitter, @nicksreimann.