New Orleans, No Stranger to CicLAvia
Along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Lakeshore Drive becomes a one-way street every weekend and holiday. One half of the street is opened up to pedestrians, cyclists, and anyone else not using a motorized vehicle. While growing up in Lake Vista, I never questioned the weekly road closure on the Lakefront. I simply viewed this as another place where I could skateboard. I remember the excitement my friends and I shared when they laid fresh asphalt. It never seemed odd that the roads could be a place to play. After all, New Orleans is known for street parties. Can traffic impacts be a reason to cancel Mardi Gras? Can convenience and mobility trump tradition and culture? Think of Halloween on Frenchmen, New Years on Orleans Ave, and all the countless smaller street parties which define life in New Orleans.
This Thanksgiving, Colleen and I (Stephen) spent the holiday with my family in New Orleans. One balmy afternoon, after a jazzy brunch uptown, we borrowed the parents’ cruisers and headed out to investigate the bicycle facility improvements that we had seen popping up around the neighborhood. It is impressive to see New Orleans constructing bike-ways while re-building efforts continue. Paralleling Wisner Blvd and along the banks of Bayou St. John, the city has installed a shared use path, fully equipped with skip-stripe, bollards, and signage. Through City Park, on Harrison Ave, they’ve widened the road to add bike lanes with 2 foot gaps between the outside edge of motorway and bike lane. As you approach the bridges, which were not widened, the bike lanes taper and signs and pavement markings, called sharrows, are used to communicate to motorists and cyclists to share the road.
We made our way through Lakeview, where flood waters had reached eleven feet. We were riding north along General Haig, from Harrison to Robert E. Lee. There were as many empty lots as there were lived in homes, either rebuilt or newly constructed. Some homes have not been demolished or repaired. Those that were recently constructed stand several feet taller than their predecessors. In order to purchase flood insurance, structures must stand above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE). The amount that this neighborhood has changed since before it flooded is still hard for me to grasp. Yet, when I compare what I see now to the status of construction that I saw in 2007, I see an immense amount of progress.
After leaving the quiet residential street, Colleen and I found ourselves riding on a busy collector, Robert E. Lee Blvd. It was an excellent surprise to see sharrows marking our way, leading us to Marconi Blvd, another road painted with sharrows! At the end of this street, we finally reach the Lakefront Ciclovia. Here, we safely took the road. We were free to ride slowly, talking and looking out across the vast lake. We pedalled without the extreme caution which usually consumes our attention as we negotiate traffic filled streets. There were people fishing along the sea wall. One man pulled a large flopping black drum out of the water right in front of us. There were people jogging and several others biking.
Even though I grew up biking and skating down the middle of Lakeshore Drive on the weekends, I was excited that day as if it was something new. Planning CicLAvia and advocating for bicycle facility improvements with the LACBC helps me understand what it takes to accomplish this in any city. My thanks goes out to all of the people working to make New Orleans better for the rest of us.