Wednesday, January 21

Car Crazy in New Orleans

I'm really not sure how to characterize cycling in New Orleans. Unlike newer southern cities, there's a lot of it going on. It has its fair share of brain-damaged, door zone bike lanes, one of which makes a star appearance in one of this post's videos. The standard of how people ride is generally no better than elsewhere, with wrong-way sidewalk riding abounding, even when bad bike lanes adjoin the sidewalk.

Today, however, I'm going to talk about a small subset of cycling and car culture in New Orleans, namely the French Quarter. The French Quarter was the original part of New Orleans and was mostly built up in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the Americans came around, it expanded greatly, with places like the Garden District.

Sharrows seem to be the fashion statement as you enter the French Quarter. Note that there is car parking on both sides of the street.

One thing that really struck me was the way bicycles were attached to just about anything that made sense, and that cars were parked everywhere. I do not recall, however, a single purpose-built bike rack. What's more, almost all of the car parking was paid parking, even on the street. There were some private lots, and parking there was about $10 for two hours. Doing a little math, with on-street parking costing $1.50 per hour and five or six bikes (average) in a car parking spot, the city would have to charge about a quarter an hour to break even. Can anyone say "bike share?"

There did appear to sort of be a designated bike route of some sort, though I saw no evidence that any of the local cyclists paid any mind to it. Given a sign on the same street, I don't imagine cyclist safety was a high priority in route selection.

Crescent Corridor Sign

In the area around Jackson Square, bicycles were not so welcome. In the Square itself, I'm not sure a person walking a bike would be allowed. Even dogs are forbidden and you might be tasered for feeding a bird.

Despite all this, the French Quarter shows why people ride their bikes everywhere in places like the Netherlands, and why I entitled this post "car crazy in New Orleans." As you may see from the photo below, the purple zone is the French Quarter and there are cars parked all the way along almost every street. What's more, as the videos show, there are cars parked in the traffic lanes of many of the streets.

Four Blocks Stroll from a Parking Garage to the middle of the French Quarter
Now, for notes on the videos. In the first one, shot on Decatur Street on the side with a bike lane, you see a pair of people using the bike lane. While I'm not sure the bike lane does any more than make people feel better about passing on the right, it IS the fastest route along the street. Later in the video, you'll see a guy come the wrong way down the bike lane. Right before he appears, the traffic signals turn red so he's actually riding through a red light on the wrong side of the road. Still, he doesn't appear to be in overly much danger. The first video is 27 seconds long. The light turns red about ten seconds in and the "Gulf Salmon" shows up about 5 seconds later.

In the second video, you can see how the lack of a bike lane distorts things. That skateboarder would have not been allowed had a bike lane been present, and the SUV would not have tried to make a U turn either. BTW, as I recall, someone making a U turn is supposed to yield to all other road users. The second video is 29 seconds long. Originally, the skateboarder was one clip and the SUV was another until I merged them together. You can tell from the music that they were shot one after another.

IMO, this location almost CRIES to be a "nearly motor vehicle free" zone. Sure, delivery trucks need windows to deliver. There are people who have garages on private property who should be accommodated, and parking garages would have to be erected to get all those cars OFF the French Quarter street, but we need to give all those high-falutin' urban planners SOME sort of challenge. Heck, maybe they could put in some streetcars with all those parked cars gone and a bike lane would take on a WHOLE new meaning. How, one might ask, do you protect cyclists from pedestrians? I guess that's one reason they mostly ride slow in Dutch cities...

Looking East along Decatur Street

Looking West along Decatur Street


John Romeo Alpha said...

I'll start off by saying that I enjoy walking, and I know not all other Americans share that. But when visiting the French Quarter, like you, I was struck by the thought that it would be improved greatly by excluding motor vehicles. It's very walkable. Throw in some pedicabs to aid those who are opposed to walking more than a few blocks.

Steve A said...

There are already a "critical mass" of pedicabs. Certainly, there'd be many more if motor vehicles were absent. I guess the urban planners could include or exclude the tour busses over time...

Chandra said...

I have to go to NOLA and see this for myself.
Gotta make the time, that's all.
Peace :)

Justine Valinotti said...

The first video reminded me of riding along Central Park South in NYC, minus the horse-drawn carriages. I'll try to make a video of it and post it on my blog.

Interestingly, I almost never see a cyclist riding the wrong way in a bike lane. On the other hand, I've seen skateboarders. I've also had to maneuver around double-parked cars and pedestrians. The lane along 8th Avenue from the Port Authority Bus Terminal/Times Square to about 50th Street is sometimes all but unusable for cyclists, as it's taken over by pedestrians because there isn't enough room for them on the sidewalks.

Anyway, I really want to get down to NOLA and ride.

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