New Orleans officials plan to announce a major program to improve the city’s bicycle lane network next month that will include efforts to protect cyclists in the most high-risk areas of the city.
While the planning has been underway for some time, cyclists and City Council members have been calling for new safety efforts after a deadly crash earlier this month on Esplanade Avenue.
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The strategy will be announced in April, and plans for a citywide bike path network will be finalized later this year, Jennifer Ruley, a project manager with the Department of Public Works, told the council’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
All of the construction prompted by those plans is expected to wrap up by the end of 2020, Ruley said.
“We’re going to see rapid development and community engagement on these issues in a short and concise format,” she said. “We’ve never done anything like this.”
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The proposal is expected to focus on major roadways that carry the most traffic. These so-called “high stress” streets make up about 33 percent of the city's entire road network but account for 60 percent of the crashes, Ruley said.
“We want to zero in on the roadways that are causing the most severe consequences, and usually these end up being the higher-volume, higher-speed roadways,” she said.
The plan will come on top of other efforts the city is already engaged in. Nine protected bike lanes are in some stage of design or construction. Protected bike lanes have physical barriers — either bollards or parking lanes that are often filled with cars — to prevent motorists from entering into the lanes and endangering cyclists.
Such concerns came to the forefront when a driver crashed into a group of bikers on Esplanade Avenue the night of March 2, killing two people and injuring seven others. Tashonty Toney, the man accused of driving the car, is being held in jail on counts of vehicular homicide, vehicular negligent injuring, hit-and-run driving and reckless operation of a vehicle.
Also Tuesday, the cycling advocacy organization Bike Easy briefed council members on the results of a pilot program last year that installed temporary protected bike lanes on several major streets. The effort included repainting lane indicators and moving parking spaces to put cars between cyclists and traffic.
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Bike ridership increased between 20 percent and 84 percent during the test run, depending on the location, according to the report. The highest increase was in an area that had no bike lane at all until the pilot program.
About 85 percent of bicyclists surveyed said their experience improved because of the protected bike lanes, 76 percent of drivers said they approved of the changes, and 57 percent of affected business owners who were questioned said they were neutral about the changes, according to the report.
“Good infrastructure benefits everybody, and good infrastructure is intuitive so drivers don’t have to wonder where they should be driving,” said Gabrielle Alicino, a cyclist who was riding with the victims of this month's crash. “If this is done correctly, it’ll be intuitive.”
But bike lanes, on their own, are not enough if the city doesn’t make efforts to ensure cars aren’t driving in them and trucks aren’t using them as loading zones, advocates said.
“I was on Baronne Street this week and could not ride my bike for more than 30 feet without a car driving into the bike lane,” said Dean Gray, with Stolen Bikes NOLA.
Gray said Downtown Development District rangers threatened to have him arrested when he stopped his bike in front of a car in one of the bike lanes. When he complained to police about motorists using the lanes, he said, he was told there was nothing they could do.
Public Works Department officials said they plan to beef up their tow truck fleet to be better able to respond to complaints, including blocked bike lanes. Council members welcomed that news and also called for better enforcement to deter motorists from driving in bike lanes.
“I think that the administration has to clamp down and make it better for the pedestrians and the cyclists and the everyday motorists because (cars driving or stopping in bike lanes) happens too often and it goes without consequence, whether it's St. Bernard Avenue, Baronne Street or Canal Street,” Councilman Jared Brossett said.