Louisiana Rural Complete Streets Summit maps out a safer future for small towns

(06/13/24) BATON ROUGE, La. — Safe and active ways to get to everyday activities, such as walking or biking to the supermarket or bank, was the focus of the second Louisiana Rural Complete Streets Summit.

The event was recently held at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.

Community leaders from around south Louisiana shared ideas, learned about funding applications and mapped out areas of need in their respective hometowns. A second summit for north Louisiana will be held June 26 in Ruston.

Jessica Stroope, physical activity specialist for the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team, said she was excited to build on the momentum of the last summit.

“In 2022, every community that attended the summit and applied for the Transportation Alternatives Program received funding,” she said. “This year, we’re welcoming new communities with the goal of extending this success to other rural towns across the state.”

According to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development website, the goal of the Transportation Alternatives Program is to work toward a more balanced transportation system that includes pedestrians and cyclists as well as the motoring public.

Eligible projects through the program can include bicycle and pedestrian facilities; safe routes for non-drivers; conversion of abandoned railway corridors to trails, scenic turnouts, overlooks and viewing areas; and improvements that facilitate wheelchair access to trails and sidewalks.

Brian Nunes, assistant road design engineer administrator at DOTD, said a main issue he encounters is that people simply don’t know about the program and the services it provides.

“When people talk about the DOTD, I hear about roads, bridges, traffic and potholes. What I never hear about are things like sidewalks, bike paths or accessibility,” he said. “People don’t realize that we deal with those things too.”

Nunes went on to give tips on what makes a good application for funding. For example, instead of including a photo of an empty overgrown path in need of a sidewalk, applicants should show a resident who may be struggling to navigate through the area, Nunes said.

“It’s a competitive application process,” he said. “Last time we did this, in 2022, we had 49 applications and maybe funded half of them. There’s a limited pot of money and not everyone can be selected, so we look at everything and score it, and the highest scores get the money.”

Denise Holston, associate professor and nutrition specialist for the LSU AgCenter, said without safe places to walk, bike and roll for the disabled, it’s harder for residents to stay active and for those without cars to access essentials like groceries, medicine and doctors' appointments.

"The LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities initiative aims to make it easier for Louisiana residents to lead healthy lives, which includes ensuring our roads and sidewalks are safe for everyone, including pedestrians, bicyclists and people using wheelchairs or strollers,” she said.

Stroope emphasized that partner organizations help make the summits a success, including the Center for Planning Excellence, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, Louisiana Main Street, the Louisiana Local Technical Assistance Program, the Louisiana Transportation Research Center and Well Ahead.

The 2024 call for Transportation Alternatives Program projects is expected to be announced in early fall. If interested, contact Nunes at Brian.Nunes@la.gov or Carrie Wiebelt at Carrie.Wiebelt2@la.gov.

Group of people around a table.

Jessica Stroope, physical activity specialist for the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities team, and Brian Nunes, assistant road design engineer administrator at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, discuss safety upgrades with community leaders of the Town of Baldwin at the 2024 Louisiana Rural Complete Streets Summit. Photo by V. Todd Miller/LSU AgCenter

Opelousas community leaders.

Community leaders from Opelousas mark key locations of the city on a map to assess where sidewalks, crosswalks and bike paths are most needed at the 2024 Louisiana Rural Complete Streets Summit. Photo by V. Todd Miller/LSU AgCenter

6/24/2024 5:29:28 PM
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