During Forward Lafayette’s campaign to save the West Bayou Parkway bike lanes last summer, the opposition liked to say that people in Lafayette don’t ride bikes and don’t care to. Their evidence: They rarely see people commuting on bikes. But when public infrastructure doesn’t accommodate bike riding, it’s really a circular argument: People don’t ride when it’s made too difficult.
And, in any case, their opposition misses the point. With the city tapped out for cash and traffic only getting worse, drivers should want the city to invest in alternative modes of transportation. It’ll make our roads safer for both drivers and reduce congestion in the long run. But those are just the quantitative reasons.
During the four years I spent living in Tucson, Ariz., I lived in a bike-friendly corridor that connected my neighborhood with the University of Arizona, a neighboring community, and Downtown, not unlike the route that connects West Bayou with UL, Freetown and Downtown. My understanding of the community dynamics and connections grew exponentially, making me appreciate Tucson’s nooks and crannies, all of which were invisible to me from behind the wheel of a car. My wife and I wondered whether we were right to move back to Lafayette, knowing what a great city Tucson had worked to become.
When then-Mayor Joey Durel installed bike lanes on West Bayou, I turned to my wife and said, “Lafayette seems to be moving in a good direction, and I want to be a part of it.”
Having been back a year, and slowly adjusting to the change of pace, I was surprised to see an uproar against bike lanes on Moss Street, on top of what we faced on West Bayou. That opposition was the catalyst for the Forward Lafayette campaign, which we have since folded into a wider movement. We wanted Mayor Joel Robideaux to hear from the large segment of the community who see bike-friendly infrastructure as important to quality of life.
The staying power of the West Bayou bike lanes, and the increasing prevalence of bikers there, proves that we are a biking community in the making. Shoot, I’ve ridden on West Bayou more often now that there are bike lanes, and this shouldn’t be a surprise. Nationwide, communities that construct and connect bike lanes consistently see an increase in bike traffic and a decrease in injuries and crashes. A 2014 study of protected bike lanes in New York City, conducted by the city’s transportation department, showed that enhanced bike infrastructure can reduce vehicular traffic congestion.
Bike lanes also provide a wide range of economic benefits. In places that have invested in adequate bike infrastructure, studies show that bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders spend more as consumers at every type of business except a grocery store. There is growing consensus among transportation experts that more roads lead to more traffic because of induced demand, and new roads aren’t cheap.
Bike lanes create safer roads for all users, and have been demonstrated to reduce traffic delays while slowing down traffic to a speed that increases the feeling of safety in the surrounding community. This concept of a “feeling of safety” was a common theme from residents who lived on (or just off) West Bayou Parkway. They have reported feeling increasingly safe with their kids playing in the front yard, and are less worried about crossing the street.
Couple those facts with our shrinking capital budget and increase in traffic congestion, and I think we may be onto something as we roll through May’s National Bike Month festivities: alternative modes of travel benefit everyone.
Mark DeClouet is the founder of Forward Lafayette, an organization dedicated to Lafayette’s urban progress.