I hope everyone had a nice time driving around this past Wednesday. Hopefully you took time to smell the roses; lack of time was definitely not an excuse. So in case you somehow missed it, the Baton Rouge Metro area was treated to an interstate traffic disaster that pretty much shut down the Baton Rouge street grid. Pausing for a flipped over car on I-10 near Essen Lane, a semi-truck with a tanker load of isobutane was rammed by another semi-truck reportedly hauling beer causing a chemical spill. As such, one of the two primary arteries in the city (and the main route for interstate traffic to New Orleans) was shut down for just about 24 hours. Rerouting interstate traffic to surface streets comically overloaded our street grid capacity, even with a coordinated effort by state and local traffic authorities to synchronize lights on our main surface streets like Airline Highway. The chemical spill and wreckage were cleared late Wednesday night through a vent and burn procedure consisting of two controlled detonations. I was up at that time and heard the paired explosions in Broadmoor. Here's the obligatory awesome video:
While my colleague Benjamin Leger may discuss this event in light of how smart growth planning would have avoided a lot of this mess (and you can bet a lot of people are going to bring this up at the upcoming CPEX Smart Growth Summit), I want to take a look at it in light of our recently started political campaign season. Traffic typically sits right behind crime as a major problem the City-Parish can actually impact, as education technically falls under the auspices of our independent school district. So for all of those candidates looking for some talking points, here's what we learned from Carmageddon 2012:
Practice Makes Semi-Perfect: While law enforcement was on-point in cordoning the area and redirecting traffic from the spill site, it seemed as if state and local traffic authorities could do a better job reacting and coordinating, particularly with respect to traffic light synchronization. Because of our pretty terrible traffic grid, anything that goes wrong on the interstate is going to have a significant impact on state highways which will in turn have an impact on local roads. I imagine there is probably some kind of emergency plan in place for shutting down one or both interstates (think about how many times this was necessary on I-12 during the Amite River bridge work), but it seems like more should be done to practice for the eventuality. Even after the wreck was cleared, news reports indicated traffic engineers were still trying to return the lights to normal. It's a shame there isn't some kind of turnkey approach that could do this automatically based on certain inputs; it seems awfully manually intensive. While Mayor Holden's Green Light Program has been a great success in increasing intersection capacity, I would certainly push for the need to work on traffic light synchronization to include improving interoperability with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development if I were campaigning for office.
You Are the Weakest Link: One of the things that smart growth touts is the need for multiple entrances and exits to residential areas, cul-de-sac neighborhoods are generally abhorred. Unfortunately, when the street grid is temporarily re-engineered to strongly favor one street over another, even a multiple exit neighborhood can become a virtual Alcatraz. As implied above, I live in Broadmoor, a neighborhood that actually has several exits. It took me about an hour to get out of the neighborhood Wednesday morning due to the light resynchronization and traffic overload on Airline Highway. Even attempting other exits along Sharp Road and towards Sherwood Forest were futile. My point here is that a smart political candidate would realize that a holistic solution to our traffic problem is required. Fixing the capacity and other problems on one section of roadway is going to be meaningless if the streets that road intersects with are still broken. FuturEBR has done a great deal to help address this problem by taking an overarching approach to development that should help improve our traffic and quality of life. Candidates: it's a great document. Get to know it and use it.
Can I Get a Loop, Loop? I've probably just engendered an unreasonable amount of rage in some of you reading this. Too bad; deal with it. I've traveled around the US quite a bit. My past life in the Army took me to a lot of different cities. Many of them had interstate loops if they were of an appropriate size. Closer to home, both Shreveport and Lake Freakin' Charles have loops. The fact that Baton Rouge does not is simply emblematic of the poor planning that has led us to our current position. A loop around the city would be beneficial and expensive, but we've been putting this thing off for decades and we're now dealing with the results of those non-decisions. There have been other suggestions on how to fix traffic and the interstate in particular, including further widening of the interstate and even double decking it. The problem is that none of those would have addressed the problem we had in Carmageddon 2012, namely the potential for massive explosions. Imagine if this would have happened in the vicinity of Perkins Overpass or College Drive, or just about anywhere along I-110. Even worse, think about if the wreck had involved a REALLY explosive chemical and it didn't wait for law enforcement to evacuate people before it did its thing. If nothing else, Baton Rouge needs a loop as a viable hazardous chemical bypass. I think candidates should conduct a very real cost-benefit analysis of a Loop in the context of regional traffic issues and figure out where they stand.
That's it for this week. The qualifying period for Metro Council closed last Friday and there was some flurry of activity that day. To see the full list of candidates, check out this comprehensive article from the Advocate.
P.S. Congratulations to Buddy Amoroso, Ryan Heck, Chandler Loupe, and Scott Wilson for winning their unopposed bids for the Metro Council. Serve us well!
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