New Orleans' first bike lane opens

May 20, 2008 1:27:19 PM PDT
New Orleans' first bicycle lane opened Tuesday, taking riders through neighborhoods scarred by poverty and Hurricane Katrina but also representing the kind of progressive thinking planners hope will bring people back to hard-hit areas. The 3-mile white-striped path winds along St. Claude Avenue, through the Lower 9th Ward and to the St. Bernard Parish line, past areas slowly recovering from the August 2005 storm.

"It's one of the most tangible signs of recovery: a means of sustainability, a means of livability, a means of connectivity between neighborhoods," said Karen Parsons, senior transportation planner for the Regional Planning Commission.

The lane added $93,000 to the cost of a resurfacing project and was paid with state and federal funds. Parsons hopes to see 50 miles of dedicated or shared bike lanes in the city within the next five years.

Talk about bike lanes began before Katrina. But the hurricane and subsequent demand by citizens that alternatives be included in neighborhood redevelopment plans gave the concept a boost.

If ever there was a time to get serious about creating more bike-friendly neighborhoods, this is it, with a spate of road projects in the works and fuel prices at record highs, cycling advocates and planning officials said.

"People are looking for options for leaving their car at home," said John Renne, assistant professor of urban planning and transportation at the University of New Orleans and a leader of a bicycling advocacy group.

The St. Claude lane "is a very good first step," he said. "Biking in New Orleans is so dangerous (now), because there's nowhere to ride bikes."

Cyclists commonly wind between cars and carriages in the French Quarter, where traffic moves slowly on narrow streets. Elsewhere, parked cars and warped streets provide obstacles, forcing cyclists to share space with motorists notorious for speeding and running through stop signs.

Renne said cities such as Boulder, Colo.; Davis, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; and Minneapolis have "embraced" bicycle infrastructure and reaped the benefits of it.

Mike O'Neill, of gogreennola.org, said he'd like New Orleans to one day be likened to a progressive, outdoors-loving Western city and be known as the "Portland of the South."


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