In 2019, LSU sophomore Sarah James was hit by a car and killed at the busy intersection of Nicholson Drive and Bob Pettit Boulevard.
On weekend nights, the area is crowded with LSU students walking to and from the popular bars in Tigerland. But it has also been the scene of multiple fatal and non-fatal pedestrian accidents.
Taylor LaSorsa’s LSU capstone project aimed to improve safety at Baton Rouge’s Tigerland.
Provided by Taylor LaSorsa
One of James’ friends, landscape architecture student Taylor LaSorsa, made it the goal of her senior capstone project to make the area safer.
“Tigerland is such a piece of LSU culture, so many students go,” LaSorsa said. “It can be fun, but it can also be a scary experience depending on the day.”
And the lack of pedestrian options became clear last year when a bridge was closed for construction — and students responded by jumping over the creek, clambering over the active construction site or even building their own makeshift bridges.
In a quest to reimagine the bar district, LaSorsa spent the entire school year researching, meeting with stakeholders and redesigning the entire area, from medians to walkways to greenery to additional lighting.
LaSorsa’s final project has caught the eye of officials in East Baton Rouge Parish government who see it as a guidebook to reimagining the entire area.
“When I found it I was absolutely blown away by the project,” said Metro Councilwoman Jennifer Racca, who represents Tigerland. “It was even more captivating because she had the foresight to do what (the city) pays hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars for other people to plan for them to do.”
Racca gave a brief presentation on LaSorsa’s project during the Metro Council’s first public safety committee meeting on Wednesday.
“Over the course of time representing the Tigerland area, I understand there are business owners that want to buy in and contribute to make this come to fruition,” Racca told the committee. “So I am tasking all of my council members … to look at this report, see if you can find items in the budget where we me able to move the needle forward and make that area safe.”
Racca plans to invite LaSorsa to future meetings of the committee or the full council to give a longer presentation on her project, she said.
LaSorsa’s plan for the stretch of Nicholson Drive between LSU and Tigerland builds on an existing one through MovEBR, the city-parish $1 billion traffic improvement initiative. The MovEBR proposal, while a major improvement, focuses too much on traffic flow and not enough on cyclist and pedestrian safety, LaSorsa said.
LaSorsa believes that can be accomplished by removing the bike lanes and created a shared-use path on one side of the road that protects cyclists and pedestrians, according to the plan. She also proposes additional lighting, greenery and medians that serve to slow traffic traveling on the road, LaSorsa said.
“It’s based on thinking with the mindset of a pedestrian, and in that case I studied how students walk to and from the bars and how residents walk to and from their homes and where they’re going,” LaSorsa said. “I think the (MovEBR) design that’s proposed is going to become an issue for pedestrian safety just based on the natural behaviors of how people circulate through the area.”
The plan also entirely redesigns the Tigerland bar district to create community space that can be used day and night. LaSorsa proposes less parking and a roundabout to allow for faster drop-offs and pickups in order to deter drinking and driving. The plan also includes a large green space for community use, a grocery store for the underserved Tigerland neighborhood, food trucks and a coffee shop.
Along with council members, LaSorsa spoke with LSU officials, students, business owners, Baton Rouge police officials and residents living in Tigerland.
Councilman Rowdy Gaudet, whose District 3 borders Tigerland, said LaSorsa’s project probably won’t be the final version of any plan the council could organize and fund, but it “gets the ball to the 20-yard-line.”
The work to identify stakeholders and get them communicating about ways to redesign Tigerland and make it safer is crucial to any final effort the city-parish would support, Gaudet said.
“If her presentation didn’t exist, everybody would be looking around asking who is in charge and who is going to convene all of these players,” Gaudet said. “If in the end it doesn’t look look exactly what was designed, at least she put forward a feasible proposal and took the time to identify the stakeholders in a comprehensive list. That’s the value of this plan.”
Hilary ScheinukRead More