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LSU bicycle infrastructure lacking, projects in development

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In 2016, the League of American Bicyclists designated LSU as a silver-level bicycle friendly university, despite amounting only one quarter of a mile of dedicated bike lanes on Field House Drive along with shared lane strips on Highland, South Stadium and Dalrymple drives.

The University of Lafayette, which is a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly University — a lesser distinction than LSU — has nearly three quarters of a mile of bike lanes.

Students and faculty are biking to campus more than ever before. According to the 2017 LSU Master Plan, 14 percent of students, faculty and staff travel by bike on campus.

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The 2017 Master Plan also states, “a lack of bicycle lanes and limited sidewalk connectivity between off-campus student housing and campus encourages driving … Given that there are currently no dedicated bike lanes connecting to campus or on-campus (with a few small exceptions) this suggests significant potential for a more robust network of bicycle paths, on-campus amenities such as lockers and showers, repair stations and secure, weather protected bike parking.”

Though the University has made strides in recent years to accommodate the growing number of cyclists on campus, its bicycle infrastructure remains a work in progress. The University integrated phase one of the Easy Streets program in 2007, making LSU a “walking campus,” along with adding bike racks around campus.

“I think those were really good first steps, and they showed a commitment to biking on campus as a regular and safe thing to do,” says Bike Baton Rouge president Doug Moore. “The issues now are a result of growing pains.”

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Bike Baton Rouge works with LSU Campus Sustainability to offer insight on potential projects and helped develop the “Bicycling at LSU” tab on the office’s website. Moore also worked at the University for 10 years and biked to campus daily.

The accommodations the University has implemented thus far show the trend is here to stay, Moore says. 

“But on the flip side, there does need to be more accommodation,” he says. “The Easy Streets and bike racks are good first steps, but that’s really all the campus has done.”

Moore says there should be more education for driver and bicyclist awareness, as well as protected bike lanes that go throughout campus instead of on-street parking. He’d like to see more bike lanes on campus and less on-street parking, as well as the University collaborating with the city-parish more to improve access into campus on busy roads like Dalrymple Drive, Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive, he says. 

Especially with the expansion of student living complexes along Ben Hur Road and Burbank Drive, student activists could have significant impact on local government to get protected bike paths for commuters biking off campus, Moore says. 

The University is in the discussion stages with the city-parish to add more bike infrastructure off campus, says executive director of Campus Sustainability Tammy Millican.

Moore says there is a lack of knowledge of laws and safety protocols among younger cyclists because although bicycling is a growing trend, it is not a cultural norm in Louisiana. As a result, cyclists are biking on sidewalks, which is not legal or safe, he says.

University students Amy Burke, Julianne Lamy and George Carson all ride on the sidewalks on campus. They say that if there were more dedicated bike lanes on campus, they would not hesitate to use them. Though biking on sidewalks is illegal because it endangers pedestrians, Lamy, Carson and Burke believe riding in streets with heavy traffic, such as Highland Road or Dalrymple Drive, endangers cyclists.

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To Carson, an engineering senior, pedestrians and drivers aren’t the issue when it comes to safety — it’s other cyclists. He doesn’t feel like other cyclists pay enough attention when riding, leading to near-accidents.

Moore and the students emphasize bike safety education for both cyclists and drivers.

Burke, a coastal environmental science junior, has even had to crash her bike while cycling on campus to avoid being hit by a car, she says. Since Jan. 1, 2013, there have been 34 bicycle-involved accidents reported through LSUPD, according to LSUPD spokesman Ernie Ballard.

Assistant Director of Campus Planning Dennis Mitchell says building more infrastructure to bring cyclists into campus is a problem to be solved, and the University is working on developing a solution. However, overhauling roads on campus won’t happen overnight.

“It’s going to have infrastructure changes and those take time,” Mitchell says.

For example, with a road like Highland where the street itself is not wide enough to add a bike lane, they could convert the existing sidewalk into a bike lane and construct a new sidewalk for pedestrians. However, there isn’t enough funding for such a large-scale project.

Many cyclists avoid biking on Highland Road, which runs straight through campus, because of the heavy volume of vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

“I am more afraid to ride my bike on Highland than I am on Burbank,” Burke says. “That is just horrific. I really think LSU could do something about that road.”

