In a push to improve bike safety in New Orleans, members of Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration are working on a citywide bicycle master plan, set for release this summer, to serve as a guide for adding dedicated bike lanes and other infrastructure to city streets.
The plan could include potential locations for investments as mundane as extra bike racks or as sweeping as bicycle boulevards — which use signs, pavement markings and reduced speeds to give bicyclists priority on streets — in specific city areas, said Jennifer Ruley, senior project manager for the Department of Public Works.
Protected bike lanes — essentially sidewalks for bikes — would likely be another key component, she said, as the city aims to learn from the addition in recent years of bike-friendly infrastructure in San Francisco, New York and other cities.
“We also have the benefit of being just far enough back in the pack so that we can see what has worked and what hasn’t … and inform others who come behind us,” Ruley said.
The Cantrell administration is holding a series of public meetings over the next week to gather community opinions on what types of infrastructure might be wanted. Officials expect to start on the first recommendations of that plan by 2020, using city and federal funding.
The move follows the deadly Esplanade Avenue crash during Carnival that killed two bicyclists and sparked renewed calls for the city to help protect its growing number of bike riders. The master plan is aimed at increasing cyclists’ safety and creating a culture where all travelers are safe on city streets and sidewalks, rather than the “driver-first” culture bike advocates say exists in the city, top Cantrell aides said in an interview Tuesday.
Officials said their bike plan will also align with a broader transportation strategy the administration expects to release in the coming weeks.
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“We are looking at our roads as a network,” said Laura Bryan, director of Cantrell’s Office of Transportation. The mayor is “very focused on making our streets safer for all of our folks to get around, regardless of what mode they use — bike, bus, car” or their feet, she said.
The latest effort comes eight years after the City Council passed a “complete streets” ordinance with the same aim: to encourage more cycling and other forms of transportation on city roads.
But while that law was heralded at the time by city officials and public health advocates, cyclists have in recent years criticized officials for failing to use data to drive decisions on where to stripe bike lanes or to include those lanes in all city areas.
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The bike plan and broader transportation strategy attempts to address those concerns, officials have said, by using public input and data on where crashes occur, for example, to guide investments.
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A separate redesign of the city’s public transit system is also underway, Bryan said. A meeting about that revamp was scheduled for later Tuesday; it is expected to be finished within the next year.
At least some funding for the bike master plan, roughly $2.6 million, was provided by People for Bikes, a Colorado-based coalition of bicycling suppliers and retailers. The city matched that amount with money it has allocated for infrastructure projects and expects to provide even more funding as the plan is implemented, said David Lee Simmons, a Cantrell spokesman.
Protected lanes are high on the list of bike advocate demands. A recent pilot program to create a protected bike lane along a strip of Baronne Street in the Central Business District was met with criticism from some merchants along the route, who said its placement made parking and deliveries more difficult and hurt business.
But advocates questioned those claims and continue to push for the changes. Officials are designing those types of lanes in at least eight corridors around the city, while one — on Broad Street from Thalia Street to Tulane Avenue — is already under construction.
“We are not waiting,” Ruley said.
The design of the lanes also must jibe with work being done under a $2 billion FEMA settlement to repair city streets and pipes, a goal that the city’s Department of Public Works and the Sewerage & Water Board have prioritized, said Ramsey Green, Cantrell’s deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure.
“We are not slowing projects down, but we are looking at our projects that have yet to enter design and ensuring that bike infrastructure is included in those designs,” he said.
Robert Henig Bell, a campaign manager with the transit advocacy group Bike Easy, said his group was “thrilled” the city is prioritizing the type of bike lanes that could have protected the cyclists on Esplanade Avenue last month.
“The fact that it is protected ensures that extra level of comfort, and hopefully, we can see increased ridership across New Orleans,” he said.
Residents are invited to voice their opinions on the proposals at seven meetings in the coming days. The first meeting was Monday at KIPP — Booker T. Washington at 2514 Third Street in Central City; the last will be held on April 18 at the East New Orleans Regional Library at 5641 Read Boulevard in New Orleans East.
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The city’s bike-share program, Blue Bikes, will be relying on concerns voiced at those meetings and those voiced in an online survey to guide the placement of its newest bike racks and bicycles, a spokeswoman for that organization said.
The program, which has 700 bikes in 70 locations, intends to expand to 900 bikes in 90 locations within the next year.