The City of New Orleans, known the world over for its rich and colorful culture is swiftly adding another cultural phenomenon to our list of well-known customs. With hundreds of miles of biking lane infrastructure implemented on our streets, the Blue Bikes Bike Sharing Program, plus miles and miles of pedestrian lanes with more to come, it’s safe to say that our mindset has shifted towards biking and walking, as we embrace the idea of a more modern, greener and moveable metropolis. But is everyone willing to share the roads? What measures are in place to secure the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians who are vying for condensed space on the streets? In her recently released “Moving New Orleans” Transportation Plan, Mayor LaToya Cantrell unveils her strategy to achieve equitable and sustainable transportation for all citizens, placing emphasis primarily on safety guidelines for both parties. In addition to safety, Mayor Cantrell is underscoring efficiency, equity and connectivity as the other themes in the plan.
Emerging Biking Culture
Steadfastly over the course of the past several years, bikes have hit the streets in masses and are becoming regarded as more than an option for leisurely activity, but more a means of affordable, health conscience transportation in and around the city as well as to-and-from work and other pertinent destinations. And as in all things currently New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina has had an effect on the trend. Since 2005, the number of citizens biking to work has grown exponentially. According to a Curbed New Orleans article, The League of American Bicyclists evaluated data from the 2016 American Community Survey and ranked New Orleans 17th in the nation in terms of bicycling commuters. It further stated that New Orleans had the second largest cycling population behind Gainesville, Florida with its biking ridership increasing by 42 percent since 2011. This vast change has brought about more than hundreds of cyclists on the roads, but it has inevitably caused dissension between motorists and bikers who see each other as polar opposites, virtually battling for hierarchy on the city’s streets. As a precursor to unveiling her 5-year plan, Mayor Cantrell recently hosted a series of public meetings to address citizens’ needs and concerns regarding the impending addition of more bike and pedestrian lanes. Citizens were able to voice their opinions on issues surrounding the safety and logistics on the road. Mayor Cantrell released a statement concerning the safety of motorists and cyclists, stating, “We are focused on improving roadway conditions for all users, and we are committed to reducing injuries and fatalities on the roadway through better design,” she said, adding that the goal of the plan is “transportation sustainability.”
Reducing Traffic Injuries & Fatalities
According to “Moving New Orleans,” death and injury on our city streets can be dramatically reduced or minimized by creating better public spaces. Public safety is a top priority for the Cantrell Administration and the Office of Transportation. With this action agenda, New Orleans officially embraces a new commitment to dramatically increase the safety of the City’s streets.
Between 2013 and 2017, an average of 50 New Orleanians each year were killed in traffic on city streets, and close to 30 percent were killed while walking. Total fatalities and pedestrian deaths have been declining since 2017, but a deeper study and understanding of the causes of traffic crashes will provide necessary insight to improve conditions and prevent future occurrences.
Fortunately, there are policies to build on. In 2011, the City passed its first Complete Streets Ordinance establishing guidelines for better designed roadway infrastructure and use of the public right of way. Mayor Cantrell’s Transition Plan for the administration took a close look at transportation and set an urgency to implement this policy and others. Together, these establish priorities and an action agenda that includes new standards for street design guidelines that ensure accessibility for all ages, abilities and travel modes, the creation of an integrated and comprehensive network for walking, biking and transit that connects people to employment, recreation, education, community centers and more.
Transportation Sustainability and The Future of New Orleans
Providing greater access to transit in every neighborhood will be critical as more households are shifting towards one car, and people are choosing transit over other transportation options. Challenges still remain – only 33 percent of the region’s jobs are accessible within one hour by transit and only 11 percent in 30 minutes or less. The city will move to shift this metric so that at least 50 percent of our region’s jobs are accessible by transit within an hour’s commute time. According to the “Moving New Orleans” Plan, we are outpacing the country in transit ridership. In 2017 New Orleans was one of only four high-ridership cities with an increase in transit ridership. This brings about the need to establish direct transit linkages between neighborhoods and job centers — in Orleans Parish, and regionally to Jefferson. This means more service and/or express-type of service for people to get to jobs more easily. Also, there are plans to conduct a planning overhaul of the transit system regionally to improve streetcar, bus and ferry services so they serve more people where they need it and explore a direct transit link to the airport and a regional passenger rail service from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. About Connectivity: New Orleans and the surrounding region have pieces of a truly multimodal transportation system including public transit and paratransit services, an extensive roadway network, bikeways, sidewalks, transit, bike-share and ferry facilities. However, there is low connectivity among modes. There will be heavy focus on creating viable connectivity among these modes over the next five years. The City will also, over the next five years work with the RTA to create a limited-stop or express service to the airport, develop a working group to study options for a more frequent and direct link to the airport that may include rail or Bus Rapid Transit, establish a team to define a path forward and secure federal funding for the direct link and explore viable options for bicycle connectivity as part of a Regional Bike System.
In Part II of this story, we will provide a more in-depth oversight of the Mayor’s Plan in her own words and we will explore the success of New Orleans’ first Bike Sharing Program, Blue Bikes.
Until then, stay safe on the roads!