Newell: Real progress on NOLA's bike network is worth the inconvenience of adapting to it

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We've been having this conversation a lot over the last couple of years as the percentage of New Orleans-area residents using a bike to commute to work, get some exercise, or get to Jazz Fest continues to climb - how can the city make biking safer for both cyclists and motorists?  New Orleans has a new plan, the "Moving New Orleans Bike Network Blueprint." It's meant to dramatically and rapidly expand safe, accessible biking and walking throughout the city. Newell's guests in-studio today included Dan Jatres from the Mayor's Office of Transportation, Bike Easy Executive Director Dan Favre, and Blake Owens from "Get Up N Ride." You may recognize "Get Up N Ride" as the large group hundreds of cyclists who roll through New Orleans neighborhoods every Tuesday night with elaborate custom bikes and light-up wheels."I love seeing those groups having a damn good time," Newell said, "It looks like a heck of a lot of fun! I need the bling, baby!""We have a ride tonight, I got a bike just for you with lights and everything," Owens laughed. New Orleans residents have sometimes been cool to changes in their streetscapes where bike infrastructure is concerned - how is the reception to bold new vision laid out in the Bike Network Blueprint?"There's a lot of excitement and a lot of good commentary from people," Jatres answered. "It's not just, 'oh, we like this, we don't like this' - it's 'I would like to see XYZ, or have you thought about this as a way to accomplish it.' It's been very constructive." What got the ball rolling on this project anyway, and what's the philosophy behind it?"The goal is around safety, connectivity, efficiency and equity," Jatres continued. "We want to provide a transportation network that provides people options for how to get around town, whether to jobs, their family, or the corner market. New Orleans has a lot of people that don't have access to a private car, so we want to have a system that's not solely reliant on motor vehicle transportation. We want to make sure we have robust transit options, walking options, biking options." Newell pointed out that New Orleans is a particularly attractive city for a program like this one because of our unique geography - one that bigger and more car-intensive cities like Los Angeles or San Diego would salivate over.

"Exactly. We have a lot of natural advantages that come from the layout of our city, we still have a pretty intact street grid, a small compact area that makes the distances shorter and gives people a lot more options to use other than cars." 

What is Bike Easy's role in this?"Our mission is to make biking safe easy and fun for everyone," Favre says. "We do a lot of safety education, everything from teaching teachers how to give the skills to their students to walk and bike safely to working with adults, and building community support around infrastructure and policies advocating for streets that are built to share, whether biking, walking, taking the bus or driving... we also need to make sure everyone knows the rules of the roads and the skills and strategies for cycling around safely, or driving around people that are biking safely and making sure everyone knows what their role is."Newell asked Owens what his organization aims to do with their big flashy rides and how those high-turnout, high-visibility events help create a positive feedback loop that gets more people active, and gets more people aware of who else is using the roads. "You have groups that are doing it for social reasons, they're getting back on that bike and they're remembering how fun it is... we get a lot of people that say 'I haven't done this in 10 or 20 years, but I'll be back next week.' It makes feel safer about riding. The kids are what's most important when it comes to this infrastructure - and senior citizens, not just biking but walking."