Highland Road is unavoidable, yet doesn’t accommodate cyclists besides share the road signs, which are ambiguous and ineffective, Moore says.

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“Shared routes is not ideal, we would really like to have a dedicated lane, and it can be done,” Mitchell says.

But recent construction to widen West Parker Boulevard near campus heading south toward Burbank, which was completed in July, did not include a bike lane. “It doesn’t seem like any thought was put into it for bikes,” Burke says.

“I really don’t think they do anything [regarding campus bike accommodations]. There’s that one bike lane, and then everything else is just nonexistent,” Burke says. “LSU is definitely not a bike friendly campus.”

However, the Department of Planning, Design and Construction, and Campus Sustainability are working to make the Master Plan recommendations a reality.

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The University conducted a campus mobility study over the past six months to assess how to implement the Master Plan’s proposals, Mitchell says.

The University is working with an outside consultant to propose new bike routes and evaluate how bike lanes can have better connectivity from the center of campus to its outskirts.

Funding comes from the University, grants, and the Student Sustainability Fund. The Student Sustainability Fee is $2 during the fall and spring semesters and $1 during the summer semester.

“Generally the infrastructure cost to put in bike paths is pretty expensive, so it’ll come from some combination of state funding and grants,” Millican says.

In about six months, they’ll likely have a list of projects that will be implemented when funding is secured, Mitchell says.

“We also have the ability to connect some existing bike paths and create some new ones at minimal cost, and that is what we are currently working on with our mobility consultant,” Millican says.  

The department will hold mobility and parking forums in the coming months to receive ideas and feedback on the proposed bike routes.

Students will likely see one solution implemented by fall 2019: a bikeshare program. LSU will be part of the Baton Rouge Bikeshare, and will start off with 100 bikes at about 10 sites throughout campus.

Millican says eventually removing on-street parking is another goal for the University. 

The removal will happen in phases, Millican says, because Parking and Transportation Services must create new parking in other areas not in the interior of campus before it can remove on-street parking. The department is working on developing park-and-ride options for the lots on the outskirts of campus and has some solid leads on funding, she says.

In addition to improving the quality of life for students and faculty, developing more bicycle infrastructure can also serve as a recruiting tactic for the University, Moore says.

“We’re losing out to other universities, other cities that are trying harder and doing better,” Moore says. “I hope LSU is not post-bike activism.”

LSU Cycling Club president Connor Juban agrees.

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“I think the University should look at that as an investment in its students and in its image,” Juban says.

The University of North Carolina is also a silver-level Bicycle Friendly University. UNC has had a bikeshare program since fall 2017, has bike racks and bike repair stations on campus and offers a 50 percent discount off a U-lock for registered bikes. UNC also has a Commuter Alternative Program (CAP) to reward students, faculty and staff for using sustainable transportation to get to campus. The University of Tennessee has an electric bicycle sharing system and several dedicated bike lanes.

Lamy, a natural resource and ecology management freshman from New Orleans, lives near Loyola University and Tulane University. Both schools have bike stations with tire pumps and tools for minor fixes, she says, which came in handy with her older bicycle. But at the University, Lamy has yet to find a tire pump that works. Burke shares Lamy’s struggle.

“LSU says they have tire pumps at some of the bike lock areas, but all of them are broken. None of them work. I have not found a single one that works,” Burke says.

If a student finds a bike pump isn’t working, they should call Parking and Transportation Services who will then come and fix it, Millican says.

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“We’re constantly watching to see if changes need to be made,” Millican says.

To help promote biking on campus, LSU Sustainability holds Bike Month in November with social media contests, prizes and bike safety education courses taught by LSUPD, says LSU Sustainability Assistant Director Sarah Temple. LSUPD also provides information on bike and pedestrian safety at freshman orientation, and  LSU Sustainability is working with Student Government to create an online bike and pedestrian safety course that will be offered through Moodle, Millican says. 

“We’re doing the preliminary work with the goal being that we bring in the campus community to share thoughts and ideas,” Millican says. “There are big changes coming that are going to be so positive for the bicycling community.”

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