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.