Wednesday night (3.29), the City of New Orleans and Social Bicycles (SoBi) hosted the second outing in a series of workshops on the upcoming bike-share program. Held in the Corpus Christi-Epiphany Community Resource Center, the evening saw residents of the 7th Ward, Treme, and Esplanade Ridge came out to discuss the program and sound off on possible bike station locations.
SoBi and the City's hands-on approach to the upcoming program launch is part of the best practices used in other cities to engage residents directly in a dialogue and receive feedback, with the idea that neighborhood members know their streets best.
Volunteer-driven organization Bike Easy was on hand to facilitate the discussion and explain factors to consider when choosing bike stations. “This will help us find potential places and rule out the ones that don’t work,” said Dan Favre, Executive Director of Bike Easy.
Some significant factors that the City of New Orleans must consider are direct connections to transit, as well as proximity to neighborhood destinations like grocery stores, community centers, health centers, and public parks.
Dwight Norton, Urban Mobility Coordinator with the City of New Orleans, explained that ideally the city is looking to avoid high stress environments: streets with construction or those prone to flooding. “For example we don’t’ want people getting off right on Elysian Fields,” he said. “Another obvious high intensity area is Bourbon St.”
At the 7th Ward Meeting, facilitators and residents were separated into groups with large sized maps of the 7th Ward to discuss location points already marked and new ones that could be added. Negative feedback was given to those with little activity or lacking in suitable pavement, on streets like Ursuline and Johnson. A station near the Circle Foods on St. Bernard and Clairborne Ave. was highlighted as a good option. “The bikes could go under the interstate,” one resident volunteered to the crowd.
Some spots were no-brainers, such as those near the Rampart St. streetcar line. Other ideal stations included those that could connect popular destinations like Lafitte Greenway, Broad St. Theater, and Whole Foods. Attendees also evaluated Basin St., the bus stop-adjacent St. Louis St., and the popular St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, located at the end of the greenway.
The bike share program started in February as a demo with seven bike stations, mostly situated in the French Quarter. Since its soft launch, 277 riders have used the service with nearly 1,700 miles traveled and over 430 hours of riding time, according to SoBi.
Bike culture in New Orleans has steadily grown over the years. In early 2014 NOLA ranked as a top 10 city for bike commuting, also receiving the unfortunate honor as a top 5 place for bicycle fatalies. The workshop cited an 88 percent increase in cycling through December 2015 according to University of New Orleans Transportation Institute and the Regional Planning Commission.
Despite the numbers, not many residents showed up to the workshop. “Getting more people is the difficult part,” said Alan Ma, Planning & Launch Manger of Social Bicycles, “We use social media, PR and council member contacts to engage the community.” Ma is hoping more residents will show up to the four remaining workshops. Though each meeting is targeted for discussion on a particular neighborhood, all New Orleanians are welcome to provide their opinions on the program in general.
“Biking can have a huge impact on communities,” said Favre. “Not only does it enable residents to go from place to place, but it also improves economic access, and access to food.”
Favre sees the bike share program as a public transportation option that is low-cost, and beneficial to the environment, since it will help reduce CO2 emissions. Bike Easy is advocating for better bikeways with complete and robust streets. “By investing in better streets and sidewalks we enable people to be active.” So far FEMA has allocated $2 billion for road and pipe damages, which is being used in the Capital Improvement Program through RoadWork Nola.
The city will release a draft of the bike share map in early summer 2017, and a final version at the end of summer with a full launch of 70 stations in October of this year. Residents also have the opportunity to vote online in April. The next bike share community workshop is Monday, (4.3), with the following three discussions taking place within the first week of April. Concerned bikers, drivers and pedestrians be sure to attend.