Letters from readers on what matters in Lafayette.

LETTER: On I-49 Connector, God is in the details

Signs on the Evangeline Thruway pointing toward I-49
Photo by Robin May

One of the most interesting concepts on the Lafayette Connector project, and possibly the concept with the most potential to reunite the split currently created by the Evangeline Throughway, is the creation of the Evangeline Boulevard.

As an architect and real estate developer practicing in Lafayette, it’s my opinion that the proposed design of the ground level streets in the I-49 connector through Lafayette approaches the street from strictly a vehicular passage rather than prioritizing other modes of urban transportation such as by foot, by bike or by bus.

The plans in fact do not even line up with the typical sections proposed for the new Evangeline Boulevard. Although perhaps an improvement from what is existing, their proposed typical section is more expensive and less pedestrian and bicycle friendly than what I am about to suggest. Let’s not lose the opportunity to reconnect our community. I would like to propose changes that better re-stitch our urban fabric and are cheaper to construct than what is currently being proposed.

God is in the Details

The name change from Evangeline Throughway to Evangeline Boulevard is a big deal and should be used as a way to design the details to make that change a tangible reality rather than a simple name change.

First, slow traffic down and save money by making lanes 10 feet wide, not 11 feet plus 1.5 feet of gutter (12.5 feet!). Camellia Boulevard is a great example of how wide lanes get faster traffic than the posted speed where almost no motorist follows the posted speed limit. Further slow traffic by planting a row of trees against the back of the curb. This gives motorists a subliminal cue of speed through the repetitive object in their peripheral vision. This also separates cyclists and pedestrians from car traffic and provides shade for our pedestrians and cyclists during our hot summers.

Priority should be given to bike and pedestrian crossings between Pinhook and the railroad spur crossing. This can best be shown through the pavement colors and textures for these modes of transportation. Painted bike gutters are proposed in the typical section of the boulevard. These are expensive and uncomfortable for cyclists. The cost of building to vehicular standards in the roadbed is much greater than a separate bike facility that does not need to be designed to hold up vehicular traffic like the wide gutters do. We need to begin designing our streets so that a 10-year-old will feel comfortable riding their bike on them.

In the current design, super blocks are created by the median shown on the new Evangeline Boulevard; 600 to 900 feet to go around. This is like walking across three football fields to cross a road. This erosion of the grid will cause more urban decay and should be avoided. If the street is closed to vehicles from crossing, then a filtered permeability for pedestrians should be used. One suggestion would be to create small wood boardwalks over the planted rainwater garden in the median.

Roundabout Pros and Cons

Roundabouts are often not the best option for the health of an urban fabric, especially if too many are lined up, creating a barrier both perceived and physical. Signaled intersections, however, come with their own problems but are more connected visually for pedestrians crossing. Traffic signals stop traffic to allow pedestrians to cross a roundabout, especially after vehicles have just exited a highway and will not stop for someone to cross. We need signals for pedestrians to cross at these roundabouts, and yield striping should be used going into the roundabout.

Roundabouts should be limited only to major cross streets, and these streets should only have two lanes coming into them, not four or five (Johnston, Jefferson, Taft and possibly 2nd/3rd streets). Certainly, a slip lane on the Johnston Street roundabout is not appropriate for slowing traffic for pedestrians.

Drag the slider to compare plans for a portion of the Connector’s path. On the right are roundabouts at several intersections. On the left, those same intersections with traffic signals.

Roundabouts may limit possible vehicular crashes, but they also add time and distance for pedestrians, discouraging people from walking in the first place. Therefore, these roundabouts should be designed for pedestrian and cyclist safety by minimizing pedestrian travel distances. Signals should be used at the 6th Street and 12th Street intersections in order to create stops in traffic for pedestrians and bicyclists. Pedestrians and cyclists should even be signaled separately with 2-3 second start to get people out of vehicular blind spots in signaled intersections. The dog bone roundabout proposed at 2nd Street could work if cyclists and pedestrians were prioritized by keeping a link in front of St. Genevieve Church.

Jefferson and Johnston should only have two travel lanes. The city is planning to “right-size” Johnston with three lanes. Jefferson only has two lanes except at this point. The idea is that people are dispersed into the urban street grid rather than dumped onto only several highways encouraging multimodal transportation. Roundabouts are also much safer for motorists when there is only one cross street as four lanes and the other street, two lanes.

