Perhaps there was little New Orleans policymakers could have done to stop Tashonty Toney from grabbing the keys to his black Camaro and driving along Esplanade Avenue on Saturday after allegedly downing too many drinks. 

But had barricades existed around the Esplanade Avenue bicycle lane, bike-safety advocates and others said the nine bicyclists whom police say Toney struck — including David Hynes and Sharree Walls, who died of their injuries — might still be alive.

Advocates also called for expanded public transit service during congested events like Saturday's Endymion parade to encourage residents to avoid driving after celebrations where alcohol is flowing. 

"After Saturday in particular, it's clear how much urgency there is around a protected and connected system of bike lanes to allow people to get where they are going safely," said Dan Favre of Bike Easy, a cycling advocacy group. 

Kelsey Foster, the president of the Algiers Point Association, added that while public transit options have generally improved in recent years, there's still not enough transit capacity available during events like parades. 

"I think for too many people, the default is to get in a car and drive to the parade," she said. "And even if you take alcohol out of the equation, that's not something that's sustainable." 

City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who heads the council's Transportation Committee, echoed the calls for protected bike lanes.

And the director of Mayor LaToya Cantrell's Office of Transportation, Laura Bryan, touted a "planning effort" the city intends to release in the second quarter of this year that will focus on implementing those lanes across the city within a two-year period.  

"These events remind us of our mission to create a transportation infrastructure that is safe, efficient, equitable and connected," Bryan said. 

Police said Toney, who worked at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, was out celebrating his 32nd birthday before he caused the crashes that claimed the lives of 31-year-old Hynes, a lawyer, and 27-year-old Walls, the executive director of Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans, in the 3200 block of Esplanade Avenue after the Endymion parade had earlier passed several blocks away.

That portion of Esplanade has a dedicated lane for bikes, part of more than 100 miles of bike lanes that have been created in the city over the past several years. However, while it is painted and marked on the street, there are no bollards or any other physical barrier to separate bicyclists and cars.

Also injured were Sophie Harris Vorhoff, the executive director of Friends of the Lafitte Greenway, and Nellie Catzen, the group's program director, the organization confirmed Monday.

Catzen was released from a hospital Sunday, while Vorhoff remained in intensive care Monday afternoon, a representative of the group said.

Six people in all were taken to the hospital for treatment. 

Multiple witnesses, including one who said Toney was "blind drunk," said he was headed riverbound on Esplanade when he tried to pass another vehicle on the right. The sports car moved into the cyclists’ lane and accelerated, reaching a speed one witness estimated at 80 mph.

The tragedy unfolded two years after drunk driver Neilson Rizzuto injured 32 spectators when he drove his truck into a crowd of people watching the Krewe of Endymion's parade at Orleans and North Carrollton avenues. No one was killed in that disaster. 

Rizzuto had a blood alcohol content of .232, or nearly three times the legal limit for drivers, on the night of the crash. He was sentenced to five years in prison but was released in July of last year under a state law that makes first-time offenders eligible for release for good behavior when they have served 35 percent of their sentence. 

Both events showcase the need for a stronger public transit system for residents to use as an alternative to cars, particularly during high-activity events, said Foster, the neighborhood association president and cyclist. She also called upon the Regional Transit Authority, which manages the city's public transit system, to do more to improve interparish transit options. 

The RTA increases ferry service to accommodate paradegoers, and shuttle buses are deployed before and after parades along St. Charles Avenue to replace the streetcars that must be taken out of commission along that route. 

The RTA last year extended one bus line into Jefferson Parish near Ochsner Medical Center, and it is exploring the idea of extending another line into St. Bernard Parish. The agency also for the first time last year began providing 24-hour service on two other routes in the Central Business District and Uptown, and is considering adding more frequency to other routes this year, spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo said.  

Bryan said that following a pilot program last year that moved bike lanes on Baronne and other streets between parked cars and the sidewalk for a few months, the city will release a plan for installing those lanes in multiple city neighborhoods later this year.

"Once planned, the administration intends to quickly construct a large portion of that network over a two-year period," she said. 

Victor Pizarro, another bicycling advocate, said that until such a system is installed, dense public events like Endymion will be recipes for disaster.

"When you have that many people moving around and using different modes, if the infrastructure isn’t in place, tragedy will happen," he said.


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.