Our recovery from Hurricane Katrina has been slow. But in many ways, we’ve made a better New Orleans in the process.
You can see the progress on one front by traveling down certain streets in the city. If the street’s been restriped in the last few years, you’re likely to see images of bicycles painted on the roadway, indicating special lanes for cyclists.
New Orleans has nearly 100 miles of bikeways now.
The city’s progress in that area was recognized recently by Bicycling magazine, which ranked New Orleans 22nd in its list of the “Top 50 Bike Friendly Cities.” It’s kind of hard to imagine steamy, funky New Orleans being on any list that also includes such hipster-cool western towns as Boulder, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and Portland and Eugene, Oregon.
But commuter cycling is not the sole preserve of spacious cities out West. New York, for example, is No. 1 on Bicycling’s list. A lot of that is thanks to big-cola nemesis Michael Bloomberg, the city’s mayor from 2002 until the end of last year.
According to the magazine, the number of bicycling commuters in New York doubled between 2007 and 2011.
Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., are three big cities that also made the list. Even Houston, the de facto capital of the American fossil-fuel industry, was picked by the magazine as making the most headway in trying to improve the cycling scene, even though it didn’t crack the top 50.
In New Orleans, we’ve seen bike lanes go up in many high-profile spots: Decatur Street through the French Quarter, St. Charles Avenue, Gentilly Boulevard in front of the Fair Grounds race track. Often this has meant reducing the number of lanes that vehicles can use — from three lanes to two in a few cases; from two lanes to one in most.
The latter happened a couple of years ago on Filmore Avenue, which runs all the way from West End Boulevard to Peoples Avenue in the heart of Gentilly. Sometimes the street is narrow, just one lane in both directions. Elsewhere it’s a full boulevard, with two lanes of traffic in each direction.
However, for the stretch of Filmore roughly from Elysian Fields Avenue to Bayou St. John, those two vehicular lanes were reduced to one, and dedicated bike lanes were added in both directions. On nearby Mirabeau Avenue, another major street, two lanes of vehicular traffic were kept in both directions, but dedicated bicycle lanes were added, too.
Since the Gentilly area’s population still hasn’t recovered from the Katrina floods, vehicular traffic on those two streets isn’t very heavy, so it hasn’t been affected by the bike lanes.
It makes sense to encourage methods of transportation that are cleaner and healthier. But as we move further in that direction, the solutions aren’t always easy to find, especially in dense, busy areas.
Last week, the city held a hearing on its plan to add bike lanes on Baronne Street in the Central Business District. Baronne carries up to 9,000 vehicles a day between Canal and Calliope streets, most of that in the afternoon rush hour, according to the Department of Public Works.
While the bike lanes there would be an improvement, they probably would add a slight delay to afternoon rush hour traffic and make it harder to get to some Baronne businesses by car.
The CBD used to be a much more pedestrian-friendly place when people got to work using buses or streetcars instead of private cars. A bike lane there might be a small step toward turning things back in that direction.
Dennis Persica’s email address is email@example.com.