Friday, September 29, 2017

New Wisner Bridge open to cars but not bicycles and pedestrians

The new bicycle/pedestrian path on the Wisner overpass looking north lake bound.  The bridge bike path is closed until the approaches to it from the north and south can be constructed.  In this picture the bridge path ends abruptly in loose gravel.  To use the path the police barricade had to be pushed aside.
 
    
           A brief ribbon cutting ceremony held under cloudless blue skies opened the new Wisner Avenue overpass in New Orleans to car traffic about noon, September 29, 2017.  Gracefully arching over a busy I-610, the concrete structure supports four traffic lanes, 12-feet wide--two in each direction--and a bicycle/pedestrian path.  City officials praised the bridge, at the eastern edge of City Park overlooking Bayou St. John and how the 12-foot wide bicycle pedestrian path brings the city's diverse neighborhoods closer--both physically and emotionally. 
            One official pronounced that having cars, bicyclists and pedestrians together on one structure is an example of "multimode transportation"-- a glimpse into the bright transportation future in store for the Crescent City.
             But at the same time as all the speechmaking, police barricades at the north and south entrances of the bridge path blocked use by the very cyclists and pedestrians the path, with its squat, gray concrete wall separating the bike lane from the traffic lanes, is intended to benefit.  In fact, would-be users of the much ballyhooed path are likely to see it off-limits to them well into next year at least.
             The problem is that while the path on the bridge is finished, approaches attaching the bridge path to any other path, street or intersection that might make it useful to non-motorized traffic needing a way to cross I-610 are yet to be constructed.  A bridge path to nowhere, at least for the time being.
             The north or lake bound entrance to the path is just a few yards from a park road.  A short distance from that road the Wisner bicycle path along Bayou St. John begins. But a stretch of rough gravel separates the road and the bayou path from the bridge path.
              The south or river bound entrance to the bridge dead ends into the deep grass along Wisner Boulevard.  Here integrating the bridge path and any feeder paths that may be built with existing streets built only for motorized traffic faces a number of problems.           
            (The day after the bridge was open to traffic but not the bicycle/ped path a "Road Closed" sign on a barricade was not much of a deterrent for pedestrians, runners, walkers and cyclists who wanted the sample what the new path is like.  Cyclists were also seen on the bridge path but those heading south usually turned around at the dead end before tackling the thick grass at the south end of the bridge path.  Other cyclists just rode in the car traffic lanes when crossing the bridge.)
             What happens next and when it happens depends on who you talk to. The most likely next step is construction of a short path from the south end of the bridge path to the intersection of DeSaix Avenue and Wisner Boulevard.  This could start in November of 2017 and be finished in the late winter or spring of 2018.
            Between DeSaix Avenue to Esplanade Avenue perhaps where the sidewalk between Bayou St. John and Wisner Boulevard is now, a path may be striped or built from scratch.
           The biggest benefit the opening of the bridge but not the bike path will have for cyclists and pedestrians is perhaps unintended.  Zachary Taylor Drive near the Pan American Stadium and heavily used by cyclists to pass north and south through City Park was closed by a construction yard while the former bridge was demolished and the new bridge was built. Now that the $19.5 million bridge is open, riders can again loop under the bridge and readily connect with the start of the Wisner Avenue bike path.  This route is shown in the 2016 New Orleans Bike Map and Guide to Safe Cycling published by BikeEasy and bicycle advocacy non-profit.  The map is free and available at bicycle shops and other outlets.
             With the bike/ped path on the new Wisner overpass bridge closed the bridge is not bicycle and pedestrian friendly and should be avoided by cyclists.  Cycling is permitted on the bridge's traffic lanes but this is risky.  The lanes are only 12-feet wide and a cyclist will take up 2-3 feet of that.  Following drivers will have to veer into the adjoining lane to avoid a crash.  Climbing the upstroke of the bridge a cyclist may only be traveling 15 miles per hour where the speed limit is 40 miles per hour frustrating drivers in a hurry.  There are no shoulders on the bridge or on Wisner Avenue  south of the bridge.  (There is a bike path, remember?)   The safer route to connect Lakeview with Mid-City is to take the route recommended by BikeEasy through the park.
             Speakers at the ribbon cutting asked for patience as the bridge project is completed but as the vehicle part of the bridge is finished and open and the bicycle path is not, it is only non-motorized users of the bridge who must wait for their turn.

View of the south entrance of the bicycle/pedestrian path on the new Wisner overpass bridge, Saturday morning September 30, 2017.  The traffic lanes of the bridge opened Friday, September 29 but the bicycle path did not and is closed to the public until access paths to the bridge can be built.  Those using the bridge to run, walk and bicycle have to move police barricade to gain access to the bridge path.


         

         

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Paddlefest (LA) set for October 20-22, 2017

Paddlefest 2017
by Patricia Fontova.

 Paddlefest 2017, the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club's annual event, is scheduled for October 20-22 at Fontainebleau State Park's Group Camp 3 in Mandeville. This is a great time to meet club members and other paddlers, go on a paddle or two, learn a few things, find out more about the club, and generally "pass a good time".

The venue is a beautiful setting about a half mile east of the main entrance to Fontainebleau State Park that includes a pond perfect for canoe and kayak lessons.

