As Southdown Bike Trail nears completion, residents who travel along its path will begin sharing the road with more cyclists who take advantage of Houma’s first shared bicycle and vehicle trail.
Once completed, the trail will function as a 6.5-mile loop that extends along Valhi Boulevard, turns right on South Hollywood Road, right on La. Highway 311, and right on Civic Center Boulevard, where the trail meets Valhi Boulevard again.
Signage along the route reads, “Cyclists may use full lane.”
The new Southdown Trail is part of Terrebonne Parish’s plan to create and eventually connect more bike trails for cyclists.
Christy Jaccuzzo, president of Bayou Country Cyclists, a non-profit cycling organization in the parish, said any awareness for safe cycling is a step in the right direction.
“I feel like our drivers are courteous and are becoming more aware of what’s going on with cyclists,” Jaccuzzo said. “We just hope the signs and markings on the roadways will make them more aware of us (cyclists) and what’s out there.”
Chris Pulaski, senior planner for Terrebonne Parish, said cyclists can legally ride on any public roadway without signage or pavement markings, but the parish is bringing awareness to the Southdown Trail as part of a plan to develop and connect more bike trails for the convenience and safety of cyclists in the future.
“Through signage and pavement markings, we’re alerting both drivers and cyclists,” Pulaski said. “It alerts the drivers that you may encounter a bicyclist in these areas.”
Jeannine Derouen lives along the bike trail on Valhi Boulevard and knows first-hand the amount of traffic that passes along the roadway during different intervals of the day.
Derouen has not noticed more cyclists than normal on the road since the arrival of the bike route signs and pavement markings.
But she believes since Valhi Boulevard is such a busy roadway some cyclists are weary about travelling along the trail.
“How can that be a bike trail?” she said. “That’s a busy road.”
Derouen is curious if the parish will expand Valhi into a true boulevard, which would create more space a for an official and safer bike trail.
“If it becomes a true bike trail and they expand Valhi to make it a true boulevard, I would like it,” Derouen said. “As of now, I’m curious to see how that’s going to work out.”
Jaccuzzo has been an avid cyclist for four years, and has felt unsafe on the road “only a handful of times.”
“There are times when some drivers are in a rush and can’t get past a group of cyclists as quickly as they may want to, and so they may pass a little close to us or blow their horn,” she said. “But I do think throughout the past year that a lot more drivers have become more aware.”
Houma Police Chief Todd Duplantis said there have been no complaints or traffic crashes along the Southdown Trail or elsewhere, but he reminds cyclists to obey traffic laws just as any other vehicle on the road.
“You have to be a little more of a defensive driver when riding on a bicycle,” he said. “If you’re on the roadway, you need to make sure that vehicles can see you.”
Duplantis said cyclists traveling the road should ride with the flow of traffic and signal motorists if they plan to stop or turn in any direction.
Jaccuzzo said the popularity of cycling continues to grow as last year’s membership for Bayou Country Cyclists reached 145 members.
Members of Bayou Country Cyclists, as well as other cyclists, often ride their bikes along routes that do not have designated bike lanes or shoulders to ride on such as Bull Run Road, Southdown Mandalay Road, Laurel Valley Road and the Valhi Boulevard extension.
Pulaski said completion of the Southdown Trail is a priority for the parish since it is serves as a central hub necessary to acquire more funds for the construction and completion of future bike routes.
Once the Southdown Trail is completed, there will be an area between Mandalay Woods and Summerfield Subdivision with a limestone parking lot, picnic tables and a kiosk with information about the different routes cyclists can travel, along with bike safety.
“Valhi (Boulevard) is a heavily traveled road, just as (Highway) 311 is, and that’s why we’re working hard to get as many detached trails up and running in addition to the Southdown project,” Pulaski said.
Pulaski said the opportunities for grant money increases as more of the bike trails start to connect.
He said the parish plans to expand the amount of bike trails with grants from the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program.
The grants total around $100,000, which is not enough to cover the total cost of detached bike trails in all of the parishes’ desired locations.
But if the parish were to begin construction or expand existing roadways such as Valhi Boulevard, Pulaski said detached bike trails would be considered as part of the design plans.
Currently, the only detached bike trail in Houma runs along the Westside Boulevard extension between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Main Street.
There is also a short, off-road route along the drainage canals by Valhi Boulevard and South Hollywood Road, which the parish plans to transition from gravel to pavement in the future.
Additional routes for future construction include the Westside Trail, which will start at the intersection of Valhi Boulevard and St. Charles Street.
The trail will continue along St. Charles Street to Southdown Mandalay Road and follow Southdown Mandalay north to Highway 20 in Gibson where it will meet Bull Run Road, which intersects with Highway 311. The route will continue south on Highway 311 to combine with the Southdown Trail.
Manuel Hargrave, owner of Bayou City Bicycles in Houma, has been in business for 28 years.
During that time, he has not seen much improvement when it comes to designated bike trails in the parish, but he recognizes the future for bike paths is “developing.”
“Every project has to start somewhere,” Hargrave said. “And we definitely need more bike lanes because they are for the safety of the riders.”
Jaccuzzo recognizes the parish’s efforts to create more trails and awareness.
“Anything we can get as cyclists definitely helps,” she said.
Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said the continued construction of bike paths will benefit the people of the parish for the next many years to come.
“We need more quality of life items for the people of Terrebonne,” Claudet said. “We need to be a healthier community, and it’s critical that we have the amenities to start our children off at an early age having the right habits, ideas and thoughts.”
In the City of Thibodaux, there are no designated bike lanes, but the city has constructed active transportation lanes, which benefits walkers, cyclists and skaters alike.
Ryan Perque, of the Thibodaux mayor’s office, said sidewalks along busy streets such as Canal Boulevard in Thibodaux serve a multipurpose for cyclists and other modes of active transportation.
The City of Thibodaux is moving forward with more active transportation projects with money from the Community Development Block Grant, Perque said.
Construction is almost complete on a pedestrian and bike crosswalk on the Canal Street Bridge over Bayou Lafourche. The additional pathway is under construction along the east side of the bridge, which travels southbound toward Houma.
“When the Canal Street Bridge was built there was never any pedestrian or bicycle clearance that made the bridge safe,” he said.
As the city plans to move forward with the widening of North Canal Boulevard, the widened portion of the road will include bike lanes on the shoulder, Perque said.
“It is an important part of adding infrastructure, both for people who use active transportation to get to and from work and school, and also for recreational purposes,” he said.
There are also construction plans for a sidewalk along the bayou side of St. Mary Highway near the Jean Lafitte Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, and the already developed portion of Canal Boulevard.
“There is always a sidewalk project going on in different areas of town,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is a better job of connecting these different areas.”