In 2013, around 8 percent of the nearly quarter million locals who attended Jazz Fest rode their bikes. This year, those who bike to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell can use the new bike lane on Esplanade Avenue. That’s a huge deal to festgoers who want to save time, money and parking frustrations by leaving their cars at home.
Shaped like a crescent roll, the city of New Orleans is also flat like a pancake, and thus perfect for biking. The last several years have seen the rise of the pedicab, while the number of bike rental and purchase options has grown exponentially. Add to that miles and miles of new bike lanes, and biking to Jazz Fest has become feasible from just about anywhere in the city.
“Before Hurricane Katrina, we had about 5 miles of bike paths,” said Col. Mark Jernigan of the Department of Public Works, adding that new bike lanes were simple to add to post-Katrina road repair projects. “Now we have around 90 miles of bike lanes and are trying to break 100 this year.”
A map of the city’s new bike lanes and paths created by cycling advocacy group Bike Easy (http://bikeeasy.org/files/BEY-Bike-Map-062212.pdf), shows the Fair Grounds essentially encircled in new bike routes linking New Orleans’ many neighborhoods to Jazz Fest.
“The new bike lane on Gentilly Boulevard has turned the intersection of Filmore and St. Bernard into a hub of bike lanes for Gentilly,” Jernigan said.
Bike Easy helped to spur the DPW’s many street repair and lane restriping projects. Once known as the Metro Bicycle Coalition, established in 2002, the group helped draft the first regional bike Master Plan, and later rebranded itself as Bike Easy before helping the city draft the “Complete Streets Ordinance” passed by City Council in 2011.
“That ordinance means that the city has to consider all users when updating the roads,” said BikeEasy’s community education manager, Anneka Olson, a former bicycle mechanic. “They must take into account motorists, pedestrians, transit users, people with disabilities and bicyclists.”
Former Boston bike messenger, Sara Estes Cohen, 32, now a New Orleans resident, is a member of Bike Easy as well as the group Nola Women on Bikes. She also checks in with the Facebook page “NOLA Social Ride” for casual weekly events such as “Happy Thursday,” and just to fish for company whenever she takes a long bike ride.
Even Cohen used to drive to Mid-City in her car, park, and then bike the rest of the way up Carrollton to Jazz Fest. For the last couple of years, though, she has pedaled all the way to the Fair Grounds from the Garden District each year. “I take the new bike lanes on Prytania and Magazine to the Warehouse District, then I cut through the Quarter, over to the bike lane on Esplanade.”
There are downsides, however. “The bike lines are amazing. Now it’s just the crime,” said Cohen, referring to two muggings in February and one in April of Esplanade Avenue cyclists. “Plus the cars are still just not used to us,” said Cohen. “Riding from French Quarter Festival this year, drivers were screaming at us for being in their way, even though we were in the bike lanes.”
She added, “The festivals are all becoming significantly overrun with people, and cars parked everywhere, in front of everyone’s driveways to the point where the city needs to start incentivizing people to ride bikes to the festivals. There are local groups working on it, but it needs to happen in a more organized, official manner, not just at the grassroots level.”
Cam Mangham, 52. has pedaled to Jazz Fest for the past nine years from Bywater, where a bike lane was established in 2008 on St. Claude Avenue.
“I have been single for two years, so my best friend of 36 years comes in town for both weekends, and we bike to the Fest,” said Mangham. “We travel in a pack, like eight of us, and inevitably there’s someone who hasn’t ridden a bike since they were a kid. So the new lanes help a lot.”
Mangham’s only complaint: parking bikes at the Fair Grounds.
“The bike corral every year is too small, too tight,” she said, “and everywhere else you look at says ‘Don’t Park Here.’ Though of course there’s just a wall of bikes anyway.”
Every cyclist interviewed complained about bicycle parking, though most of them gave glowing reviews to Jannie Coleman, who for the last three years has watched over Jazz Fest’s bike corral on Sauvage Street for L&R Security. (There is another larger corral on Gentilly Boulevard.)
“I started out as an employee, but I enjoy it so much I would do it for free, because Jazz Fest is a spiritual thing,” Coleman said.
“When bikers come out of that fest it’s like they just came from the mountaintop.”
Coleman is known for handing out lagniappe (mostly pralines, water and hugs) to bikers.
“On the last day we all cry and say goodbye, and I give them a Bernard Praline,” she said. “That’s something I do because we’ve connected.”