This year some of the activities include paddle trips on Cane Bayou and Bayou Lacombe, intro canoe and kayak lessons, descriptions and suggestions for what to include in your first aid kit, a bike ride on the Tammany Trace, a comparison of tents - what you need for canoe camping vs car camping, and more!

More information and registration for the event are available online at bayouhaystackers.com/paddlefest
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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bike path along Lake Pontchartrain in Metairie (LA) open during levee construction

        

       UPDATE:  Since the post below was written, the road over the levee from Hammond Highway in Bucktown to the lake side of the levee has been paved.  It appears that the only gravel stretches on the path are the two graveled accesses over the levee where the bike path runs under the Causeway.  However construction continues and gates blocking the path to permit construction equipment to be moved could be closed without warning.

       The ten-mile long levee in Metairie (LA) along Lake Pontchartrain is being lifted (raised).  The construction has had only a minor effect on access to the paved path used by cyclists, runners and walkers between the levee and the lake.  The path, actually the maintenance road for the levee, is open from its eastern terminus at Bucktown to the western end at the edge of Kenner as it was before construction began.
          But because all crossings over the levee are now coarse, chunky loose gravel (except for the crossings at the Bonnabel Ave. and Williams Blvd. which are still asphalt) bikers with bikes equipped with skinny tires might want to walk over these stretches.  This is no small sacrifice especially if walking wearing bike shoes with Look-style cleats protruding from the soles.
           Other than the gravel crossing aggravation, the ten mile path is still a nice ride.   The berm between the lake and the levee--a flat, treeless, grassy plain through which the trail runs--looks to be less than 100 yards wide.   (At the Kenner end, the path takes a sharp left turn running along a high concrete levee wall at the back of a subdivision for two miles.  This is normally open to recreational use but the day I rode the path to the end in Kenner a gate closed off this section.)
            There are subdivisions almost the entire way from Bucktown (just across the parish line from New Orleans) to Kenner but they are screened from view by the levee, with only the leafy tops of tall trees and the roofs of the taller houses showing to path users.  To be savored during the ride is the lack of traffic noise, or any noise except for the rush of wind in your ears and the hum of your tires as you spin along feeling surprisingly apart from one of the most congested cluster of people in the state just a few yards away.
As the Lake Pontchartrain bike path crosses over the levee to go under the Causeway, on the levee the path is gravel.  The appears the be the only current stretch of gravel on the 10-mile path but the levees are still under construction and there are several gates along the path that may or may not be open permitting use of the path depending on the construction that day.
 

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Swamp Rat: The Story of Dixie's Nutria Invasion

         




           Everyone living in Louisiana knows the damage nutria; a non-native rat-like rodent (but not a rat) is doing to the marshes protecting state's coast from storms and hurricanes rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico..  Nutria eat the grasses that hold the marshes together.  Without the grass the marshes wash away leaving only open water; with nothing to dissipate the fury of dangerous storms.
           Nutria have prodigious appetites.  And they are prodigious breeders.  These two traits make nutria well deserving of the tag; the rat that ate Louisiana.
          This is a bad thing, a very bad thing, Theodore G. Manno points out repeatedly in is new book "Swamp Rat: The Story of Dixie's Nutria Invasion," University of Mississippi Press/Jackson, 2017.   The furry rodent from South America with the voracious appetite for native swamp grasses, is largely responsible for a massive loss of land along the Gulf of Mexico-land that protects the populated parts of the Bayou State, many claim.  And all attempts to stop them have failed.
             At least that is the gloomy overview.  But there is so much more to the story of the nutria and how a 15-pound furry rodent with yellow front teeth, surviving only on plant matter became a major concern for the future of Louisiana, and to a lesser extent, the Gulf South.
              Manno fills in the fascinating backstory of how nutria made their way to Louisiana (and at one time 39 other states in the U.S.)  They were invited.
             The trapping, skinning and export of pelts has always been big business in Louisiana.  While nutria were still in South America, their native habitat a huge fad for beaver hats swept Europe beginning in the 1600s.  After almost all beaver in Europe were harvested to make the hats, the supply of beaver began to come from the colonies in North America.  But in the 1830s demand for beaver hats suddenly dropped in favor of hats made from silk.  At the same time over-trapping in North America caused the beaver market to crash.  Nutria began to be imported from South America to shore up the valuable fur market but nutria hats never caught on.  (See Seinfeld episode # 142 for an interesting take on the "rat hat.")
           But the market for fur pelts for clothing, gloves and wraps to sell to the luxury market was still strong.  Nutria fur is nice fur and remained in demand for coats and other fur goods.  But it ws not the favorite of furriers.  Muskrat, of which there were many in Louisiana, became the popular pelt of choice in the early 20th century.  Louisiana was a muskrat Mecca.  All of Canada could produce only 60% of the muskrat pelts that Louisiana did.  Muskrat fur pelts peaked in 1945.  Five years later the fur market in Louisiana was a bust.
          The nutria harvest increased to replace the dwindling muskrat population but the fur harvest just limped along for a decade or two as the fad for wearing fur (unless you were born wearing it) died.
         But not the nutria.  The harvest of nutria by trappers had kept the nutria populations from expanding, despite their prodigious breeding ability.  And while the non-native species had very few natural predators, alligators would eat them.  But by the 1960s alligators had been hunted for their skins to the point there was a fear they might be trapped to extinction.  So with the nutria's two major predators, man and alligators, out of the picture, nutria populations exploded.
          Manno shows how the fortunes of the nutria intertwined with that of other major Louisiana economic foundations such as sugar cane.  He writes with great detail about how and when the nutria came to North America.  (Nutria can be found or have been found in 40 states in the U.S., though are now mostly in 16 states, Europe, the Middle East, South Korea, southern China, India and Japan.)
           A chapter of the book goes into detail about one of the most famous nutria legends:  That all the nutria chewing up the state now are from several nutria pens on Avery Island, LA that were destroyed by a hurricane in the 1930s releasing the hearty herbivores into the wild.  To discover what this nutria expert thinks of this venerable Louisiana tale, buy the book to find out. 
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tammany Trace added to Rails to Trails Conservancy Hall of Fame

