March 15, 2017 11:41 AM

A nifty new ride from campus to centre-ville could be the ticket to better Downtown development.

Robideaux
Photo by Robin May
Mayor Joel Robideaux is sorting out the details of adding a new transit loop to connect Downtown with a revitalizing resource — millennials. Details of the UL-to- Downtown loop are preliminary, with the cost and scale of the service hinging primarily on the type of vehicle selected to run the route. Robideaux has targeted a nimble carrier, most likely an electric vehicle, that would maximize ridership for the pilot project by appealing to millennial sensibilities.

Still very much in its infancy, the carrier would scurry on a 20-minute loop from points on campus, through Freetown, to dropoffs around Downtown. While intended to serve the student population, many of whom live in the Freetown area, the potentially free-to-ride route would be open to public use and operated by Lafayette Transit Service. Robideaux believes the instant influx of young consumers would add much-needed new daytime patronage for Downtown businesses and spur future development in the district.

“In order for us to ultimately have a thriving Downtown environment, we need a lot of things to happen,” says Robideaux. “A residential component. We need all of those things. But you also want the millennial connection to Downtown that doesn’t currently exist, except very late at night on the weekends. This is an easy first step to the connection between the millennials and the Downtown environment.”

Downtown has struggled to attract residential development, in part because of a developmental Catch-22: Day-to-day amenities like grocery stores require residents to operate, and residents require those day-to-day amenities to live there. The bus loop could provide easy campus access for Downtown residents and vice versa, in effect ending the developmental standoff.

Whether the project succeeds depends largely on buy-in from a Lafayette community that has not historically embraced public transit. Robideaux says operations for the loop will respond to demand, meaning the route and the schedule could change according to the number of riders it attracts and the most populated stops. Ideally, the mayor says, the route would also connect with the Oil Center.

Long term, Robideaux believes the project could spur broader interest in public transit, community-wide. If more people are inclined to take the bus to work, it could ease traffic congestion on the city’s notoriously packed thoroughfares.

“The No. 1 thing we can do to get congestion off of Johnston Street is take 20 or so cars off the road every 30 minutes, and have people using some other form of transportation they don’t currently use,” he says.

The loop is one of three transit improvements currently in play at the regional and city level. Two transit projects, the UL/Downtown loop and the acquisition of new buses for the current LTS fleet, would be funded through money controlled by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the regional transportation agency operated by the Acadiana Planning Commission. The other project, a regional commuter bus running from Lafayette to Crowley, will be made possible by a grant from the USDA.

Officials with the MPO say they hope to free up dollars for the loop and new busses by moving $2 million currently allocated for construction of controlledaccess improvements on Ambassador Caffery and Johnston Street, features they say are no longer necessary. That re-allocation would have to be approved by the MPO’s policy committee, which meets March 15 to finalize a new, $300 million long-range transportation plan. The plan guides transportation spending for the APC’s member jurisdictions for the next 25 years. APC serves all of Lafayette Parish and parts of Acadia, St. Martin, Vermilion, St. Landry and Iberia parishes, a 650-mile boundary that includes 340,000 people.

Should the funding opportunities align, the bus loop would be up and running in the next 12 to 18 months.

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