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In gear: BREC’s off-road trails will connect North and South Baton Rouge by mid-decade

By Sara Bongiorni
A network of paved trails, bike lanes and quiet streets with wayfinding signs will reach from Pecue Lane through downtown to Scotlandville by mid-decade.

BREC is taking the lead on multi-agency work to complete or begin construction on nearly 20 miles of greenways over the next three to five years. The network will provide a safe, practical alternative for moving around the parish like never before.

“It’s going to be life-changing for a lot of people,” said Doug Moore, past president and a member of the board of directors of Bike Baton Rouge. “It will make a lasting and positive change in the way people in Baton Rouge live.”

BREC’s Whitney Hoffman Sayal | Photo by Tim Mueller

In relative terms, the parks agency is just getting started on trails. It wants to build more than 250 miles of bike and pedestrian trails across the parish, many of them on undeveloped public land along local waterways.

Trail-building is painstaking work. It requires collaboration with parties from landowners to agencies in charge of everything from roads to flood control to wildlife conservation. BREC has spent about $1 million per mile on paved trails that are typically 12 feet wide since breaking ground on its first one along Ward Creek nine years ago.

The trails are desired. For years, trails connecting parks and neighborhoods have ranked first in the research on community recreational wants that shapes BREC planning. The system is not alone in recognizing demand for trails and bike lanes, which are on roads. MoveEBR, the $1 billion city-parish transportation plan, calls for significant investment in bike lanes over three decades.

Look for big advances in connectivity in coming months as BREC moves ahead with components of the trail network, including new construction on its 10-mile Health Loop through the Essen-Bluebonnet-Siegen corridor.

The system will begin planning and engineering on a 0.65-mile segment of the loop between Perkins Road Park and Staring Lane along Dawson Creek after finalizing servitude agreements with five property owners and receiving a donation of land along the creek in 2021.

BREC has completed 4.5 miles of the loop since breaking ground behind Dick’s Sporting Goods near the Mall of Louisiana in 2012. You can get a peek at that stretch by parking at the north end of Dick’s lot and walking toward Ward Creek.

Newer segments of the Health Loop will hug Dawson Creek as it moves toward Bluebonnet Boulevard, then swing north toward Jimmy Swaggart Ministries before crossing the railroad tracks near the Mall of Louisiana. The city-parish will oversee the segment of trail that crosses the railroad tracks near the mall.

Additional segments of the loop, including a half-mile stretch along Ward Creek, are also under construction or under development.

“(T)here are a lot of projects underway right now that hopefully will make all these connections in the next few years,” says Whitney Hoffman Sayal, BREC assistant director of trails. “There are not a lot of missing pieces in the system.”

Work by other agencies will make BREC’s Health Loop bigger than the sum of its parts. Already the completed section near Quail Drive ties into the Pollard and Rouzan neighborhoods, where BREC will install directional signs.

West of Rouzan and Pollard, the route will tie into a new mile of city-built bike lanes under construction on Hyacinth Avenue in Southdowns, which connects to Stanford Avenue and the LSU/City Park Lakes.

“It’s going to be life-changing for a lot of people,” said Doug Moore, past president and a member of the board of directors of Bike Baton Rouge. “It will make a lasting and positive change in the way people in Baton Rouge live.”
In time, the widening of Interstate 10 and restoration of the lakes will create more links within the network, including bike and pedestrian paths that tie into the Downtown Greenway and Mississippi River Levee Trail.

Look for new trails in North Baton Rouge, too. BREC plans to begin construction this year on a 6-mile trail from Memorial Stadium near downtown to Monte Sano Park. The project is another example of the role of collaboration in building greenways.

Funded by a $3.7 million federal Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality grant, the route will comprise off-street trails, road-to-trail conversions and on-street features like bike lanes. BREC will fund later work to connect the trail to Spanish Town Road Park.

Volunteers with Bike Baton Rouge helped map the optimal way to navigate parts of the route that will run through quiet residential grids.

Traffic studies for crosswalks, sidewalks and other enhancements have been completed, and the project could be submitted to the state Department of Transportation and Development for bidding in summer 2022.

For now, BREC calls the greenway the CMAQ trail. It will look to the public for name ideas at a later stage of the project.

Meanwhile, planned modernization of its Scotlandville Parkway will further extend the trail network. Enhanced trails are among planned improvements to the 3-mile linear park that runs along I-110 to Scenic Highway and already includes some bike and pedestrian routes and features like playgrounds, small “pocket parks” and basketball courts.

The first phase of the park renovation includes one mile of new trail that may be completed by 2023 as part of a multi-phase project that will take three to five years.

That a lot of the greenway work in the parish boosts the impact of other projects is no accident. Public agencies are increasingly working together on shared concerns from the need for trails to storm-water drainage.

“We all collaborate and piggyback to make these things happen,” said Reed Richard, BREC assistant superintendent of system planning. “We look at parks as part of the public realm, and it’s all integrated. We’re all looking more holistically outside just the concept of a park.”

You can get a feel for the future on a visit to the Dawson Creek trail between Perkins Road Park and Quail Drive behind Pennington.

The mostly shady trail is well used by strollers, runners and bikers, and even the most casual birder has a good shot at spotting a great blue heron.

Or park near the Ochsner Medical Complex at The Grove and cross the bike/pedestrian bridge across Ward Creek, a project whose completion was its own milestone in building the network of trails.

Here, Ward Creek flows, I-10 is a distant hum and the birds won’t disappoint. “It’s an urban area, but you don’t feel like you are in Baton Rouge when you are there,” says Hoffman Sayal.