          The Tammany Trace, an abandoned railroad right-of-way converted to a 27.5 mile linear recreation path through St. Tammany Parish (LA) has been named the 31st trail added to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Hall of Fame.  The RTC, a trails advocacy group,  has participated in establishing several hundred recreation trails in the U.S from unused railroad right-of-ways.  In almost all cases the R.O.W. is rail banked; an agreement that allows the R.O.W to serve as a trail, thereby keeping it together, until the time it might be in the national interest to make it a railroad again.
           In the 1986 a 31-mile long stretch of Illinois Gulf Central Railroad connecting Covington with Slidell was abandoned.  The idea of developing the narrow right-of-way into a recreation trail for cyclists, hikers, runners, walkers and roller skaters with a side trail for equestrians, was first proposed by a grass roots group of trail advocates, S.T.A.R.T. (St. Tammany Area Rails to Trails.)
           Kevin Davis, a St. Tammany Parish Police Juror in the early 1990s worked hard to convince the parish to buy the recently abandoned R.O.W saying it would provide a safe place for recreation in the rapidly growing parish.  A grand opening of the first stretch of Trace, 8.6 miles connecting Abita Springs with highway U.S. 190, was held September 17, 1994.
            With the completion of a bridge across Bayou Lacombe, several years ago, the Trace is now substantially complete at 27.5 miles.  The Trace runs east and west from downtown Covington to a dead end at Neslo Rd. just west of Slidell.  To bring to Trace from Neslo Rd. to Heritage Park in Slidell, a route of suburban roads and side paths are being considered.
          Voters to the RTC site chose the Trace over two other finalists.  In the past Hall o Fame inductees were chosen by RTC staff.
           Qualities such as outstanding scenic value, amenities and historical significance are considered.  The Tammany Trace, with a total of 500 acres of greenspace of its own passes through a large state park and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife preserve.  Towns along the way, Covington, Mandeville, Lacombe and Slidell offer a variety food and beverage outlets near the Trace.  RTC officials said, in declaring the Tammany Trace in the Hall of Fame that the north shore trail, about 30 air miles north of New Orleans (LA) attracts over 300,000 visitors annually, an average of 821 a day!
           Want to visit another RTC Hall of Fame Winner near by?  The Longleaf Trace, running about 42-miles one way from Hattiesburg northwest to Prentiss, is a beautiful ride.  Hattiesburg, MS is about a two-hour drive northeast from New Orleans.  The Longleaf Trace, opened Labor Day 2000 and was named as a RTC Hall of Fame Trail in 2010.
          For more information about both the Tammany Trace and the Longleaf Trace, search this blog.
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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Bike lanes planned for St. Bernard (Parish); Tammany Trace to be extended and other bicycle related news

          In the last couple months, the New Orleans Advocate has given much space in its printed  pages for stories about the expanding network of bicycle lanes in southeast Louisiana.

New moves made to finish the Tammany Trace into downtown Slidell.

          Sara Pagones, in the July 16, 2017 edition, wrote about efforts by both St. Tammany Parish and the town of Slidell to complete the last few miles of the Tammany Trace.  Running east, 27.5 miles from downtown Covington, the Trace now dead ends at Neslo Rd. about four miles short of the trail's eastern terminus at Heritage Park in Slidell.
           When first proposed in the 1990s the Trace was to follow an abandoned right-of-way into Slidell and the park.  But that has not proven to be a suitable route.  Now, as reported in the New Orleans Advocate, a series of existing suburban streets will become the route linking the park with the Neslo Rd. dead end.
             Preparing the streets to accommodate bicycle traffic safely will require a several separate projects including short stretches of new Trace construction, and modifying existing streets with bike lanes.

State to begin building river bike trail in St. Bernard Parish  
         
          News of a new bicycle path to be built along the east bank of the Mississippi River in St. Bernard Parish made the front page of the Orleans Advocate, July 10, 2017.  Penned by Advocate staffer Chad Calder, the piece tells of an ambitious plan laying out a cycling network of nearly 35 miles of trail looping the densely populated area of the parish.
          Construction on the first segment, a three mile stretch atop the Mississippi River levee from the Valero Refinery down river to the Violet Canal, will begin in September.  Later phases have the finished trail running 11-miles from Arabi down river to Caernaron, much of it on the levee.
          Future plans include extending the trail to the Plaquemines Parish line.  A trail is planned for adjacent to St. Bernard Highway and bike lanes connecting  eastern Orleans parish with St. Bernard are also planned.
          The "40 Arpent Trail," will encircle the urbanized portion of the parish with a 26-mile loop trail that connects with the Mississippi River Trail.
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Person to person bicycle rental in New Orleans

