March 29, 2024 8:00am

The Johnston Street road diet idea: Many voters are on board

Connectivity driving force behind idea to reduce a section of the road from four lanes to three

Photo of Adam Daigle
Lafayette, LA Correspondent
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Talk enough with people downtown and you’ll hear them describe the four-lanes roadways that surround downtown Lafayette as a moat.

As in, good luck getting across them.

Of all four stretches – Johnston Street to University Avenue to Congress Street to the Evangeline Thruway – it’s the stretch of Johnston between downtown and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus that is getting most of the attention. And for good reason.

The four-lane stretch is not conducive to pedestrians, which cuts it off from the south and makes it challenging for students walking to downtown.

So the idea to put that section of Johnston on a road diet – from four lanes to three with a section dedicated to pedestrians – was the topic for this month’s Power Poll Lafayette.

Nearly 65% of those who voted indicated they are at least open to the idea, and 37% indicated they back the concept. But a large part — 26% opposed and another 6% recommending just add a turn lane — indicated they were opposed to the idea because it would increase traffic congestion.

When a contingent of Lafayette officials visited Pensacola, Florida, in 2022, that stretch was described as Lafayette’s “cool, small problem to solve,” recalled Andre Breaux, vice president of policy initiatives and governmental affairs at One Acadiana.

The mayor there stressed how Lafayette leaders must communicate why having a walkable, bikeable city along with a tree canopy is important in attracting young talent.

“The experts are clear,” Breaux wrote. “Improving the pedestrian experience between downtown Lafayette, UL-Lafayette and the surrounding neighborhoods is one of the best investments we can make to develop the quality of place that young talent is looking for and that is so critical for economic development.”

But back to that 32% who are opposed to the road diet. It’s any guess as to why that is. No one offered commentary to back their vote.

The concept is not a foreign one. The Congress Street road diet was done in 2016 despite some public opposition. A similar one was pitched for Moss Street drew strong enough opposition that the project was scrapped, earlier reports indicate.

Johnston Street is notoriously unpopular with drivers. Asked for their opinion of that road between downtown and the UL campus, nearly 75% at least described it as either “tolerable” or “bad but not as bad as other parts of Johnston.”

Sixteen percent of voters indicated they try to avoid Johnston Street.

“The road diet that was accomplished on Congress Street could serve as a great example,” voter Anne Falgout wrote. “But rather than parking, the need here is a pedestrian lane. Great communities around this country understand that moving people around via safe pedestrian corridors is a great way to reduce traffic and increase vitality in those areas and can even reduce crime.”

Voters also gave most a thumbs down to the walking from UL to downtown along with walking to the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Less than 10% favored walking on each question. As far as walking to UL from downtown, 47% said it depends on the time of day while 39% indicated they would rather travel by vehicle.

As far as areas connected to downtown, including Freetown and the area north of downtown, 46% said they’d rather get around those areas by taking a vehicle while 44% indicated it depends on the time of day.

The sentiment follows a UL survey that mostly gave a thumbs down to bike paths and sidewalks. Among juniors, seniors and grad students polled, 48% rated it poor and 43% rated the public transportation system as poor.

“I grew up walking from UL's campus to downtown and vice-versa, and in that time I've seen many accidents and near misses,” wrote Sam Oliver, executive director for the Acadiana Center for the Arts. “Roads like Johnston Street are built without any concern for pedestrians or cyclists, either crossing safely or traveling alongside car traffic. It is crazy that we have four or five neighborhoods immediately next to one another that are themselves internally safe to walk but that those neighborhoods are very poorly connected to one another for the pedestrian or cyclist.”

Wrote voter Katrena King: “Do we risk life and limb as we walk or bike so we can demonstrate how cars should share the road? Or do we show cars how to share the road so we can walk or bike without risking life and limb? I’d like to be able to live and walk and bike.”

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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