Happy Trails: How Northeast Louisiana is Connecting People with Opportunities

Mayors

Riding in tandem, the Mayors of Monroe and West Monroe pedaled along Endom Bridge to commemorate a new bicycle route that connects downtown Monroe to downtown West Monroe.

It was long-awaited sight! Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo and West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris along with other riders cycled across the bridge that’s part of a larger 7.1-mile designated bike path through Monroe and West Monroe.

The new bicycle path in West Monroe begins at the foot of the Endom Bridge; travels through Lazarre Park before looping back to the bridge; and heads north along Riverside Drive to the Forsythe Park Boat Docks in Monroe.bike_path_board-101717

This memorable bike ride will hopefully be the first of many to come. Representatives of both cities, the Ouachita Business Alliance (OBA), the Monroe Advocates for Safe Streets (MASS) and other community leaders are working to develop new bicycle paths that connect throughout Ouachita Parish and enhance the quality of life for its residents. In West Monroe, the City and the West Monroe West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce are working with MASS and other community partners to identify and build new bike routes  ̶  some of which will hopefully be ready by 2018.

Biking Announcement

Connecting the two cities with bike routes was a dream of Miles Luke, a founding member of MASS who passed away last December. Miles and members of MASS helped spearhead the development of the multiple bike paths in Monroe over the past several years. Since 2009, six bike routes have been dedicated for a total of 26.45 miles of bicycle pathways.

Ruston Sets Goal of Becoming the “Healthy Active Lifestyle Capital of North Louisiana”

Cycling over to Ruston, the City is working hard to become the “Healthy Active Lifestyle Capital of North Louisiana!”  In April 2016, voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the Moving Ruston Forward initiative, enabling the City of Ruston to embark on an ambitious plan to build streets, complete water and sewer upgrades, as well as build active transportation infrastructures, such as walking, jogging and bicycling pathways.

ruston biking 5

The goal is to connect more than 50 percent of Ruston’s households to an active transportation pathway by 2020. This means that within the next four years at least 11,000 people will live within a two-minute bike ride or a ten-minute walk from a healthy, fun, and intuitive way of getting around town.

GreenwayConstruction is now underway on the Rock Island Greenway which will be the centerpiece of Ruston’s new bicycle/pedestrian network. Redeveloped from an abandoned railroad right-of-way, this 6-mile trail will dramatically improve community health by establishing unprecedented opportunities for physical activity, active transportation, and exercise.

Rock Island Greenway will connect neighborhoods, businesses, schools, Louisiana Delta Community College, Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Louisiana Tech University.  The Greenway also greatly expands access to health care, jobs, social support services, cultural centers, and recreation. Furthermore, the Greenway will pass through some of the city’s poorest, most underserved neighborhoods, where opportunities for physical activity and recreation are especially limited. Many of these residents rely on walking and/or bicycling as their main form of transportation.

ruston biking 3The City of Ruston’s plan, funded in part by a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation grant, focuses on reducing the harmful health outcomes related to chronic inactivity and social inequity by filling the most critical gaps in Ruston’s active transportation infrastructure.

“To inform this plan, the Mayor’s Office and Public Works Departments, along with the Lincoln Parish GIS District, have analyzed US Census data, average daily traffic surveys, population density, Ruston Police Department and Louisiana Transportation Research Center crash data; gathered public input at multiple forums; and conducted a preliminary cost/benefit analysis of 75 potential projects in order to identify and prioritize the top three projects that will deliver the greatest health equity impact,” said Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker.

ruston biking 2

“With the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation’s support, 31 percent of Ruston’s households and 55 percent of businesses will be within a half mile of dedicated active transportation infrastructure — dramatically improving mobility for thousands of people of all ages, races, abilities and economic backgrounds — an incredible outcome,” exclaimed Walker!

“The million-dollar grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation will enable the City to build safe and pleasant ways for people to walk and bike along Vaughn Avenue, Line Avenue, and Mississippi Street,” said Ammen Jordan, Director of Development for the City of Ruston. “These sidewalks and bike lanes will connect schools, parks, childcare and medical services in areas with a high percentage of impoverished African Americans without access to cars.  This initiative will also establish safe routes for students from the Louisiana Center for the Blind as they walk between their apartments and downtown classrooms.”

Mountain Bike Trails at Lincoln Parish Park - PHOTO-Louisiana Tech UniversityRuston’s new active transportation pathways expand Lincoln Parish’s already impressive network of biking trails at Lincoln Parish Park and R. L. Cook Park.

Ranked among the top 25 mountain biking trails in the nation, Lincoln Parish Park’s 10-plus mile loop was designed in 1992 with input from biking enthusiasts. The mountain biking trail offers many twists and turns, up-and-down steep inclines, and is suitable for all skill levels. The biking system lies inside a 260-acre forested park.

R. L. Cook Park’s 1.75-mile biking trail was recently constructed amidst the park’s 28 acres of woods. It features a 22-foot bridge, banked turns and tabletop features for bikers, trail runners and hikers.

While the new bicycle routes offer healthy alternatives to travel, they also connect people to their communities in very profound ways.

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