          Renting a bicycle to ride in New Orleans has never been easier.  Really.  Using your phone, computer or tablet, visit Spinlister  the world's biggest peer-to-peer bike sharing platform, to connect with someone in New Orleans (or anywhere in the world really) who will rent you one.
          I visited the site to check it out.  Spinlister will not let you go deep into the site without registering (free) but I learned: There are lots and lots people renting bikes in New Orleans,  None listed with Spinister apparently are shops yet, and there are a wide variety of bike available.  After a few minutes on the site I found bikes ranging in price from cruisers at $15 to racers with carbon fiber frames for $100.  I could not tell how long that was for.  There was even an adult tricycle and a Santana tandem.  Visit the site for the details. If you have had any experiences with this platform while in New Orleans, send a comment for review to this blog.
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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bullet strikes bicyclist on training ride in eastern New Orleans

           A bicyclist on a morning training ride in eastern New Orleans was shot in the lower back with a small caliber bullet, Saturday, May 13, 2017.
          Christopher Weiss, 49, of the Carrollton area in New Orleans said he felt a sharp pain in his back and rolled to a stop to investigate.  Shortly after that he was taken to a hospital where doctors determined the small caliber bullet  (the wound was initially thought to be caused by a pellet) did not hit any vital organs.  Because it came to rest very close to the spinal cord, doctors have decided not to remove it at this time.  Doctors say Weiss may experience some immediate leg mobility issues but that they hope the effects are temporary, Marc Weiss, Christopher's father, said in a telephone interview from his summer home in Massachusetts.
          The incident occurred as a paceline of about 10 riders in the Semi-Tough Cycling Club were coming back from their regular Saturday ride to Fort Pike, headed west on Bullard Avenue.  The shooting is being investigated by the New Orleans Police Department.  As of May 22, no suspects have been announced.
           In the weeks before the May 13 attack, bicyclists have reported two paint ball attacks while riding on Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans, both the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and the New Orleans Advocate have reported.
         The ugly incident was even reported in the UK in the Sun tabloid; another black mark against New Orleans,  a top rated urban cycling destination in the U.S.

A petition requesting more police protection for cyclists has been started

            The elder Weiss also said a petition has been started requesting the city increase police protection of cyclists.  The petition is directed at New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu and New Orleans Police Superintendent, Michael S. Harrison  and asks them to respond with more policing in the face of escalating violence toward cyclists.  The petition can be found at:
 http://www.thepetitionsite.com/242/605/185/nola-stop-the-escalating-war-on-cyclists/
          As of Monday, May 21, nearly 10,000 worldwide have signed the petition.  About 800 of the signers are from Louisiana.

Thousands of bicyclists take to the streets of New Orleans in 1986


             New Orleans became the center of the recreational cycling universe for one day, May 18, 1986, when thousands of bicyclists took to the streets on a muggy Saturday for the Kodak Liberty Ride Festival (KLRF).  The non-competitive ride began with a massed start--riders packed curb to curb on streets and side streets near the Louisiana Superdome.  From there it wound slowly through the city following a 17-mile loop route (with stops) through the CBD, the French Quarter out to Lake Pontchartrain and back to the Louisiana Superdome.
            At the Superdome, finishers were treated to box lunches on the grounds before entering the Dome for a concert featuring Huey Lewis and the News (a big draw in the early 1980s) the Hooters, Daryl Hall and John Oates and Crescent City native sons, the Neville Brothers.

          KLRF rides were held in about a hundred other cities in the U.S. at the same time.  The concert in the Louisiana Superdome, named "America Rocks" was televised via satellite to some of the other cities with KLRF rides of their own.  One purpose of the event was to raise $5 million to restore the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  Admission to the event was $26 but volunteers in New Orleans had their fees waived and received yellow T-shirts with "Official" printed on the back.  The standard KLRF T-shirt was white.  Tickets at the other KLFR events were $21.
            I think local print and television media ignored the event despite its significance to the cycling in the city which at the time had very few cycling specific facilities:  The Jefferson Davis Parkway Path, the St. Anthony Path, the incomplete path along Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish and bike lanes in Audubon Park.  And a signed bike route using mostly the back streets of Uptown.
           A committed cyclist with 16 years in the saddle to my credit, I was there in that sweaty throng of happy, smiling but mostly inexperienced cyclists.  Would not have missed it for anything.   But my recollections of the event are less than reliable.  I don't even remember what bike I rode.  Slides I shot that day (remember film cameras?) were ruined after soaking in the toxic marinate of post Hurricane Katrina (2005) floodwaters, but this is an excuse I use a lot when I try to prove my attendance at an event I may or may not have attended.  My only proof I was there is the yellow KLRF T-shirt pictured above.  (There must have been many more shirts to give out than there were riders because in the summer of 1986, KLRF T-shirts seemed to be a favorite clothing choice of the down and out living on the streets and in shelters of the city.)
           (Many consider the ride a flop.  The turnout nationally was much smaller than expected; less than 100 riders showed up at the KLRF in Orlando, FL.  Some complained the event was too expensive for families.  The quality of the satellite transmission of the concert in the Superdome had both poor sound and poor video prompting many to leave their local events early.)
           I do remember my clothes were dampened by a brief isolated rain shower in Lakeview and that The League of American Wheelman (LAW) now named Bicycle USA, a national non-profit that has promoted cycling since the late 19th century, was, in part, responsible for organizing the ride.  Locally, members of the Crescent City Cyclists served as volunteer ride captains.
             But other than those few fuzzy details, I really don't remember much about such a significant event promoting cycling in New Orleans.  The free food and concert were enough to yank my chain.  For once I didn't feel like asking a lot of questions.
              So when I got the invite to an afternoon cookout at the Uptown home of Marc Weiss, a co-founder of the Crescent City Cyclists, I was excited.  As president of the CCC at the time of the KLRF, Marc worked with the LAW in pulling the event off.  We could have some adult drinks and talk about old times.  He would refresh my memories of the ride and fill me in on the administrative details I had been oblivious to.   (Marc left the city about 25 years ago to live "up north" and only recently bought a home in N.O. to spend winters in the Crescent City.)
               Well, having another eyewitness to quiz about the event didn't add much clarity to my own sketchy memories.  The scene of the two of us standing next to the grill not remembering as he flipped burgers was a lot like one scene in the movie "Blue Lagoon" where two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are marooned on a desert island.  After some time (their clothes had almost rotted off) they tried to amuse themselves by trying to remember the words to Christmas carols they learned as children.  They couldn't.  And we couldn't remember much about KLRF either.
                 So what I had hoped would be a detailed account of one of the more significant bicycle rides held in New Orleans is going to be not much more than documented proof I don't remember as much or as accurately as I think I do, a picture of the T-shirt commemorating the event and Marc smiling at the camera at his April 2017 backyard cookout.


