By Camille Broussard
Lafayette is home to a fair number of bike-centric citizens. When it comes to city events, a good portion of attendees prefer to get out and bike. Anyone heading downtown on a fall Friday night to catch Lafayette’s outdoor concerts can find bikes locked on every corner, and at some festivals, there is even a bike valet. But getting to the bike-friendly streets is difficult in Lafayette, which has many busy roads, and according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, Louisiana is ranked third in the nation for bicycle deaths (1).
I’ve biked on Johnston only once since moving to Lafayette and, with a bike lane on each side of the major street, you’d think it’d be a positive experience. However, I immediately realized that I was uneasy, traveling eight miles an hour only feet away from vehicles traveling forty. The sound of automobiles soared past my ears before I veered myself onto the sidewalk. The city worked to fund and provide Johnston’s bike lanes for cyclists like me, yet I still chose the ill-suited sidewalk for my cruiser’s wheels in order to gain a few extra feet from the speeding steel cages. Assuming I am just an overly anxious cyclist, I questioned my friend Lena, who is an avid cyclist, how she bikes down Johnston. She also used the sidewalk instead of the bike lane, which is illegal, not to mention the poor condition of the sidewalks.
Although bicycles are a valid vehicle and have the same rights as automobiles, motorists five times our size tend to disagree. As the president of “Bike Baton Rouge” Mark Martin told The Advocate reporter Maya Lau, “The fundamental (feeling) towards bicycles is that we should not be on the road, that we are an impediment to someone who is in a hurry, that we are vermin. I’ve seen people refer to bicyclists as ‘roaches.’ ”(1). But still, Lafayette is filled with enthusiastic recreational cyclists and commuters and organizations like Bike Lafayette, Cajun Cyclists, and Geaux Bike UL that promote cycling as a cheap, green, and healthy option of transportation. Lena tells me, “I can see people are trying to make Lafayette bike friendly, but it’s still a struggle just to get across streets. And big intersections like Johnston and Ambassador Caffery are impossible.”
“The fundamental (feeling) towards bicycles is that we should not be on the road, that we are an impediment to someone who is in a hurry, that we are vermin. I’ve seen people refer to bicyclists as ‘roaches.’ ”Mark Martin
When it comes to improving Lafayette’s bicycling accommodations, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette seems to be leading the way. The campus was recently recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as one of “127 colleges and universities nationwide that ‘support bicycling in new and innovative ways,’” and can be regarded as a bike friendly college, the only in the state (2). There’s a few ways the rest of Lafayette can learn from the university. If Johnston Street’s bike lanes had reflective barriers as seen on St. Mary Boulevard, cyclist would be better separated from traffic and therefore safer. If this type of lane is not plausible for Johnston’s long stretch, some buffering should at least be added, such as doubling up the painted separating the car lane from the bike lane. A simple repainting might call attention to the bike lane and could be an easy step towards making a safer space for cyclists.
St. Mary’s is not the perfect bike accommodating street, however, despite it being visually impressive. Reminiscent of my struggles on Johnston, the University’s safety guide for bike riders states, “Cyclists have two options when making left turns. One is to merge into the vehicle traffic lane ahead of an intersection, then turn. The other is to use crosswalks.” Cyclists who use the second option must dismount and walk their bicycles across the intersection (3). The university, however, encourages cyclists to dismount from their bike and walk (4). The most common left turn is from St. Mary onto McKinley Street, a street connecting students to the dorms and the dining hall and is most commonly entered using a left turn. In intersections such as these, instead of encouraging cyclist to become pedestrians, bike boxes should be installed, as they are in Portland, Oregon, America’s most bike friendly city (5). The National Association of City Transportation Officials describes bike boxes as “a designated area at the head of a traffic lane at a signalized intersection that provides bicyclists with a safe and visible way to get ahead of queuing traffic during the red signal phase” (6). A bike box would make St. Mary an even safer street for cyclists.
There’s many ways a city can create a strong infrastructure and support bicyclists– cycling events, cycling communities, more abundant and safer bike lanes, more bicycle racks, bike lockers, bike-specific traffic signals, and even bike bridges– and any small action taken for cyclists makes our experience on the roads safer and more enjoyable, encouraging people to take two wheels instead of four.
1. Lau, Maya. “Rate for Adult Cycling Deaths in Louisiana Rises; State Ranks 3rd in Nation for Bicyclist Fatalities.” The Acadiana Advocate. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
2. “Campus Recognized by League of American Bicyclists.” University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
3. “Bike Lanes Opened along St. Mary Boulevard.” University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
4. “Riding University Streets.” University of Louisiana at Lafayette Office of Transportation Services. 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
5. “The City of Portland, Oregon.” Bicycling Info RSS. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
6. “Bike Boxes – National Association of City Transportation Officials.” National Association of City Transportation Officials. Island Press. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
Camille Broussard is a freshman at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she is studying Visual Arts for animation. She is also the social media manager and an avid member of GEAUX Bike UL, a club on campus focused on promoting bike safety and sharing the love of cycling with others.
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