Ideas for making transportation infrastructure more bike-friendly are up for discussion at the annual Louisiana Smart Growth Summit downtown this week.
Wednesday, Nov. 28, Baton Rouge Advocates for Safe Streets will give some officials, planning experts, and citizens at the summit a taste of what it’s like to get around the capitol city by bike now.
Mark Martin, who founded the bike advocacy group in 2006, navigates his daily routine here with only two wheels.
Mark Martin looks like he should be riding a Harley. He’s a big guy with an American Chopper moustache and a lot of tattoos.
But he hasn’t owned a car in two decades, let alone a motorcycle. Martin says he can get everywhere he needs to go on his bicycle.
“You can get anywhere in the parish in 10 miles pretty much.”
On a Saturday afternoon, Martin leads the way from the Garden District to a coffee shop on Jefferson Highway, whistling as we go.
Martin avoids the major thoroughfares. Instead, we meander through oak-lined neighborhoods.
Martin waves to parents playing outside with their children as we roll by.
“Depending on the part of town there’s a road, street that more or less parallels where the main road. It’s going to get you there."
So why ride in traffic if you don’t have to?
Martin knows the layout of the city cold from 8 years of riding it and studying old maps at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library where he works. We get to the coffee shop in about 15 minutes.
On a Saturday, the trip might have taken five minutes by car, but on a weekday, who knows?
“I have to be more concerned with weather. Otherwise it’s the same as anyone else does. The only thing that’s different is I have two wheels instead of four. It may take me a little bit longer but almost any trip within five miles, the time difference is going to be minimal.”
Martin rides the 4.5 miles every day from his home in Spanish Town to work at LSU.
He says he rarely has to sit at a stop light or gets bogged down in a traffic jam while car commuters in the capitol area are hemmed in.
In August, a benzene spill shut down Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge for more than 24 hours; the streets around LSU were gridlocked for two hours after a bomb threat prompted the evacuation of campus in September.
Though he doesn’t pretend it will prevent carmeggeddon by itself, Martin says making the city more bike-friendly could help.
“When you are creating a new transportation corridor you look at it in terms of moving people rather than things. And that’s radically different from what we’ve done so far because everything we’ve done has been to move one kind of thing and that’s a car."
Baton Rouge has only 29 miles of bike trails, according to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. There are few streets that have designated bike and pedestrian paths, which forces cyclists into traffic.
Although overall accidents are down this year, four cyclists have died in 2012 when they were struck by vehicles in Baton Rouge.
As we ride down Hundred Oaks the only thing separating us from the car lane is a painted white line.
“Now the reason they put this bike lane here is not necessarily for bicyclists to use it. ... This was a traffic calming effort, so they narrowed the travel lane and hoped they were going to slow down the cars."
So to keep up with the SUVs and sedans, Martin cuts corners and rolls through stop signs.
“And I think when people in cars see bikes, people on bikes, doing that their assumption is that, you know, scofflaw, anarchists, paying no attention at all, shooting the finger at everybody by just going through an intersection.”
But Martin will take the hand gestures and the honks for the sake of the ride.
“I guess the fundamental thing is that it’s a joyful experience. No matter what kind of a day I’m going into or what kind of a day I’m coming out of, by the time I’ve gone about a mile on the bike I wind up having some stupid pop song in my head and it’s just like everything’s nice."