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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bike path on Mississippi River levee near New Orleans to grow by nearly three miles.

     

By Jack Curry Jr.

         Bicycle paths began to appear on the tops of Mississippi River levees in the metro New Orleans (LA) area in the late 1990s.  Responding to pressure from cyclists and others who pushed to replace the bumpy shell surface with a blacktop path that would promote bicycle commuting into the city from the upriver neighborhoods, parish governments, along with the Army Corps of Engineers worked together to make the paths happen.    Since then about 30 miles of blacktop connecting Audubon Park to the Bonnet Carre Spillway, has been built on the East Bank of the river.
          On the West Bank three sections have been built but they do not connect.  Starting down river, about four miles has been built from Merrill St upriver to Gretna.  There is a gap where there is no levee path from Gretna upriver to Klein St, about four miles.  About five miles have been built from Klein St. in Westwego to 12th. St in Bridge City.  There is no path through the former site of the Avondale Shipyard.   A 17-mile stretch has been built from what was the boundary of Avondale Shipyard up river to Elm St. in Hahnville in St. Charles Parish.
           Plans to close these gaps in the bike path and make it one continuous path from Algiers upriver to past Hahnville (and beyond) have been on parish master plans for years.  There are highways parallel to the levee at ground level but they are narrow, have no shoulders and carry heavy traffic, discouraging bicyclists who might be looking for a detour around the levee path gaps.
            Now it looks like the gap between Klein Rd. and Gretna may close a bit.
            The next sections to be done are; 1.6 miles from Klein St. in Westwego downriver to Douglass Lane in Marrero and a 1.2 mile section beginning at Douglass Lane ending at the Harvey Canal.  These two sections will extend a section of existing path at begins at 12th Street in Bridge City to about seven miles, according to a story that ran in the New Orleans Advocate, Sunday, May 7, 2017.
            The Klein St./Douglass Lane stretch could open by mid-2018 but the 1.2 mile stretch is still at least two years away, the paper reports.
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Friday, March 10, 2017

Southwest MS rail-trail adds miles


        
 


             Like the little engine that could, after about twenty years of trying, the Longleaf Trace, is complete.   The asphalt recreation path is about ten feet wide and runs through the Piney Woods country of south Mississippi from the historic district in Hattiesburg, MS, 42.5 miles northwest to Prentiss, MS.
             The Trace became one of the longest railroad-right-of-ways to be converted to a recreational trail in the southwestern U.S. when in 2000 about 40 miles of the Trace opened to walkers, runners, hikers, skaters and cyclists.  A partially complete side path for horseback riding parallels the Trace. The  Gateway Center, at the University of Southern Mississippi, serves as the eastern trailhead for the Trace.  There is free parking near the Gateway Center (there is no fee to use the Trace).  Bicycles can be rented at the Gateway Center.
                But the Gateway Center is not the beginning of the Trace.  Milepost 0.0 for the Trace is the railroad station in Hattiesburg's historic downtown district, about two miles to the east of the Gateway Center.  (Unless you are shipping freight by train or a passenger boarding Amtrak's "Crescent" connecting New Orleans with New York, there is nothing to see or do at the station.  But the historic downtown is fun to explore.)



