When a bike lane is more than a bike lane

by Walter Pierce

Turns out those bike lanes on West Bayou Parkway are also a government conspiracy to help us be more sensible, courteous drivers.

[Editor's Note: The Independent obtained through a public records request the petition seeking removal of the bike lanes. The petitioners cite congestion, safety and low use of the lanes in their request to Mayor Joel Robideaux. No doubt there are some cranks among them, but it turns out many of the petitioners are nice, reasonable people who don't like the inconvenience they say the bike lanes have brought to West Bayou. See the full petition by clicking here.]

Oh, the pearl clutching! We should stop already wondering why the hell the tinfoil milliners oppose bike lanes — on West Bayou Parkway or anywhere else. They oppose everything progressive in our fair city, from the comprehensive plan to smart meters to arts funding to anything remotely gay or urban. That’s what they do. And I don’t mean progressive as in liberal; I mean progressive as in progress — initiatives and impulses that have long united the right and left in the Hub City and made Lafayette a better place to live, work and raise both hell and a family.

But in this public debate such as it is over the bike lanes added less than a year ago to a road that cuts through one of the most affluent residential areas in the city, it’s easy to forget that the bike lanes on West Bayou aren’t merely for completing the Mickey Shunick Memorial Bike Loop and promoting cycling and connectivity in the city — worthy goals to be sure — they were also installed to influence driver behavior.

A former elected official texted me recently to remind me that the West Bayou bike lanes were always designed with a dual purpose: to promote cycling and to calm traffic. The bike lanes on West Bayou are wider than those on Johnston and elsewhere. While West Bayou, a curvy road that is pretty heavily used during drive times, didn’t lose any travel lanes, it did lose a center turn lane. The result is travel lanes with no dead space in between, forcing drivers to slow down to (closer to) the speed limit and be more cautious. That helps other motorists not to mention folks on two wheels.

I emailed Warren Abadie, a traffic engineer for Lafayette Consolidated Government, who confirmed it: “Yes, part of the intent was to slow traffic down by reducing the travel lanes which resulted in a wider bike lane,” he replied.

In comment sections on Facebook and at media websites I see a common refrain: "No one uses these stupid bike lanes therefore we shouldn’t have stupid bike lanes, libtards!" To that I say chicken, meet egg. We don’t have a cycling culture in Lafayette because we’ve never encouraged it. Lafayette has always been about cars and sprawl. Now we have gridlock and choking fumes. Adding bike lanes encourages cycling, connectivity and living in a smaller radius. We have to start somewhere. Build it and they will come.