Driving forces for implementing a bike/pedestrian plan for the City of Natchitoches are economic development, health, safety, convenience and tourism. The future of the plan will soon be in the hands of the City Council, possibly on their next agenda. The final public meeting on the project was Wednesday, Aug. 28. “We have seen a shift toward biking and walking and (because of that the City) can incorporate a bike/ped plan,” said Sooraz Patro, Transportation Director for Rapides Area Planning Commission, the entity compiling the plan. He said much of the funding for the estimated $10 million project could come from federal and state sources.
“We will look at alternative sources of funding anytime DOTD or federal monies are available.” Should the master plan be adopted by the council, the funding process would begin.
The plan was composed using numerous sources of data, community surveys and feedback. Long term, it would encompass 55 miles. The plan would be implemented in stages as funding becomes available. The process was likened to “taking a bite out of an elephant” meaning starting small until the whole thing is complete. The first step can be project X with the first funding, then the next and the next and after a few years it starts tying together. Overall, short and long-term goals span two decades.
Patra said the paths were developed using data including economic factors, activity density, key attractions including tourist and shopping, road conditions, speed limits and road size to name a few. “MLK Drive is really good for biking,” he said. “Front Street doesn’t score as well. It is too narrow.” MLK would be one of the first projects because it is less labor intensive and lower cost. MLK would get bike “chevrons” painted on the roadway at a cost of $350 each using high visibility, durable paint. One mile would have a price tag of approximately $4,000.
Other prominent roads include Keyser Avenue, Second Street, University Parkway and Sam Sibley on the NSU campus. Patra said the plan, and projected cost, include numerous crosswalks with raised paths (a slight bump in the road) at approximately $8,000 each. “Safety is always the biggest concern,” he said. For example, Second Street is very wide, with 14-foot lanes. The bike path would be the first 4 feet from the curb in either direction. In some places, to ensure curbside parking is preserved, the bike/ped lanes would travel between the automobile traffic and the parked cars (see rendering above).
Patra said there was adequate space in those areas to preserve parking while allowing bicyclists to move safely. On Keyser Avenue, the plan includes revising the center turning lanes to dedicated right or left turning bays. Patra cited fewer conflict points, or potential for accidents, as a factor. The proposed BikeShare plan, where residents and tourists can rent a bicycle then return it to a designated docking station is a separate endeavor but would complement the bike/ped plan.
Having a plan in place is step one in making safe biking and walking options in Natchitoches a reality. “We (Natchitoches) will have leverage since we have a plan in place,” Patra said in reference to funding.
In addition, the plan is “plug in ready” for the state plan, which has already been adopted.