              Those driving to the Gateway Center to park for their ride of the Trace are no longer permitted to park in the large parking lot next to the high rise dorms in front of the Gateway Center.  A new lot, exclusively for the Trace parking, has been built just north of the dorm lot.  Access it via 4th St.
            That last, short stretch of the Trace bringing the trail into downtown Hattiesburg was opened in June 2016, completing the vision of a trail leading from the train station to Prentiss.  (In the 1990s it was thought a rights-of-way for a recreation trail could be secured all the way from Hattiesburg to Natchez, MS.)  The Trace is blacktop and separate from busy 4th street as it leaves east of the Gateway Center but becomes a painted lane as it moves closer to downtown.  The lane is well marked and well signed. 
             The train station is in an historic district of brick and timber warehouses mostly abandoned when business gravitated west to be closer to Interstate-59.  Not everybody left.  A first class supplier of outdoor equipment and apparel, Sacks, stayed.  Try to schedule your ride on the trail at a time you can visit this icon of Hattiesburg. 
            The Crescent, an Amtrak passenger train connecting New Orleans with New York City, stops at the station twice a day; once heading northbound and once heading southbound.  There was a time when the station offered baggage service.  This permitted bicycles to be loaded on and off-loaded the baggage car. There is no baggage service offered now at Hattiesburg.   Only carry on luggage is permitted.  Baggage service is offered at some other stations; the closest to Hattiesburg is Meridian, MS.  How cool would that be to load a bicycle on the train early in the morning in New Orleans, have breakfast on the train, then off-load the bike in Hattiesburg and begin riding the Longleaf Trace right from the station! 
            The main draw of the Longleaf Trace is the 40-mile stretch from USM to Prentiss.  This is piney woods country and the right-of-way slices through a number of woodsy vistas and verdant farms.  Several small towns; Sumrall, Bassfield, Carson and of course, Pentiss, offer opportunities to stop, rest and snack on a nearly 80 mile out and back trip from Hattiesburg. Sumrall has a casual dining restaurant next to the Trace.  Away from the widely spaced commercial areas flanking the trail are numerous rest areas and picnic tables and benches.
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   For more information on the Longleaf Trace visit the blog post "Longleaf Trace: Mississippi's Premier Rails to Trails", 4/25/2013, in new orleans outdoor companion. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bike share preview in New Orleans extended through March




A rack of Social Bicycles Inc. at the Basin and Bienville Streets rack
 by Jack Curry Jr.


           Bike share is coming to New Orleans this fall.  Social Bicycle (SoBi), a New York company chosen by the New Orleans City Council to manage the service, will launch with 700 eight-speed cruiser bicycles posted to 70 racks scattered throughout the Downtown, Central City and Mid-City areas of the city.   SoBi has promised to expand the service to 90 stations and 900 bicycles during the course of the five-year contract with the city.

          New Orleans Bike Share is a program approved by the New Orleans City Council in November of 2016 and run by SoBi allowing people without a bicycle take one for a short trip of one to three miles,  ride it to or near their destination and lock it up for the next rider to use, "sharing it."

          Bike share advocates are quick to assert that bike share is not the same as bicycle rental.  Bike share bicycles are usually used for short trips then locked ready for the next rider.  Fees make it expensive to use the bike share bicycle for more than an hour each day.   An example of how city planners hope bike share will work would be; a commuter takes a bus from a yonder suburb to the CBD then completes the last one or two miles of the trip using a bike share bicycle from a convenient rack. Rack/stations are also be called "hubs". 

          "For long trips and meandering, bike rental or personal bikes are the best," says Dwight Norton, Urban Mobility Coordinator for New Orleans.  "There is no reason you can't enjoy a longer ride, just be mindful of the clock and returning (the bike share bicycle) to a station."
          A preview of the plan, downsized to about 35 bicycles and 11 bike racks/stations, began in mid-February and will continue until the end of March, city officials recently announced.  Search for nola.socialbicycles.com to bring up a map of where the bicycle racks are located and how many bicycles each has available. Follow the prompts at the SoBi site to register for an account number and password allowing you to unlock a bicycle..  The fee is $15 for the month of March.  This permits one hour of riding each day.  The clock does not stop when you stop.  The only thing that stops the clock is to lock the bike to a bike rack at the end of the ride.  Additional time is billed at $0.13 a minute ($8 an hour).  Riders who do not want the month-long registration can sign up for the hourly rate of $8 per hour.  A year-long membership for $20 will be available to low-income users in the fall, SoBi says.

            SoBi  is offering the bikes and racks to the city at no charge in exchange for the free use of public infrastructure (sidewalks and streets) to install the racks.  The plan is privately funded through sponsorships, advertisements and rental fees.

          To keep up with the progress of bike share in the city, visit nola.gov/bikeshare.  Here you will find the latest developments in the establishment of bike share in the city and links to You Tube videos showing how the SoBi bike share program will operate in New Orleans.

          In the coming months SoBi, with city planners, will hold public meetings and discussions about where to put the 700 racks.  Comments and suggestions from the city's citizens are welcome at these meetings or can be made via the Internet to: Dwight Norton; bikeshare@nola,gov.   Business owners who would like a rack near their property or who would like to advertise with SoBi should contact SoBi.

Waning "Gibby" Gibbous previews the Preview.


            Hi.  I am Waning "Gibby" Gibbous, Bicycle Editor here at new orleans outdoor companion.  While I am only a "more than half but less than fully illuminated" literary device to explain what actually using the bike share scheme in New Orleans is like, I do know bicycling.  So grab your helmet and lets go for a ride.

           I gave the SoBi bike share scheme a try one warm February morning.  SoBi requires all bike share users to create an account before bikes can be unlocked from the rack.  I registered from home using a laptop by visiting the SoBi site.   But if you have either an Android or Apple smartphone and a WiFi connection you can access the SoBi site and register from anywhere.  SoBi recommends users have a good grasp of how passwords work on their devices before trying to establish an account.
     