Here's a safer approach used in the Netherlands:

Re-Stitch the Urban Fabric

The new design should connect 7th, 10th, 11th, and possibly 5th and 12th streets — which comprise the McComb-Veazey neighborhood — back to the Downtown and Freetown grids. It was sold to the community in the past that the elevated highway would allow for re-stitching the urban fabric split by the current throughway. Fifth street should also be connected back to northbound Evangeline Boulevard. All roads that connect back to Downtown should not be cut off by the median on the boulevard. This urban grid disperses traffic rather than forcing it all on one street. If the grid is not healthy, the fabric will further erode.

The most important connection proposed to be cut is where Simcoe Street crosses Evangeline. This is a very important connection between the La Place and Sterling Grove neighborhoods. Vehicular traffic is needed or major mitigation should be provided with significant bike and pedestrian routes that feel and are safe. A Simcoe Street connection is necessary for the health of both the La Place and Sterling Grove neighborhoods.

Magnolia street should remain connected to the northbound lanes. This could be closed to vehicular traffic but open to pedestrian and bike traffic using bollards — often referred to as filtered permeability. This can be done by simply adding bollards or planters. Goldman and Hudson should also continue to be connected under (super blocks create dead zones and keep bike and pedestrians from crossing) at the very least bollard existing connections for pedestrian and bike creating this filtered permeability.

Turn lanes on Evangeline Boulevard should also be sparing. The current design is over-designed and very expensive. Too many turn lanes also make it harder and more uncomfortable for pedestrians to cross. The current traffic will greatly relieve the elevated highway, and local traffic will be better dispersed into the grid, especially with the northbound being rebuilt to two-way traffic. Therefore, turning lanes will not need to be used nearly as much.

Slip lanes should be avoided in the corridor, especially from Beaver Park to Castille Street, currently areas with pedestrian and cyclist connections. These slip lanes not only cost more money but they speed up traffic by creating a larger turning radius and are very uncomfortable for pedestrians to cross. They take up too much real estate needed for redevelopment opportunities. Slip lane real estate can also be used for protected bike lanes five to six inches above the roadbed (much cheaper to design too). A separate bike lane that swings out to this location would remove cyclists out of vehicle blind spots when coming out of the intersection. Corridor from Beaver Park to Castille should be designed with a multi-model approach.

Willow, Pinhook, University and Kaliste Saloom should have at most one turn lane left bound and maybe one right (with no right turns on red). Designing for more traffic will get you more traffic. Leave the space for other modes of transportation under the new highway.

Northbound Evangeline restored to original termination at St. Genevieve Church in the current design is great, but one design cuts it off again in front of the church. Signaled alternative works much better in this location to stitch back together urban fabric in front of St. Genevieve. If the double roundabout is used, this area should at the very least have access for cyclists and pedestrians back to the intersection.

Guidry Street needs pedestrian and bicycle connection across Pinhook. Many people cross between these neighborhoods. With people coming off from the exit at faster speeds, mitigation needs to be provided. Plantation Road should connect through University for access to Beaver Park with pedestrian and bike and vehicular traffic. Castille and MLK connection needs bike and pedestrian signals with so many people already trying to cross between these neighborhoods. Sixteenth Street needs to keep, at the very least, bike and pedestrian connection under the highway. These neighborhoods have many people currently trying to cross on bike or foot with very high-speed traffic exiting from the current interstates.

Re-Development Possibilities

Noise mitigation measures should be taken to protect current homes and allow for redevelopment of mixed-use buildings in the areas proposed by the current plans. These mitigation measures should be considered sooner rather than later in the design process.

Our proposal for a narrower right-of-way for the new Boulevard would allow 18 feet more for redevelopment between the boulevard and the elevated highway. The typical mixed-use building is usually 60 feet deep, and a double-loaded parking lot is 65 feet deep. A building on each side of the block with a center parking alley and an extra 10-15 feet in buffers adds up to 190 feet wide for redevelopment. By adding 18-20 feet this can then be accomplished.

Design for transit islands in the median. Bus-only lanes could be possible (bus rapid transit), and future light rail from the airport to Downtown and University may be a consideration. Bus stops should be considered especially if the goal is to redevelop these areas with retail and mixed-use buildings. The proposed typical section here shows possible areas for bus shelters.

My hope is that these suggestions will improve our city by reconnecting our communities and allowing for redevelopment that will further create the quality of life that we all strive to have in Lafayette.