Promise Road…Delivered

Promise Road…Delivered


Government Street’s redesign has drawn businesses and residents to Mid City. Planner Camille Manning-Broome says the success is a beginning.
By Mukul Verma

With a reworking, Government Street has become a destination, and no longer a fast road to some- where else. The state spent $12 million to turn four lanes into two lanes and a turn lane, flanked by bike paths most of the length. Landscaped medians with irrigation have improved the look of the road, while also making travel safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

CPEX’s Camille Manning-Broome
CPEX’s Camille Manning-Broome

The transformation – a road diet – has drawn businesses to the street. The former Garden District Nursery, once operated by Gordon Mese, who was a lead advocate for narrowing the road, will become a Parker Barber and, in the future, have an open-air restaurant and a wine shop. More eating places and retailers are expected to open for business on Government, and, crucially, new residences will bring more people to live in the area.

We asked Camille Manning-Broome what’s next for Government Street and the Mid City area. She’s CEO and president of the Center for Planning Excellence, which was originally formed by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. CPEX spearheaded the 2013 “Better Block BR” demonstration project that sparked the road improvements. The independent nonprofit she leads is working across Louisiana, offering land planning services to city governments. In Baton Rouge, CPEX is creating a master plan for Southern University and Scotlandville.

Now that it’s nearly finished, give us your thoughts about Government Street’s new look. What went right and what didn’t?

The road diet has been a great success, especially in calming traffic, providing more bike and pedestrian mobility, and attracting new businesses, updated buildings and more patrons. This people-friendly infrastructure is key to what we’ve accomplished on Government Street: creating a vibrant destination where people and businesses can thrive. There are still opportunities for additional improvements. A lot of car access points were removed, but more need to be to increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. Another great next step would be to add more street trees to make walking and biking more comfortable and safe, help improve air quality, retain stormwater and enhance the aesthetic of the roadway.

It’s important to realize that a road corridor is never truly complete. Great progress has been made and the street must continue to evolve over time, with the help of zoning codes that uphold the design elements that the community desires.

Proponents of this change have argued that the makeover would draw businesses and residents to the area. Do you think they are right?

They were completely proven right. Businesses and residents didn’t wait to flock to the area—just the announcement of the road diet was enough to catalyze a steady flow of new investment and activity. For example, in 2013, the year CPEX initiated the Better Block demonstration on Government, there were no coffee shops on the street. Now there are two. Residents engaged with the Better Block demonstration later got involved with the planning process to share what they envisioned for their community. We saw the announcement of public investment spur more private investment immediately, which is often the case; public investment in infra- structure improvements that enhance quality of life have a multiplier effect, attracting more investment from the private sector. This is one of the best ways we can leverage public dollars to create great places.

There’s been some worry that the planted medians will go to seed. What’s the best way or mechanism for maintaining the road for many years to come?

The best way to ensure ongoing maintenance of features like this is to incorporate green infrastructure assets that are resilient and self-maintaining. Ideally, a median would have land- scaping that functions as stormwater infrastructure to funnel water through a natural filtration system. This can be done in a way that’s highly effective for managing water and attractive for the community. It is less ideal to install planters that need watering and upkeep.

Do you think residential areas around Government, particularly to the north side of the street, will draw more residents?

Neighborhoods near easily accessible amenities, like the businesses along Government Street, will continue to be among the most desirable, as long as flood risk is managed.

Planning for the future of these neighborhoods should include a commitment to maintaining affordability while enhancing quality of life for residents. If we are spending public dollars to make our community a better place to live, we have to make sure it’s a place for all.

North Boulevard, one street over, will also be changed under the MovEBR plan. What reconfiguration—if any—would you recommend to that road, which runs from downtown to the Baton Rouge Community College?

Right now, North Boulevard is a four-lane road with sidewalks down the majority of it, but not all. It would be wonderful to see continuous side- walks, marked bike lanes, street trees and improved crosswalks at major intersections.

North Boulevard is an important community corridor, and these kinds of streetscape improvements can help unify the many destinations along the corridor while also enhancing and celebrating the neighborhoods between BRCC and downtown. Any streets that are in need of resurfacing or improvements should be considered as opportunities to incorporate or improve people-powered transportation and environmental benefits like storm- water management and reducing urban heat.

“There’s so much opportunity on Florida Boulevard. I see the potential for its entire length to return to a thriving business mecca with housing, recreation and services.”
What else can the city-parish do to make the area more inviting to businesses and homeowners?

The Government Street road diet has been a wonderful success, but it can’t start and end with one street. To be truly effective, it needs to be part of a strong network that connects cyclists and pedestrians to Mid City, downtown, LSU Lakes and the Perkins Road overpass—for a start. These connections would allow people to live and play within a 5-mile radius, and would position Baton Rouge as a place where true 32 20-minute neighborhoods, where people have access to everything they need on bike, foot, or public transit within 20 minutes or less, can flourish.

Which other streets in Baton Rouge could be changed to spark redevelopment like we’ve seen on Government?

Streets are so important to our everyday life, work, recreation, health, culture and economy, and impact so much about how humans experience the world. For that reason, I’ll say all streets can be changed to catalyze the improvements we want to see as a society. Thinking about big investments, we can see that on major thoroughfares, changes like dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit could reduce traffic and transform the way people travel. At the cheaper, more local end of the spectrum, using paint and plants to make safer, more inviting spaces for people makes economic sense for nearby businesses as well as improves residents’ quality of life.

Specifically, there’s so much opportunity on Florida Boulevard.

I see the potential for its entire length to return to a thriving business mecca with housing, recreation and services. Maintaining and reinvesting in existing infrastructure is the fiscally responsible path, and there is enough space for many different functions to coexist. We can look to the Imagine Plank Road Plan, with its focus on equitable economic development and community engagement, as an excellent example. Florida Boulevard spans the entire parish, and investing in its redevelopment would help ensure that our entire community can thrive and prosper.

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