           A high-tech solar powered module at the rear of the bike connects to SoBi via the Internet.  Unlock the bike by punching in your account number and pin using the keypad on the module.  The clock starts as soon as you unlock the bike and does not stop until you lock it at the end of your trip.  Renting the bike is called a "reservation".
          This is the basic info to get started.  While fairly simple and straightforward be sure to view the SoBi videos on You Tube to get important details about using the SoBi bike share works in practice.
          It took me three tries to get a working bike from the rack of six at the SoBi hub at Bienville and Basin Streets.  When I attempted to enter my freshly minted six-digit account number and four-digit pin into the keypad interface of the first bike, some numbers registered very slowly, some not at all.  Moving to the next bike I was able to enter my account# and pin to unlock the bike but after riding it a few yards I discovered the seat post clamp was broken allowing the seat to sink down into the frame every time I sat on it.  (A SoBi You Tube video recommends doing a safety check on the bike you choose before leaving the station.  Check tires, brakes, lights and bell (twist the left handlebar grip) and set the seat post at the right height for your leg length.)
          The third bike I picked worked like a charm and I headed off to the nearby Lafitte Corridor recreation path for the ride.

         The bike is nice.  White with matching fenders it has a step-through frame for easy on and off.  Pedal power is transferred to the rear wheel via an enclosed driveshaft so there is no greasy chain to stain the cuffs of long pants.  The brakes are disk (good stoppers when the weather is wet) and well modulated.  A panic stop did not cause the wheels to skid yet the bike stopped promptly just the same. The bike rides comfortably.  The seat post is adjustable up and down so you can get the proper leg length.  A sturdy and small front basket will hold up to 20 pounds of purses, lunch, cameras or a very small, very well behaved dog.

          SoBi claims the bike is tamper resistant and hard to steal.   Should you have a flat or other breakdown while riding, there is a button to push on the keypad to alert SoBi.  All bikes are equipped with GPS.  Just lock it up to the nearest bike rack in the SoBi service area.  SoBi will find it.   If you take it outside the SoBi service area and it breaks down, that's $20.  The real-time GPS on the bike provides a map of where you went, the distance of the ride, even how many calories you  burned riding.  The calorie burn seems high but the bike must weight nearly 50 pounds.  Old Gibby would hate to have to lift it.

          None of the bikes I saw had child seats so I doubt that is an option.  The rear rack is taken up with the control module.  The lowest setting for the seat looks to fit someone maybe 4' 11".  This is a family activity if your family is all adults.

          When you set off from a SoBi hub into city traffic remember that you have rented only a bicycle and not a bicycle utopia.  Despite the starry-eyed boosterism of local bicycling advocates, riding a bicycle in New Orleans is a risky endeavor requiring full-time concentration and a healthy skepticism that any driver will actually do what it looks like they are going to do.  Bicycling in the city is very popular with bicyclists.  With drivers, not so much.

          Wear a bicycle helmet when you ride.  Bring your own as they are not supplied with the bike rental.  Because the SoBi bikes do not have rear-view mirrors, consider mounting a bicycle rear-view mirror, available at bike shops, to your helmet.  I was riding for less then a minute on Basin St. when I was nearly squeezed off the bike lane and into a line of parked cars by a driver veering right to turn onto Toulouse St.  Riding without a rear-view mirror makes me nervous.

         Leave the ear buds at home.  You need all your senses to ride safely in the city, especially considering the numbers of distracted drivers there are tooling around the French Quarter and the CBD.  Wear brightly colored, even gaudy, clothing when you ride to catch the attention of drivers.  Consider sporting a safety vest like construction workers wear.  Don't ride dangling cameras and purses and hand bags.  Put them into the sturdy front basket supplied with the bike.  It will hold up to 20 pounds, SoBi videos say.   Always cross street car tracks, wet or dry, at a right 90 degree angle.

          When riding stay in your lane, be very careful at intersections, making eye contact with drivers there and use hand signals.  If you don't know any hand signals, make up your own.  Pedestrians have the right of way and can suddenly move laterally in surprising ways.  They don't hear you approaching from behind.  The bell on the bike is next to useless so use your voice to warn them of your presence.  Louisiana law permits cyclists to use the streets and roads but don't push your luck.

         I didn't have anywhere to go for my test ride, so I just rode from the rack at Basin and Bienville Streets, east on Rampart St. to the Lafitte Greenway and toward the American Co.  Because the meter is always running on the bike, riding it to the nearby New Orleans Museum of Art for a visit would have been expensive. Riding there, viewing the museum and riding back to the closest SoBi rack would take well over the daily hour I am allotted adding $0.13 a minute for the rest of the time I was using the bike.  Bikes do not have to be locked to a SoBi rack at the end of a trip but there is a $1 charge when they locked to another bicycle rack in the service area.

          If the plan works as intended this fall with 700 racks it could prove to be a fun, useful and healthy transportation addition.  This is the story of a basic out and back ride.  There are plenty more ways to make the system useful for you.  Be sure to view the SoBi You Tube videos for the details.

           So have fun, ride carefully, and share a friendly wave with every SoBi rider you see during the preview. 
Gibby

-Gibby
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Monday, February 13, 2017

New book tells story of the history of hiking in America



Organized recreational walking became a serious pursuit of the urban middle and upper classes shortly after the Civil War.  They focused on trail building; short ones at first to the easy summits in the Adirondacks and Appalachians mountains in New England.  By the late 1960's more than 100,000 miles of walking trails had been created by club volunteers across the nation, guiding millions of hikers and backpackers annually through public lands in the U.S.

