New portion of Downtown Greenway unintentionally merges past versions of East Blvd.

New portion of Downtown Greenway unintentionally merges past versions of East Blvd.
The East Boulevard portion of the Downtown Greenway begins at North Boulevard and continues to South Boulevard. (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The median on East Boulevard has a new life thanks to the expansion of the Downtown Greenway. But before moving forward, let’s take a look back to see what was there before.

The path alternates trees with lights to make it well-lit for pedestrians at night.
The path alternates trees with lights to make it well-lit for pedestrians at night. (Source: WAFB)

To make way for the concrete foundation of the multi-use pedestrian path, the city had to first remove dozens of Crepe Myrtles.

The Crepe Myrtles were first planted in June 1963 as a part of “beautification month.” The trees were not new, but rather transplants from Government Street, which were removed when the now four-lane road was undergoing an expansion.

The entire project was spearheaded by then Mayor John “Jack” Christian. He signed a proclamation in 1962 urging every citizen in the parish to help make the city more beautiful.

To make the effort official, Mayor Christian formed the City Beautification Commission. The goal of the commission was to “preserve the natural beauty of the community and to restore historic sites of the city as well as to enhance the beauty of the area.”

At this time, the city was really growing and expanding. The once well-groomed homes of the downtown area had long been abandoned for the big lawns and newly constructed suburbs.

Up until the 30s, downtown was everything. Much of that had to do with transportation.

Before America fell in love with the automobile prompting suburban sprawl, public transportation was the way of life. In 1913, East Boulevard was fitted with rail lines. The single-track railcars went around in a 1.5 mile loop. The service was discontinued in 1935, but portions of the tracks still remain.

The old rail lines can be seen in the openings along the path. The paint is punctuated to note to pedestrians that cars can cross the pathway.
The old rail lines can be seen in the openings along the path. The paint is punctuated to note to pedestrians that cars can cross the pathway. (Source: WAFB)

The old copper tracks looped around downtown, Mid City and out to North Baton Rouge, where the newly constructed Standard Oil plant was located. That plant is now ExxonMobil.

Over the last few decades, many have dreamed of bringing the railcars back to downtown with those old tracks. Although none have proven successful, the Downtown Greenway does seem to combine both versions of the past use to create something new.

The Downtown Greenway is a return to the commuter life, only now they do so by foot, bike, scooter, or skateboard - maybe even some rollerblades if you’re feeling fancy. And all the greenery of the trees and flowering plants provide a charming beauty.

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