Monday, July 23, 2018

Jeff Parish Lake Pontchartrain Bike Path "Slips Up"

          If for you bicycling the nearly 10-mile long bike path along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish is an infrequent pleasure you may not be aware of a slick spot at the Causeway underpass that has suddenly developed.   A small leak in the levee (city side) is keeping a short patch of the levee service road/bike path constantly wet near the bottom of the levee at a sharp turn there.
             Not only would a wet spot in a turn at the bottom of a steep, short decline be a problem all by itself,  this being summer in south Louisiana, a thin carpet of slippery, hard to see algae is growing in the damp patch.   Riders barreling down the levee trying to squeeze every mile an hour they can with the rare opportunity of riding downhill,  have hit that slick patch at 20-25 mph or better and gone down.  One rider I spoke to said this is not speculation: she saw it happen once.
          Where the bike path turns away from the lake and crosses the levee to go under the Causeway is dangerous when dry.  At the bottom of the steep incline are sharp turns.  Gravel collects in those turns and riders risk a spill when trying to make the turn at speed. An unexpected patch of slippery algae on the road/path adds considerably to the risk.
           Most of where we ride in New Orleans is flat as a pancake.  It is hard to pass up a chance to tempt fate by risking a few speedy seconds zooming downhill to have a rare "here, hold my beer while I do this," experience.
          But try.

Wisner Overpass Bikepath Open

Looking northbound from De Saix Ave.

            When the new Wisner Avenue Bridge over I-610 and the CN railroad tracks opened last fall only four narrow traffic lanes-- two in each direction--opened.  The bike path, separated from the traffic lanes by a thick concrete wall, remained closed.  It looked like the path designers forgot to connect it with any other path or sidewalk.  To the south the bridge path just stopped, dumping cyclists and pedestrians in the grass.  The north end was close to a service road but the 10-12 foot gap was not paved.
            Now, ten months later, the path on the bridge is open and connected to the existing Wisner Ave. path at the north end and the Festival Park service loop in City Park at the south end. Soon work will be complete on the path connecting De Saix Ave. and Esplanade Ave.  This will complete a River to the Lake Route (Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain) route comprised of a mix of bike routes separate from traffic, Wisner Avenue Path) painted bike lanes on streets (Nashville Ave.) and suburban streets with light traffic signed as bike lanes, Moss Ave.
           So just how do cyclists and pedestrians navigate the newly open overpass now?  Heading south on the Wisner path along Bayou St. John, cross Harrison Ave.  Veer to the right to cross the bridge using the path and keep going south.  Both northbound and southbound bike/ped traffic uses the 12-foot bike line.
          If approaching the overpass from the south-- Carrollton Ave., or Moss St. or City Park-- you will not be able to use the stretch of new path connecting De Saix Ave. and Esplanade Ave. because the intersection at Esplanade intersection is not yet finished.  (Maybe in a month or so.)  You will have to detour through City Park.  Keeping Wisner Blvd. in sight, take the path along the eastern side of Big Lake about a 1/4 of a mile and exit at the first opportunity to the north and cross Freidricks Ave.  Right away turn right on to the Festival loop and ride about 100 feet to the spur leading to the right to Wisner Blvd where it intersects with De Saix.  Go up the little incline and wait for the light to change in your favor.  The traffic signals apparently not all installed yet. (none of them can be seen while standing at the end of the spur so be cautious when crossing Wisner to get on the Wisner overpass bike path.
          You will have to be very careful when crossing the intersections.  Both cyclists and drivers will have to figure out who has the right of way, who stops when and where.  This may not be immediately apparent to first time users.
           This brings up a safety issue.  Remember that cyclists coasting on the down strokes of the bridge can easily reach 25 miles per hour coasting.  While on the overpass be very aware of all other users both in front or behind you.  Also remember many users are going to be unaware of your presence because their hearing is blocked because they are wearing headphones.
            Freidricks Ave. (where that snotty little private school is in City Park) connects with Wisner Blvd. but does not cross to connect with the bike path.  A ramp has not be cut into the curb allowing easy access.  That "S" turn on Wisner Ave. is a very dangerous place to be on a bicycle anyway.  Bumpy.  Narrow.  Short sightlines.  Curbs and no shoulders.  Heavy traffic.  This is not a place to have to fiddle with having to get off a bicycle to jump a curb to get out of a busy street.

Wisner overpass bike path looking southbound