In the United States, a car-driven society, there has been a recent trend toward becoming more conscious of vehicles and their cost on the environment. For some time now the number of vehicles driven in the U.S. has been declining, while the number of bicyclists has been increasing. This trend is obvious in a city such as New Orleans, Louisiana.
In the year 2000, New Orleans was ranked 13th in the Nation for bike infrastructure. Although Nola is very familiar with bicyclists, until now, becoming a biking community has not been a priority. This familiarity is mostly owed to the large number of residents using the bicycle as a primary source of transportation. Over 60% of New Orleans’ population makes less than $35,000 a year, so it’s no surprise 27% of residents lack a personal vehicle - making the bicycle a necessity over environmental promotion.
Although many ride out of necessity, recent knowledge sharing has made New Orleans increasingly aware of environmental and economic benefits of riding a bike. Today several other user groups including casual riders, recreational, and tourists have joined the cause - taking the bike, rather than car, to the street. To make life easier and safer for both vehicle and rider, it is important that infrastructure and awareness develop with the growing trend of bicycles. To do so, the city of New Orleans and its residents have developed a few solutions of their own.
Since Katrina, in 2005, New Orleans has developed a new Master Plan for the city, in which urban planners have made it a focus to build new infrastructure integrating transit, walkability and bike-ability to enhance inner-city connections. Since 2005, Nola has expanded eleven miles of biking routes to fifty miles of “share the road” streets and numerous bike racks have been added across the city called “where ya rack.” These bike additions, along with bike use studies, have been made in preparation for the possibility of a bike share program. With all of this in place, New Orleans has since moved from the 13th to 6th spot on the Nations list of bicycle communities.
On the community level, one of the main advocates promoting bicycle awareness and safety is the Nola Social Ride, also known as Happy Thursday. This group is essentially a party on wheels - what else would be expected in New Orleans? However, this group does much more for the community than host a party. Every Thursday the group meets, anyone welcome, for a casual social ride throughout different neighborhoods. Volunteers choose a new route weekly including stops at local businesses, bars, and restaurants. This has provided long time and new locals alike the opportunity to learn new safe bike routes, meet new people, see different neighborhoods and architecture, try new eats, and become involved in the community. Bicyclists’ presence is made known to vehicles, pedestrians, and the community as the costumed bicyclists merrily shower onlookers with honks, smiles, waves, and a friendly “Happy Thursday” blessing.
Whether it is through city planning or social gatherings, New Orleanians are on the same page when it comes to transforming the city into a more bike friendly place. There are many great case studies of successful biking communities in the U.S. How do other cities use bicycles and promote awareness?
Credits: Images by Allyson McAbee and Nola Social Ride. Data linked to sources.