An inside look into Cenla’s Bike/Ped Plan
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - In March of 2021, the Alexandria City Council approved a motion to accept the federal and local funding needed to begin Phase One of a six-part Alexandria-Pineville Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.
As with all initiatives funded and executed by government agencies, these projects require long-term planning. The Bike/Ped Plan is a part of the four-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for fiscal year 2022. The 2040 Metropolitan Plan (MTP) details the development strategy through 2040.
Now that the city council has moved to accept the funding and organizers have been given the green light, it is full steam ahead for Phase One.
“Phase One is kind of a special project because it’s just striping and signage...there’s no construction,” says Mike Wilkinson, a lead engineer for the project. Wilkinson hopes to fast-track phase one with the help of the State’s Department of Transportation and Development in Baton Rouge, LA.
Interested readers can access a complete list of LADOTD Highway Program projects for our area from 2000-present here.
As gas prices continue to rise, alternative transportation options are vital to our economy and community services. In 2012, Wilkinson’s team completed a project adding bike lanes on Bolton Avenue and Lee Street.
“We knew we wanted to do some bike lanes because at the time we were doing this, gas prices had jumped up to $4 per gallon and there were bicycles all over town. It’s like, ‘we’ve got to accommodate this other mode of transportation,’” Wilkinson said.
For Jonathan Bolen, transportation director at the Rapides Area Planning Commission (RAPC), the ideology behind the Bike/Ped plan is twofold.
“First of all, it’s a quality-of-life improvement,” according to Bolen.
In central Louisiana, many of the people depending on accessible transportation are low-income or living with disabilities. The map above shows the density of zero-vehicle households in the Alexandria/Pineville area.
Recommended improvements are needs-based. “It comes down to general empathy to improving transportation options for the public - where the need is,” says Bolen. “We seek to improve mobility for everyone, regardless of what transportation mode they choose.”
Prioritizing community infrastructure also provides a financial return. When corporations or developers assess a particular location for new investment opportunities, adequate quality of life is among their main criteria. That economic growth stimulates quality of life in a reinforcing loop.
“To retain your population, especially the younger generations or what have you, quality of life is more important. You see that in the data,” says Bolen.
The next pillar is addressing data trends of bicycle and pedestrian-related crashes identified as severe or fatal and engineering those improvements into the design.
“We’re adding avenues for people to safely move about in bike lanes and pedestrian lanes. Some of those improvements will have green space, pedestrian crossings…and it’s not just nonmotorized safety improvements,” Bolen says.
BARRIERS TO FULL-SCALE ADOPTION & PUBLIC OPINION
One major hurdle to the community’s desire for affordable and efficient transportation is the geographic sprawl of our metropolitan area. The city of Alexandria alone covers 28 square miles.
Emily Wilmore Bullock, a local resident and mother of two, said that if she lived in a more centralized location, she could see herself walking to grab groceries for her family, but not in the heat of summer.
KALB published a one-question poll on the website’s homepage. In response to the question, “Does Alexandria need more bike lanes?” 38% responded yes, while 62% responded no.
To get a more holistic understanding of the public’s general opinion as well as their needs for biking and pedestrian lanes on a street-by-street basis, the Rapides Area Planning Commission (RAPC) published a detailed survey and received 526 complete survey responses.
Wilkinson read the comments and found that the public’s feedback was “overwhelmingly positive.”
Continuous public input is an integral part of the metropolitan transportation planning process. Bolen says efforts to deploy public input kiosks throughout the metro area have been delayed due to COVID-19, but are on track to become available in libraries, utility offices, and city halls by early September 2021.
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