With its flat terrain and beautiful sights, New Orleans has a strong culture of biking, supported by ongoing street repairs, the city’s new bike-share program, new roadway ordinances, and increased awareness of bicyclists on the road.
New Orleans has renewed its commitment to bike riding since Hurricane Katrina, through measures such as rebuilding roads, opening new green spaces with bike trails, overhauling the existing ones, and introducing a bike-share program. The effect has been to promote a respectful relationship between all those who share the road — motorists, bikers, and pedestrians alike. This isn’t to say there’s no room for improvement, but the city has come a long way since 2005.
New Orleans Is a Biking City
With its many bike clubs and social rides, expanded bike lanes, and strong advocacy for riding safety, New Orleans has become one of the best cities for biking in the country. The city has ranked 18th in the nation for highest percentage of people who bike to work each day, and #19 on the Bicycling.com list of “The 50 Best Bike Cities of 2016.”
Although not every part of the city is bike-friendly, many neighborhoods, such as Uptown, the Bywater, and the Marigny have infrastructure that supports road-sharing. It’s not just millennials who commute to work by bike, and getting to and around parades and festivals is just easier by bike than by car or public transit.
The 2017 Ordinances
The City Council approved three ordinances in April 2017 establishing the rules of the road for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists in New Orleans. Here are the highlights that apply to bicyclists specifically:
- Motorists are not allowed to use bicycle lanes except to prepare for a turn within 200 feet from an intersection; to enter or leave a street onto an alley, private road, or driveway; or to enter or leave a parking space when parking is allowed next to a bike lane.
- Cars must yield the right of way to bicycles using bike lanes (except during certain emergencies, and under the exceptions above).
- A vehicle must stay at least three feet away from the bike when passing.
- The driver of a vehicle can pass another vehicle to the right only when the vehicle overtaken is making a left turn and when the street is wide enough for two vehicles.
- Motorists must use “due precaution” when opening car doors so that it doesn’t interfere with traffic and/or endanger anyone.
- Drivers and bicyclists are encouraged to use hand signals, and drivers are required to use them when they’re turning if their signal lights aren’t working.
- No more than two bicyclists are allowed to ride side by side except on roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
- Bikers must use (or wear) front and rear lamps and reflectors, and the bikes must have brakes and bells.
- Finally, it’s illegal to harass bicyclists, either verbally or physically.
Lafitte Greenway and the Ride-Share Program
Although it seems we’ll always have potholes, the city of New Orleans does make an effort to make biking an integral part of the infrastructure. One of the most significant developments came online in 2015, when New Orleans opened the $9.1 million Lafitte Greenway, a 2.6-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail connecting the French Quarter with City Park in Mid-City. More development is in store as the city plans to keep expanding and beautifying this public space using funding from the National Recreation and Park Association.
The city also launched its first bike-share program in December 2017. The city’s network of 700 bikes and 70 locations allows riders to pick up a bicycle at one spot in the city and drop it off at another. A promising addition to the public transit, “Blue Bikes” is a joint effort between the city, Social Bicycles Inc., and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana. The network will include a total of 90 stations and 900 bicycles within four years.
The program allows each biker to ride for up to an hour each day for $15 a month ($1.67 a month, or $20 a year, for low-income residents). After the initial hour, an hourly rate of $8 will apply. All bikes are linked to a GPS tracking system to prevent theft and provide maintenance.
Social Riding and Advocacy
You can join a weekly night ride with a slew of local organizations that ride for fun and promote bike safety and the health benefits of biking. Get Up and Ride NOLA, which promotes the use of LED lights, has a social ride every Tuesday. The New Orleans Bicycle Club holds bike races, and NOLA Women on Bikes holds monthly rides for female bikers of all skill levels. Then there’s the annual Naked Bike Ride in the summer.
The Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Committee of the New Orleans City Council and the education and advocacy nonprofit Bike Easy have both been instrumental in promoting and building a balanced, bike-friendly infrastructure and increasing awareness of bike safety.
Still a Way to Go
Although the city of New Orleans does its best to provide safe spaces and bike trails, along with a bicycle network map and clear bikeway definitions, bike infrastructure is still lacking in some areas, including parts of Canal Street and Tulane Avenue. The city has also been receiving criticism from bike safety advocates for failing to promote safety for all road users. Cyclists and drivers alike have expressed concerns over road conditions and the lack of safety precautions on the roadways.
Potholes remain a danger to everyone on the road, and bike lane networks vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. In addition, not all bikers use lights, helmets, and other proper equipment. Some don’t use hand signals and don’t share the lanes correctly with motorists. On their end, motorists receive complaints because they also don’t share lanes with the cyclists and fail to use safety precautions.
Popular Bike Routes
Whether you choose to strike out on your own, join a bike group, rent a bike, or take a bike tour, there are plenty of comfortable bike routes passing colorful shotguns, stately mansions, and incredible tropical flora.
There’s much to explore in each neighborhood. Here are some of the best-known and most picturesque bike routes in the city:
- Charles Avenue, through the Garden District and Uptown
- Audubon Park, with more than two miles of bike trails
- City Park, with four miles of bike paths, from Bayou St. John to Lake Pontchartrain, and around the Big Lake and festival grounds
- The 2.6-mile green corridor of Lafitte Greenway that connects Lakeview, Mid-City, and Treme (Armstrong Park)
- The 1.4-mile Crescent Park in the Marigny and the Bywater
- The lakefront (15 miles, including Lakeshore Drive)
- Esplanade Avenue from the French Quarter to City Park.
All in all, New Orleans is a great biking city with bike-friendly roadways, green spaces, bike trails, and a full schedule of social riding. The new ordinances show an intention to keep all of us who share the road in check, and to keep strengthening our bike culture.