 "On the Trail: A History of American Hiking," by Seth Chamberlin, tells the story of how American hiking clubs created American hiking by nurturing a strong nation-wide hiking culture, centered on trail building, beginning with the Appalachian Hiking Club, Boston (1876); The Sierra Club, San Francisco, (1891) and the Mazamas, Portland, OR, (1894,)  Ironically, the success of hiking clubs in expanding the nation's trail network, along with technological improvements in hiking and backpacking gear and a growth in hikers going solo or in small groups, beginning in the 1960s, interest in maintaining the hiking club culture that built the trails in the first place began to diminish,  Chamberlin claims.
 
Today less than one percent of American hikers belong in an hiking club, Chamberlin says.  
 
Using club newsletters, minutes of club meetings and spirited written recollections of club activities dating back several generations as source material, Chamberlin focuses on the bonhomie shared by these Victorian era trampers hikers beginning in the 19th century when upscale Victorian urbanites formed hiking clubs seeking a spiritual uplifting by escaping from the growing stench, noise, stress and crowding of cities in the throes of the Second Industrial Revolution.
 
Chamberlin considers hiking club members of the nation's earliest organizations, such as, the Appalachian Mountain Club,  the Sierra Club, and the Mazamas,  the "producers" of the nascent hiking culture.  They scouted the trails, built them and maintained them at a time when what few trails there were they were very short.  Club members organized outings to use the trails, and published maps and trail guides for members and non-members to gin up interest in hiking.  They advocated for environmental causes and for the establishment of national parks.  American hiking was invented by these producers, Chamberlin says.  
 
"Trampers" as these Victorian era hikers called themselves, were a high spirited group, spending days enjoying  "a good, honest-to-goodness, upright, God-fearing, one hundred percent American, red-blooded  hike," and nights singing and dancing(!) around a roaring fire before retiring to sleep on the floor of a rustic hut.
 
Socially the clubs were advanced.  Women were welcome to almost all hiking clubs and many rose to prominent positions in the club at a time national women's suffrage was a generation in the future.
 
There were practical benefits to being in a club.  At the turn of the century, gear for an overnight was too heavy for humans to carry so pack animals had to be used.  Or, overnighters would spend the night in a rustic lodge on the trail built by club members for their use.  In the early days of hiking clubs, before automobiles became widely available, hikers traveled from the city to their destinations on trains, as trains went just about everywhere then.  (In 1914, 96 percent of interstate travel was by train.)  Somebody had to organize all of this.
 
Newsletters were important to promoting a club's activities and hiking in general.  Many newsletters reported scientific discoveries of the members who had an interest in the physical nature of the world they walked through. 
 
But shortly after World War II, hiking culture began to erode, "consumers" began replacing the "producers."  Freeze dried foods and nylon fabrics, both perfected during the war, substantially reduced pack weight permitting hikers overnight stays in the wilderness with just what they could carry on their backs.  In 1951 the packs themselves got an upgrade when Dick Kelty began selling the first nylon and aluminum-frame backpacks.  A padded waist belt greatly improved the comfort and load carrying capacity over the standard pack of the time--wooden U-shaped packs from army surplus stores.
 
Spirited discussion around the campfire on the merits of this piece of gear or that trails difficulty, has given way to the rise of an outdoors press that targeted magazines, newspaper articles (and later Internet content) to hikers in contemporary times, Chamberlin claims.  Backpacker Magazine published their first issue in 1973.
 
As longer trails were completed: The 2200-mile Appalachian Trail in 1937; the 273-mile Long Trail in Vermont in 1930 and a partially complete Pacific Crest Trail first explored in the 1930's, more hikers wanted to experience nature solo, not with groups.  "Through-hikers" hiking a trail that might take days or weeks to complete end to end became more numerous.  What passed for social interaction was the chance meeting of one small group of hikers with another in a trail side shelter, Chamberlin said.
 
The biggest hit organized hiking took was in the fall of 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the National Systems Act, claims Chamberlin.  The bill provided federal money for the construction of trails in some areas and placed the nation's longest trails under federal protection.  After that hikers began to see trails as an entitlement, built and maintained by government workers.  Hiking club membership and the commitment to trail work that came with it no longer looked appealing to hikers.
 
"The traditional hiking community had relied on clubs as net producers of hiking culture but evolved into a loose gathering of millions of Americans consuming equipment, information and physical trails produced by private business,  professional environmental groups and the  government...
"The evolution of the citizen hiker to the consuming hiker meant that most hikers would spend almost no time in investing in the clubs or trails they used," Chamberlin comments in the book.
 
"Most hikers today have no experience with the realities of trail work or the policies that make trails possible.  Hikers and backpackers today do not appreciate how much they owe to the hiking clubs that organized in the late 19th century to plan, build, maintain and promote those trails," Chamberlin.
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"On the Trail :A History of American Hiking," by Seth Chamberlin, (2016) Yale University Press, New Haven and London.  The book looks like a verbatim transcription of a dissertation submitted by Chamberlin in pursuit of a Ph.D in American history from Lehigh University and available in its entirety for free on the Internet.  The book is also available to check-out from the Jefferson Parish Library.