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Bicycling in New Orleans: Its current state and promising future

Everything you need to know about cycling in the Crescent City

New Orleans has the second largest Bicycling population in the South.
Photo via Shutterstock/Dawn L. Adams

While New Orleans steadily climbs the charts for being bike friendly, it hasn’t always been that way. Just a decade ago, New Orleans had less than 11 miles of bike lanes.

The city now has over 100 miles of bike lanes, several shared pathways, and in the coming months, New Orleans will make way for its privately-sponsored bike share program.

In an effort to bolster the city’s ever-burgeoning cycling culture, PeopleForBikes recently chose New Orleans as one of 10 cities to participate in its Big Jump initiative, which provides expertise in planning future bicycle networks.

In honor of Curbed’s first-ever Transportation Week, we want to know: How did this boon in cycling in New Orleans begin? And where is it heading?

What jump-started New Orleans’s blossoming bicycle culture?

“Bicycling really has deep roots in New Orleans,” says Dan Favre, executive director of Bike Easy. He goes on, “People have been using bikes for transportation for generations,” noting the city’s bike network has “blossomed” over the last 10 years.

In a 2014 American Community Survey, over 4 percent of commuters in New Orleans used a bike to travel to work, which is above average compared to many other cities. The League of American Bicyclists evaluated data from the 2016 American Community Survey and ranked New Orleans 17th in terms of bicycling commuters with 3.3 percent—or about 5,900 cyclists— of its population biking to work each day.

Compared to other southern cities, New Orleans has the second largest cycling population, 0.6 percent behind Gainesville, Florida, which leads with 3.9 percent of its population biking. Since 2011, New Orleans bicycling ridership has increased 42 percent, the League reports.

While research supports that development in bicycle infrastructure attracts more cyclists, New Orleans’s general disposition may have also aided its cycling boom.

“There’s a strong social and cultural component around to encourage people to bike in New Orleans,” says Kyle Wagenschutz, Director of Local Innovation for PeopleForBikes. “New Orleans has bucked that trend and has developed heavy levels of ridership without the infrastructure to support it.”

Wagenschutz notes that the addition of the Lafitte Greenway, bike paths along the river, shared public spaces, and a mix of low-traffic streets has also increased the desire for biking in the city.

“Since 2005, New Orleans has quadrupled that number of people that are biking to work every day,” Wagenschutz says. On average in the United States, bicyclists account for about 0.6 percent of commuters.

The League of American Bicyclists recognized New Orleans’s growing political and local support for more cycle-friendly streets in the fall of 2014. It gave New Orleans a silver badge, praising the city’s dedication to public outreach and bicycle-related ordinances.

“People having access to work and [bicycling] infrastructure increases the demand of cycling,” says Marin Tockman, owner of Dashing Bicycle and member of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Committee. “It’s not the infrastructure, it’s the people who see how bike-friendly and economical it can be. That’s a game changer for the city.”

Where cycling shines in the Crescent City

While New Orleans continues to mature as a bicycle-friendly city, it scored a Bike Score of 60, meaning it’s somewhat bikeable.

“I don’t really have one neighborhood where I can say ‘that’s the example,’” Tockman says when asked which neighborhood caters to cycling the best. “We need better investments on local street interconnections.”

Tockman notes that lower impact roads—roads with minimal traffic and residential speed limits—create a safer environment for both cyclists and motorists.

“When you think of riding, you think of major thoroughfares: Esplanade Avenue, St Charles Avenue, and Jeff Davis Parkway. But there are a lot of local and smaller roads that would have less impact for walking, biking, and taking transit,” she adds.

In particular, Tockman enjoys cycling certain sections of Prytania and Banks streets, two low-impact roadways.

In September of 2016, Bike Easy created a map that highlights current bike pathways and alternative streets for cycling.

“That’s something that neighborhood and community groups strive for: low impact commuting lanes,” Tockman says. “It allows you to enjoy your community without rivaling all of the motorist on the road.”

Department of Public Work mapped planned bike lanes for the city in purple and current bike pathways in green. Visit the City of New Orleans’s official website for a larger version of this map.
City of New Orleans Department of Public Works

Cycle safety in New Orleans

Despite a growing bicycle culture in New Orleans, there are concerns over safety. In April of 2014, Vox.com reported that New Orleans had one of the highest bicycle fatality rates at 5.54 deaths per 1 million people. Nationally, there are 2.35 people involved in bicycle-related fatalities per 1 million people.

City leaders and bike advocates know the streets need to be safer. In 2015, New Orleans City Council created the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Committee, which focuses on safety improvement for pedestrians and cyclists.

Across the board, there is one crucial thing that bicycle advocates and leaders agree on that has the biggest impact on rider safety: infrastructure.

In an effort to promote cycling safety, the New Orleans City Council approved new ordinances that increase protections this past April. The new laws further penalize motorists who put cyclists at risk by obstructing pathways and safety distances. The laws also modify recognized hand signals for left- and right-hand turns.

“Where you have good bike infrastructure, people follow the rules more. The more you build the system to accommodate people’s biking, the more people practice good biking,” Favre adds.

The Blue Bike Share Program

New Orleans’s bike share program, named Blue Bikes, will be one of the largest cycling developments coming to the city this fall. This bike share, sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and operated by Social Bicycles, will have 70 stations and over 700 bicycles strategically placed around the city.

The City of New Orleans released the official pricing scale of the upcoming bike share program this past February. Casual users can rent a Blue Bike at $8/hour. Monthly passes will be offered for $15/month, which grants users up to a 1-hour ride per day, and $8/hour thereafter. Low-income passes will be offered at $20/year, which allows up to 1-hour of riding per day and $8/hour for every additional hour. Social Bicycles announced it would prorate all pay-as-you-go riding hours.

“Bikes are in the manufacturing process right now and deliveries start November 1,” says Jeff Hebert, Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer for the City of New Orleans.

The Blue Bikes will roll out in phases, first hitting the Central Business District, Warehouse District, and Central City. Other confirmed sites include the Lafitte Greenway, Lower Garden District, French Quarter, Bywater, Marigny, and Esplanade Ridge.

Hebert expects all 700 Blue Bikes to be on the ground by the spring of 2018. Expectations are high. In March of 2017, the City of New Orleans held a bike share demo. During the first week, 128 New Orleanians took 235 trips across the city, totaling over 500 miles. On average, each cyclist rode about two miles.

“People are really going to utilize the [Blue Bike]. It gave us more confidence that the program will work,” Hebert says.

The Deputy Mayor notes that unlike several other cities, New Orleans has a completely private bike share.

“Being a bike-friendly system plus the brand of New Orleans, the geography of the city, and how that makes biking easier than a lot of places because of our flat terrain, made it possible to get a privately funded program,” Hebert says.

Upcoming cycling developments

Moving forward, New Orleans will continue to make strides to improve bicycle infrastructure in the city. For starters, it will sustain its partnership with Bike Easy to trial protected bike lanes in New Orleans. Unlike conventional bike lanes, a protected bike lane has a parking lane that buffers motor vehicle traffic from the cycling pathway that’s proven to reduce bike fatalities.

Earlier this year, Bike Easy created a temporary protected bike lane on St Bernard Avenue for nearly two weeks. Hebert says the City of New Orleans and Bike Easy will host three more protected bike lanes trials in 2018.

Other upcoming developments include: