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“You could never do this in Amsterdam!”

There are a lot of things I could be talking about here, things you can do in Baton Rouge but not the Dutch capital city.   But riding bikes freely and comfortably probably didn’t come to mind when you read this blog’s title.   A little context….

For those who may not know Mark Martin, the Captain Nemo/ Santa Claus/ Moses of Baton Rouge bike advocacy, frequently hosts guests as they bike tour through town.  He was hosting someone from Amsterdam, which is consistently ranked in the top 5 cities in the world for bike riding.  As they rode around at night, the guest was amazed at the lack of cars on the road.  “You could never do this in Amsterdam,” he said, “There are too many cars!”

Therein lies the irony:  Baton Rouge during the day is a mess of automobile congestion exacerbated by poor road design, lack of alternative transportation options, short-sighted zoning laws, sprawl and some cultural factors.  At night, however, the roads are largely free of cars save for the arterials.  In Amsterdam, factors that contribute to it being such a great bike city – density, pre-auto road design, a dynamic tourist/nightlife scene – also basically ensure that there are always tons of cars on the road.  Hence…. Baton Rouge, in some ways, offers better bike riding than Amsterdam. 

Your mind = blown, right?

You know what else you can’t do in Amsterdam?  Ride your bike at your own pace.  Can you imagine there being so many bikes on the road that you are constantly stuck in bike traffic??   Or, much like walking in NYC, being unable to go at your own slow pace for fear of slowing everyone behind you?  Personally, I can only imagine. While that is definitely a good problem to have, it does give those of us on two wheels a special appreciation for being able to pedal as fast or as slow as we feel like.  

Now, given the choice between the bicycle infrastructure and culture of Baton Rouge and Amsterdam, I’d definitely pick the latter….but I’ll never be given such a choice, so the point is moot anyway.  Baton Rouge remains paradoxical in terms of riding bikes – it has some of the easiest and best riding of anywhere in certain areas, but those areas are cut off from other such areas by unnavigable and impassible surface streets, waterways, railroad tracks, gated subdivisions and other obstructions which result in some of the worst riding conditions simultaneously. There does seem to be a slight shifting of the transportation planning ethos in that it seems the city/parish is finally trying to get its act together and start accommodating all road users. 

We advocates are cautiously optimistic, as we’ve been burned before.  But going forward, BR is in a unique position to get bike infrastructure right in a way where we get the best of both worlds: being able to bike most places while having the freedom to go at our own pace.  Sure, we’ll always be somewhat constrained by the geography of sprawl, the short-sighted development patterns of the past and the weather, but if BR were to, over the next couple of decades, achieve 20% bicycle mode-share (an ambitious goal, we know), we could do so while our riders are able to go at their own speed and retain the enjoyment of it. After all, one of the best things about riding bikes is the feeling of independence it gives you.  In places like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, riding bikes is ubiquitous.  It’s not special, and it’s a result of conformity as much as anything else.  For bike riders in BR, we’ll never have that problem.  How’s that for a silver lining? 

Baton Rouge will never be Amsterdam or Copenhagen.  We’ll never be New Orleans either.  We’ll never be anything other than…well… what we are.  And you know what?  Good!  We look forward to it!