“Shreveport is already a great place to ride a bicycle.” When I moved here two years ago, this statement stood out to me. I was educating myself on the state of bicycling in the city and how it could be improved. Amongst all the technical conversations on lanes vs. sharrows and casual vs. experienced cyclists, there’s a certain simplicity to finding a bikeable area. Like every city, Shreveport has many existing neighborhoods that provide a great platform for those looking to get around on a bike.
Nevertheless, Strong Citizens believe that there are always ways in which we can make our community stronger. In fact, when my friends and I hosted Chuck Marohn in Shreveport for a Curbside Chat last year, our biggest takeaway was this: What’s the next best step forward?
The best part about that question, which is also the thing I like most about Strong Towns, is that it makes you think. It makes you ask more questions—questions like: What parts of our city have the most potential? What are we already doing right? What progress is already happening that we can add on to?
So when a recent headline read “Shreveport gets its first bike lanes!”, I had to do some more digging before celebrating. For lots of us, bike lanes alone are the ‘win’ for Shreveport. However, as a Strong Towns member, I see three much more important ways that this project made Shreveport a Stronger Town.
1. The math works.
The first win comes when we do the math. It was a pleasant surprise when I noticed this phrase in a press release: “The bike paths will be made at no additional cost." At a time when large projects like a new bridge or comprehensive bike plans require a substantial local investment to acquire a federal grant, this project represented a new way of doing things. In the public meetings, the city called it a ‘bike pilot project’, where we would find some low cost investments in biking, implement them, and see how the improvements performed in order to find where future investments in bike infrastructure should occur.
The lanes were implemented as a part of an existing city-wide resurfacing project, at the impetus of our Mayor, Ollie Tyler, and her administration’s emphasis on infrastructure. Enter Gilbert Drive, an old, four lane road with 9’ lanes. In a place like Shreveport, we often drive our big trucks down both lanes at the same time, so this route made sense in more ways than one for a road diet. I emailed the Assistant City Engineer, Andy Glasgow, who informed me that no additional money was spent on bike line striping, and all the signs and design work was done in-house. This greatly benefitted the city, all at a reasonable cost.
2. The public process was responsive.
The second win came because of the public process taken to get there. Unlike the newly laid asphalt, the process was a little bumpy for many cyclists and residents. The tone changed from cautious optimism as the lanes were announced, to firm opposition as the detailed plan revealed inconsistency with previous plans and biking norms, to finally satisfaction as the city announced changes generated from community feedback.
The original plan included undesirable elements like one way bike lanes and streets that were not commonly utilized by the biking community. After seeing these, we as a community responded at the meetings by a) expressing sincere appreciation that biking improvements were being considered as a necessary transportation improvement, and b) presenting diagrams like the ones below that expressed citizen recommended alterations to the bike plan. And I give credit to the city; the changes expressed by us were largely taken into consideration in the updated plan. You can learn more about what was implemented from the City of Shreveport website.
One of my biggest goals in an initiative I direct, Re-Form Shreveport, is to get local city leaders, business people, and citizens who care in the same room to discuss the challenges that our city faces. While I was only involved on a personal level as a fly-on-the-wall for this project, the public process was incredibly encouraging regarding the aforementioned goal. The Mayor directly contacted several key members of the biking community during the process, including Stephen Pederson of Bike Shreveport and Chris Lyon of Heliopolis, and folks like the city engineers were very responsive and dynamic to other members of the biking community to make this project a success.
3. We have momentum.
Finally, our community has won because of the momentum this has created for already existing initiatives and events in Shreveport.
Like other communities across the country, Shreveport also has a co-op called the Bike Container. Using an old shipping container, we have created a place at the center of the community where the public can learn about safety and rules of the road, get assistance on basic repairs and maintenance, and even donate their bike towards those in the community that can’t afford other modes of transportation. May, national Bike Month, has been a busy month for the Bike Container as folks are excited to get back on their bikes.
Bike Shreveport’s monthly Slow Ride group ride just reached its four-year anniversary. What started as a four riders has grown to over 100 bikers on its monthly ride. At our May ride, the Mayor attended as the city’s first bike infrastructure has implemented. With the new lanes in our city, new riders are gaining the courage to get around on a bike.
Here in Shreveport, we took a small bet to make our city stronger and learn a little bit in the process. Our citizens were incredibly engaged, adding value to their city. I’m excited to see what the proliferation of a Strong Towns approach can do for our city, a city that is now a really great place to ride a bicycle.
(Top photos of June 2015 Slow Ride, courtesy of Bike Shreveport Facebook page)
About the Author
Tim Wright is a Strong Towns member and civil engineer who lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. When he's not working in CADD or GIS during the work week, he may be riding his bike, playing a board game, or strolling to his favorite downtown coffee shop. Since moving from Dallas two years ago, he's taken a liking to his new, southern city, doing anything he can to benefit his city through the Re-Form Shreveport initiative. Tim also writes for Heliopolis about infrastructure, community development, and anything else that may tickle his fancy.