East Baton Rouge has put into motion a multimodal transportation program that’s a key part of solving the region’s most pressing economic development headache – longstanding traffic congestion that has increased daily commute times of the region’s workers and has the potential to spook prospective companies from relocating to the area. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome announced last year that South Carolina-based Gotcha will run the City-Parish’s new BikeShare program, which has gained approval from the Metro Council.
Gotcha’s initial rollout will include 500 GPS-enabled e-bikes and 50 bike hubs in key parts of the city that will attract ridership, like LSU and Southern University’s campuses. Tentative expansion plans would increase the program’s offerings to 800 GPS-tracked bikes and 30 additional hubs in the near future. The GPS integration will allow the company to track average daily ridership and primarily used corridors to optimize the location of bike hubs over time.
Developing a Roadmap for BikeShare
For those following happenings around town, the September 2018 announcement came as no surprise given the actions taken by community stakeholders in recent years to improve the City-Parish’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The City-Parish’s adoption of a complete streets policy has focused on widening sidewalks and bicycle lanes to tackle the rising pedestrian mortality rate within East Baton Rouge. A bevy of state and local entities like DOTD and BREC continue to develop a Ped-Bike Master Plan, seeking to build out trails to connect far corners of the parish and promote outdoor recreation. The business community is engaged as well, with BRAC’s Quality of Place committee working toward a vision for the Capital Region that improves the attractiveness of its built and natural environment. Bike and pedestrian connectivity adds value to life, work, and play, and, importantly, creates economic opportunities as well.
Improvements to the walkability and “bike-ability” of the parish are included in the FuturEBR master plan, which sets forth a vision of tomorrow’s Baton Rouge. Through the plan, the East Baton Rouge Planning Commission has recognized the importance of improving local connectivity and capacity to establish the parish’s sense of place and attractiveness.
Baton Rouge Joins a National Trend
The BikeShare concept, while new to Baton Rouge, is certainly not a novel idea from a global standpoint. Since 1996, major metropolitan centers around the world have launched their own BikeShare programs with varied success. Through its Vélib’ and Vélib’ Métropole programs, Paris has seen daily ridership figures reach higher than 85,000 in its first six years of operation. Faced with a limited public transportation network, Washington DC successfully launched its Capital BikeShare system in 2008, which increased connectivity across the region to its metro and bus networks while alleviating ridership woes. In its first year of operation, St. Petersburg, FL’s Coast Bike Share counted over 45,000 trips. Tripling its footprint to 300 bicycles at more than 30 stations since January 2017, Coast Bike Share has attracted both tourists and residents in adopting a greener way to travel around the city.
As Gotcha aims to complete its initial rollout in time for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, local government entities and community organizations, like BRAC, are prepared for a boom in bicycle ridership with planned upgrades to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. In working to build out infrastructure for alternative transportation modes, local stakeholders are calling attention to an oft-overlooked facet of our region’s infrastructure, while investing in the future economic competitiveness of the region through its BikeShare program.