In Baton Rouge’s City Park, bright blue Gotcha bikeshare bikes make it easy to unlock and ride around town, free of traffic woes. And why not? From this particular bikeshare location, you can wheel around the City Park/LSU Lakes into the LSU campus, parking your bike at another bikeshare rack or hopping on the nearby Mississippi River Levee Trail. From here, you can pedal a short distance northward to enter lively downtown Baton Rouge, home to festivals, outdoor concerts, arts events and numerous restaurants and bars. When you’re ready to leave, cruise along the Downtown Greenway out of the city center, returning to LSU or to Baton Rouge’s vibrant Mid City neighborhood.
These trails and others around Baton Rouge suggest the Louisiana capital is embracing bike culture in fresh new ways.
“There’s an emerging system of dedicated trails that’s really exciting,” says Doug Moore, president of Bike BR, a volunteer organization that launched in 2006 to advocate for bike safety and sustainable transportation. “We’re starting to see the main spine of a pretty solid system come together, which makes a big difference.”
Baton Rouge is one of several Louisiana cities taking strides to integrate biking into the transportation infrastructure. New Orleans, for example, has become a national leader in best practices for creating dedicated bike lanes on popular roadways and installing bike trails that connect neighborhoods. The city has built 100 miles of on- and off-street bikeways over the last decade, helping it to earn a “Silver” level designation from the League of American Bicyclists. One popular project, the Lafitte Greenway, connects neighborhoods around Armstrong Park to City Park with an LED-lit and ADA-compliant bicycle and pedestrian trail that surrounds public greenspace.
According to the American Community Survey, New Orleans has the 10th highest number of individuals who bike to work daily — and that could increase with the recently established Blue Bikes bikeshare program. Multiple bike racks around the city make it easy for visitors to explore the sites, but more importantly, they help locals without automobiles get to work or complete errands. Blue Bikes even feature a large basket for groceries and sundries.
Bike enthusiasts from throughout the region gravitate to the Northshore’s family friendly Tammany Trace, an innovative Rails-to-Trails project that converted an Illinois Central Railroad line into a 31-mile concrete trail through forested areas. The Trace is perfect for biking, hiking and walking, and is also wheelchair accessible. It links five Northshore towns and is popular among serious cyclists and leisure riders.
Becoming more bike-friendly has been a recent goal of the city of Shreveport. In 2017, the community rolled out the first phase of Roadway Improvement Plan that created the city’s first dedicated bike lanes as well as new shared lanes, known as “sharrows.” Plans are underway for more bike lanes that will ultimately connect surrounding neighborhoods to downtown Shreveport.
Back in Baton Rouge, the Capital Area Pathways Project (CAPP), has created miles of trails in the city’s interior, including in some of its most congested areas. CAPP’s Health Loop Trail stitches together bike paths in the often grid-locked Medical Corridor, an area with several health care facilities and large retail centers. And there’s more to come in Baton Rouge, including a north-south bike trail that will connect Southern University and its surrounding Scotlandville neighborhood to downtown Baton Rouge.
Baton Rouge’s Gotcha bikeshare programs came on the scene in 2019 with help from the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Stations were placed where demand was predicted to be robust, including downtown, LSU, Southern University and nearby neighborhoods. A second phase will see the program expand to the Baton Rouge Health District, home to the Health Loop Trail, and to Mid City, where the main thoroughfare, Government Street, will soon feature dedicated pedestrian and bike lanes.
“The bikeshare is great,” says Moore. “A lot of people were skeptical at first, but it can actually help spur demand for more trails.”
Other expansion projects are forthcoming in Baton Rouge in the near future, including additional CAPPS trails and paths, and an extension of the Downtown Greenway.
Low-Income kids earn bikes through Front Yard Bikes
Making biking accessible across diverse populations has also been a goal of the nonprofit, Front Yard Bikes, which helps low-income children and youth learn to fix bikes that they can keep for themselves. The program helps spread enthusiasm for biking, while also teaching kids STEM-based skills as they fix up bikes in the Front Yard Bikes warehouse with the help of experienced mentors. Kids also learn about responsibility and ownership.
For communities everywhere, there are numerous upsides to expanding biking opportunities, says Moore.
“When more people bike, their vehicles experience less wear and tear,” he says. “Roads last longer, parking isn’t so difficult, air quality is better and people are healthier.”
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