I read the July 31 guest column in The Daily Advertiser by Mr. Chuck Pickett calling the re-striping of West Bayou Parkway “insane and dangerous,” but, unfortunately, the piece was published before the project was even completed. As the public works director, I thought I would share a few facts.
First, I concede that half a re-striped road caused driver confusion — a car still on the assembly line doesn’t make much of a car, after all. And we understand that change can be disruptive — the re-stripe of St. Mary Boulevard caused similar initial concern that has since died down as drivers and bikers adjusted.
So here’s the basic idea of the West Bayou Parkway project: from Roselawn to Charles Read Boulevard, what was a two-lane road with a so-called “suicide” lane in the middle will now, in part, be re-striped as a two-lane road with bicycle lanes on the outside. I say “in part” because turn lanes will remain at the busiest intersections along that stretch, including Woodvale Avenue and Doucet Road.
This project fits the bigger picture. The addition of bicycle lanes on this road helps fill in one crucial leg of the Mickey Shunick Memorial Bike Loop, which was endorsed by the city-parish council in July.
Mickey’s Loop itself is a realization of a community goal clearly expressed during the public hearings held for the comprehensive planning process — that if we will ever be able to compete economically with other cities in providing an excellent quality of life, we need to provide public infrastructure that adds, rather than detracts, from quality of life.
A dedicated, safe bike path along West Bayou Parkway provides a critical connection from one of the largest residential areas of our city to destinations like the Oil Center, Girard Park, UL Lafayette and Downtown. But to be clear, this re-stripe was not just about adding bike lanes. This road needed to become more neighborhood-friendly, as it was originally intended to be.
Having the suicide lane run the entire length of the roadway does allow for traffic to keep moving when someone turns left into a driveway — that is true.
But the suicide lane also makes it easier for motorists to make turns at much higher speeds because they have “room” to do so. Some of our most constant complaints about speeders and requests for speed vans over the years have come from the homes along West Bayou Parkway. Without the middle turn lane, however, traffic will naturally slow to a safer, more neighborhood-friendly pace.
The plan has been studied and approved by traffic engineers. It will move just as much “cut-through” traffic as before, albeit at slower, safer speeds. And we will continue to monitor how it operates. I drive that way to and from work each day; I will keep an eye on it.