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Increased transportation options could lure more millennials to Baton Rouge, Smart Growth Summit panel says

As Baton Rouge begins to establish bike- and car-sharing services to help alleviate traffic congestion and encourage healthy living, experts at the Center for Planning Excellence’s 2016 Louisiana Smart Growth Summit on Tuesday outlined cutting-edge programs that peer cities are embracing to navigate a new world of mobility.

Cities such as Pittsburgh and Kansas City are using systems that give users a menu of transportation options—including carpooling, autonomous vehicles and ride sharing, as well bike sharing and car sharing—to woo millennials and make it easier for people to get around without owning vehicles.

“Small cities are dreaming big,” says Creighton Randall, program and development director at Shared Use Mobility Center, a Chicago-based nonprofit that aims to use transportation programs to take cars off the road.

In five years, Randall says, it’s possible people living in cities lacking the extensive transportation network of places such as New York City won’t have to own a car to travel within their own city.  

Baton Rouge is making headways into the expansion of new mobility options. The Metro Council recently approved a pilot program to expand Zipcar, a car-sharing network that allows members to use vehicles for short periods of time, to downtown Baton Rouge. LSU already has seen success with the network.

Baton Rouge BikeShare Executive Director Lindsey West also touted her program as a traffic reducer and healthy initiative. West says implementing relatively low-cost bike share programs like the one planned in Baton Rouge can spur infrastructure development. She expects the program would be functional near downtown, LSU and Southern University by next summer.

According to The Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s 2016 City Stats report, which surveys residents on quality of life indicators, 30% of people say they would use a bike share program.

Also at Tuesday’s panel discussion, Stephen Smith, sales director at San Francisco-based RideCell, pitched his company’s integrated system—which partners with cities to synchronize bus routes, ride sharing, car sharing and carpooling—as a way to make transportation more efficient.

RideCell aims to give users the most efficient experience when traveling. For example, a user can make a request through an app and the system will match them with the closest driver. It also uses Google maps and traffic data to make the route efficient and provide real-time notifications.

Other transportation trends such as electric vehicles, carpooling startups and autonomous vehicles are beginning to be embraced by small and midsized cities throughout the country, the panelists said. General Motors recently invested in ridesharing, and BMW began a car sharing service.

Randall says Baton Rouge has the opportunity to follow suit, partnering with private companies and nonprofits and launching more programs to get cars off the road and attract millennial professionals.

The 2016 Louisiana Smart Growth Summit wraps up today with more panel discussions and keynote addresses from Gov. John Bel Edwards and Harriet Tregoning, the U.S. Department and Urban Development’s principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development. Tuesday’s events included a panel of three experts who discussed flood risk reduction.

—Sam Karlin

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