Thursday, March 14, 2013

Busy New Orleans street popular with cyclists to be striped with bike lanes

This map shows the 1.5 mile section of Esplanade Ave. where one traffic lane will be striped a bike lane.
      A 1.5 mile stretch of Esplanade Ave, between Moss St. and N. Claiborne Ave., is trading two traffic lanes-one in each direction--for bike lanes..  The lane-restriping is the finishing touch on a street resurfacing project that will also see a section of City Park Ave., from Canal Blvd. to Orleans Ave., resurfaced, said the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development in a press release dated March 6, 2013.
     The project is scheduled to be completed in the summer of this year (2013).  No bicycle friendly improvements are in this project for this stretch of City Park Ave.
     The work is part of the Paths to Progress, a collaborative effort among the Federal Highway Administration, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, New Orleans Regional Planning Commission and City of New Orleans.  Contact them by phone, 1-800-574-7193, at or or
     Esplanade Ave. has long been used by bicyclists to connect Mid-City, City Park and Lakeview with the French Quarter and downtown.  Lined with leafy live oak trees and stately 19th century homes, the street sees a daily stream of riders--everything from hipsters riding with no hands on "fixies" to eco-tourists on single speed cruisers-- mixing it up with tour buses, school buses, delivery trucks and commuter traffic.
     But the two and a half miles from Bayou St. John at City Park to the French Quarter has often been a white-knuckle experience on a bicycle.  Striped for two narrow lanes of traffic in each direction and parallel parking, the 1.5 miles now being resurfaced had no room for a cyclist.  To avoid a sideswipe from a passing driver trying to squeeze by or being "doored" by a driver exiting a parked car cyclists often had to share a traffic lane with drivers who may or may not have been willing to share.  And the deteriorating road surface made it worse.  Luckily it was a quick trip for a speedy, fearless rider.
     The other option for the trip downtown, Canal St., is even riskier.  Wider by a lane but carrying heavier traffic, Canal St. is the main route for trucks and motorists into the CBD.  Once in downtown cyclists face a variety of risky car and streetcar intersections not to mention the hazard of the streetcar tracks themselves.  Definitely a ride limited to the experienced cyclist and the traffic-hardened bike-commuter.
     A third option, the paving of the path on the 3.1 mile Lafitte Greenway, is not slated to be ready to ride until 2014.
     The work resurfacing and re-striping Esplanade Ave. now underway, has made conditions for cyclists on the street more dangerous for the time being.  The street, reduced to one lane in each direction has meant increased competition between drivers and cyclists for the limited asphalt.  A detour on Desoto St., from Moss St. (along Bayou St. John) almost to Broad Ave. will offer some respite from the traffic on Esplanade Ave.  
     When the resurfacing work is complete this summer, conditions for cyclists on Esplanade Ave. should improve.  But cyclists will still have to  be careful, paying full attention to passing traffic and parked cars, just as they should do now.  Riders will have to be alert for car doors flung open from parked cars by drivers unaware of the new bike lane. Cyclists themselves may also become a hazard as novice riders are more likely to stop suddenly on the bike path than they are on a busy street.
     Esplanade Ave., from N. Claiborne to Decatur St. at the Mississippi River levee, a distance of about a mile, is not included in the bike lane plan.  This one-mile stretch is one-lane already.  The lane is just wide enough for cyclists to squeeze between the moving traffic at their left shoulder and the parallel parking on their right.  Parked cars should be watched carefully to try and anticipate an exiting driver opening a car door suddenly.  Have and use a rear view mirror.     
     Critics of the move to reduce Esplanade Ave. to one traffic lane and one bike lane say the loss of a traffic lane will increase congestion on the street and slow traffic as drivers get stuck behind tour buses that ply the avenue.  They also argue that the plan had already been decided upon before it was presented at public meetings.

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