Monday, January 23, 2012

What's Your Story, Baton Rouge?

When I moved to Baton Rouge, I was warned about the lack of routes for cyclists, about its bicycle unfriendliness. I went to Critical Mass because it is, at its best, a positive demonstration against car culture encouraging cyclists and making a route safe for one night. It worked. I rode in a few lovely large rides, with 200 or more riders. Together we rode to parts of town that seemed unreachable by bike. I met my future roommate and best Baton Rouge friend and later my sweetie, both at Critical Mass. And then I stopped going. I was busy with school, I started working Fridays and the ride did not seem important to me. The city is still sprawl but I found my favorite routes, including a quiet 3 and a half mile one to school.

About a week ago, an acquaintance of mine was riding on a busy street with a friend. A drunk driver hit them, killing Nathan Crowson and injuring Danny Morris. Baton Rouge is small, so people knew the cyclists and the drunk driver. It was sad, really really sad but people got together, planned memorials, a bike ride, a fund for Nathan's five year-old daughter. Online, I foolishly read a string of comments about the situation, the questions and comments blaming cyclists. But few addressed the probelms with car-centric urban planning. Baton Rouge is sprawl. Many people drive everywhere, and plenty of them drive drunk. Bike paths are limited, and though there has been great improvement since I moved to Baton Rouge, many thanks to B.R.A.S.S., the overwhelming attitude is that bikes don't belong on the road. So instead of thinking about what can be done to solve transportation issues-- integrating bike lanes, pedestrian paths, making all parts of town accessible to non-drivers through public transportation and bicycle routes--drivers get defensive and angry and nothing gets solved. Instead of thinking of practical ways to prevent drunk driving, people shrug and says that "it happens". Mostly, it makes me too angry to express, because that young man did not have to die. He was biking on a busy, unfriendly road and was killed by someone who shouldn't have been driving.

Two nights before I left Baton Rouge, I met with about 400 other cyclists to ride from LSU campus to the site where Nathan and Danny were hit, and the ghost bike memorializing the event. We were told to be extra extra friendly to drivers, to avoid confrontation, to honor our friend. We blocked traffic but only took up one lane, allowing others to pass, and blocked intersections so we could remain a group, like many cars do in funerals. Except that we had no police escort and the cops ticketed one person for obstructing traffic. No matter, I was glad to be a part of the sea of blinking lights riding between the lakes from Dalrymple to Lakeshore. It didn't solve the problems, but at least offered a positive supportive place for the cyclists of Baton Rouge.

photo by Erin Arledge

Mark Martin
wrote a much better letter to the city calling for transportation improvements.

This is a video of the Critical Mass ride.