Wheels of Progress
Written by Dominique Minor
Monday, 02 June 2008 09:43
On Tuesday, May 20, 2008, New Orleans welcomed its first on-street bicycle lane. The 5-foot wide, 3-mile lane stretches east and westbound along St. Claude Avenue, beginning at the intersection of Elysian Fields Avenue, connecting the Faubourg Marigny, Bywater, and Lower Ninth Ward neighborhoods to the St. Bernard Parish line.
After more than three years of planning, and delays brought on by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the St. Claude bike lane finally has become a reality. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, held outside the old Universal Furniture building, city officials said the construction of the lane was part of a $3.7 million road resurfacing project developed by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
City officials hope that with the opening of the St. Claude bike lane, along with others in the future, will promote more low-cost, healthy, and ecologically friendly transportation in New Orleans.
“If ever there was a time to get serious about creating more bike-friendly neighborhoods, this is it,” said Robert Mendoza, Director of Public Works for the City of New Orleans.
However, for some, the St. Claude bike lane has been a long time coming.
“I just feel it's long overdue,” said Paul Lynch, a Bywater resident, “I'm amazed that I live in a town that's celebrating --It's 2008, and this is the first bike lane? It's embarrassing!”
Though New Orleans' flat terrain is ideal location for on-street bicycle riding, it's not necessarily a bicyclist-supportive environment. Bicyclists often weave among cars in the French Quarter and Bywater areas where the traffic flow can be heavy, and is oftentimes dangerous. The placement of bike lanes will not only increase rider awareness, but also to reduce the number of bicycle-related crashes in the city.
“[In] our neighborhood, for a lot of people, their primary transportation is bicycles,” said Chris Costello, president of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association. “It's been an issue with the neighborhood for a long time. Because there was no proper bike lane, there was always a little tension...it cause a lot of tension and strife. It's very stressful to have a bike on the street and cars are bearing down on you.”
According to a statement released by the Greater New Orleans Pedestrian & Bicycle Program, every day, an average of 3.6 crashes are reported involving a bicyclist or pedestrian in New Orleans metro area.
“I think it's incredibly important that we have alternate sources of transportation. It's definitely a sign of hope.” Costello added.
“I've gotten hit by cars [while riding my bike] a few times," said Tatum, a Domino's Pizza employee who did not want his last name used.
"Last month, I was riding on Bourbon Street, [making a delivery] on my bike, and a car just stopped and waited until I started to cross the street to come hit me."
Tatum says he was knocked off his bike by the driver, but was not seriously injured.
"That's why I say he did it on purpose. He hit me, and I fell off the bike," he said, “I stopped riding my bike, and just started walking all the deliveries [after the accident]. I don't want to get hit by a car again.”
“They need a bike lane on Canal [Street]!” he added.
Future plans for the St. Claude bike lane include an extension along Elysian Fields Avenue, up to the Mississippi River. At the ribbon cutting ceremony it was revealed that city hopes to build up to 50 additional miles of interconnected bicycle lanes throughout the metro area.
“This [bike lane] is a pretty significant down payment on a comprehensive system.” said Jennifer Ruley, an Urban Planning Specialist with Steps to a Healthier New Orleans.
We sure hope so.
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