|Is Baton Rouge not using its greatest natural highway?|
The boat was school-bus yellow—a double-decker, too—and traffic wasn't even a glimmer of a thought.
When I visited New York City this past summer, I tooled around the lower end of Manhattan in one of the fleet of New York Water Taxis. Despite its name, this service is more attractive to visitors than commuters, offering narrated history and commentary as it speeds passengers among five scheduled stops.
For $26, I could have hopped off and on all day, but instead, I rode the loop, enjoying the bustle of the harbor and the waterways. I entertained myself by noting the number of boats there that cater to passengers. Ferries filled with commuters come from the outer boroughs and New Jersey and connect with public transportation. A commuter taxi-boat trundles along the East River between Wall Street and East 34th Street, tucking across to Brooklyn and Queens, and offering onboard bike racks.
Of course sightseeing and tour boats take visitors out to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and the Circle Line loops around Manhattan.
This bustling water scene offered a unique experience, and it made me sorry that Baton Rouge doesn't offer any passenger service on the Mississippi. No ferries across. No river taxi that might run the length of the city. No alternative to gridlock on I-10.
We did have a ferry before the I-10 bridge opened, and we once had a tour boat. From 1986 to 1995, the riverboat Samuel Clemens docked off River Road at Florida Street.
But many other cities have tour boats and ferries, and some also offer water taxi service. In Washington, D.C., a water taxi along the Potomac serves commuters as well as tourists, and offers special runs—with free parking—to Washington Nationals stadium for baseball games. Baltimore, Charleston, Fort Lauderdale, Milwaukee and Seattle offer versions of the water taxi, too.
It sounds so civilized and so obvious for water taxis to be part and parcel of a river city's public transit system. As I rode around Manhattan, I fantasized about how Baton Rouge might reintroduce boats on our Mississippi. A water taxi service could link downtown Baton Rouge with Port Allen, Southern, LSU, even the new L'Auberge casino. It could ferry masses of Tiger fans from various points in and out of campus on game days, clearing out traffic-clogged arteries.
“Water taxis could be a great way to capitalize on our status as a river city,” says Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, president and CEO of the Center for Planning Excellence. “It could be a draw for tourism as it has been in other places.” She suggests that a strategically planned water taxi might also bring long-term economic benefits to the city.
Davis Rhorer, Executive Director of the Downtown Development District, is open to the idea. “Water taxis could open up a whole new dimension in transportation to major points of interest and employment/education areas, further tying our community together. It would offer a water experience that is unknown to the Baton Rouge community today—a whole new perspective of our city.”
A whole new perspective on this river town that, for the moment, doesn't give its citizens an opportunity to appreciate the river.
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