St. Bernard Avenue Pop-Up Bikeway - Final Review
What we learned bringing a street built to share to the 7th Ward
This summer, residents of the 7th Ward and across New Orleans, along with Bike Easy’s Complete Streets Ambassadors and staff came together to create a pop-up protected bikeway on Saint Bernard Avenue. Working in conjunction with the City of New Orleans, we showcased a different model for making our streets safe and accessible to people biking, walking, driving, and riding transit.
From July 31st through August 18th, people biking on St. Bernard got to experience biking on parking-protected lanes along a major roadway in New Orleans. In a parking-protected design, the area where vehicles park and bikers ride are switched around, so that bikes ride adjacent to the sidewalk. Everyone walking, biking, or driving along St. Bernard during this three week period got to see and think about whether this approach to making our streets safer and more accessible for people of all ages and abilities might work in their neighborhoods.
And it was a success— for the bikers in the neighborhood who told us they felt safer on the protected bikeway, for the local residents who saw and participated in a grassroots improvement project in their neighborhood, and for us at Bike Easy to collaborate with so many partners on a substantial street demonstration project. Commuters were kept safe. Residents and commuters engaged one another about ways to better share our streets.
Biking in the 7th Ward
Every New Orleans resident knows our streets come in all shapes, sizes, and conditions. As the main thoroughfare through the historic 7th Ward neighborhood, St. Bernard Avenue is a busy route for many local bike riders. Situated on the edge of the French Quarter, the 7th Ward is a hot spot for bikers commuting to jobs at hotels, bars, restaurants, and government offices downtown. That’s the reason why the city installed a dedicated bike lane just a few years ago. Still, commuters often complain that biking on St. Bernard can be a high-stress experience, as cars tend to whizz by at high speeds, drive through the bike lanes to pass other cars, and even frequently use it as a parking lane.
For these reasons, we chose the half-mile stretch between North Rampart St and North Claiborne Ave to conduct this test trial. The roadway itself was a good fit, as it’s generally in good condition and because of the bike lanes running in both directions. This made flipping the layout of the parking and bike lanes fairly straightforward, without us having to take away a lane of automobile traffic.
Installing a Pop-Up Bikeway
To be “protected” a bikeway requires more than just a stripe on the ground. A physical barrier of some kind between the car traffic and bike lane is required— rows of planters, delineators, or parked cars, etc. Across the country, these kinds of protected bikeways have proven safer for everyone on the street— bikers, drivers, walkers, and transit riders.
Our approach for this pop-up demonstration utilized a mix of barricades and cones to separate the traffic. Of course, we also had to change the traffic lines indicating the parking and biking lanes, which entailed a lot of temporary paint. Working with the City of New Orleans’ Office of Resilience, we were able to use barricades from the NOPD and cones from the city’s frequent contractor, Traffic Solutions. Much of the preparation for the look and feel of the bikeway was done by volunteers and our Complete Streets Ambassadors, including the design of the street stencils and the motif of the #iBikeNola banners on the barricades located at every intersection along the corridor.
On the weekend of July 29th and 30th, over thirty neighborhood residents and others from all over New Orleans, Bike Easy Ambassadors, and staff came out to install the bikeway. Spirited teamwork was required for everything to come together: from creating the bike stencils, cutting and painting barricade covers, putting up the many dozens of ‘No-Parking’ signs, marking out existing biking and parking lanes, picking up and hauling around the dozens of barricades and cones that protected the bike lanes on each side of the street.
The volunteers did a fantastic job working together, first in the heat and then in the rain. In fact, some of their labor Saturday was lost due to an early afternoon rain shower washed away freshly painted lines. Fortunately, with a little extra effort, the volunteers who came out the next morning were able to finish the half-mile corridor with no extra delays.
The bikeway was officially up and running that Sunday evening. On Tuesday, Bike Easy held a community kickoff event so local residents and commuters could stop by and learn more about the bikeway. They filled out surveys and were able to share their thoughts. Public officials and local media were also invited. Stories highlighting the improvements to traffic safety provided by the bikeway were published by The Advocate, WDSU and WWL.
Initially, Bike Easy and the City of New Orleans agreed for the bikeway to be open and operational for two weeks, from July 31st through August 11th. However, due to the heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding on August 5th, those plans were altered. Because of the shift in city needs, the pop-up was extended for an additional week.
Evaluating the Data
Before getting started with the installation of the bikeway, Bike Easy volunteers walked door to door to survey neighborhood residents and businesses. To understand how successful this demonstration could be, we needed to accurately report local perspectives on biking, commuting, and the everyday experience of travelling this short stretch of St. Bernard Avenue.
What we learned is that the 7th Ward is truly a biking community. In the neighborhood along the corridor, the percentage of households with a working bicycle (72%) was the same as those with a working motor vehicle (72%). More than two-thirds of respondents consider themselves frequent or occasional bike riders (38 of 56). And a full eighty percent of respondents say they would bike even more if better bike lanes were available.
Businesses along the corridor were also surveyed. All of the respondents acknowledged that many of their customers arrive by bike. However, business owners did communicate differing attitudes towards bike traffic, yet a solid majority said the permanent bike lane had positively impacted their business (75%).
Once the bikeway opened, Bike Easy opened an online survey and promoted it through Bike Easy’s website and social media. It remained opened through the end of September.
Initial findings suggest that residents both in the St. Bernard neighborhood as well as throughout the city overwhelmingly support safer, more accessible bike lanes in New Orleans. Many individuals recommended permanent protected bike lanes to further increase safety for people biking. Most participants from both the neighborhood and online surveys often responded that they would bike more if there were better bike lanes available.
Changing the bike infrastructure in New Orleans has the potential to significantly increase residents’ feelings of safety when biking, walking, and even driving on many city streets. Prior to the installation of the temporary bikeway, few New Orleanians felt “safe” or “very safe” biking on St. Bernard Ave (13% of respondents). However, while the pop-up was in effect, feeling “safe” or “very safe” while biking rose to a majority 82%. Feelings of safety when walking and driving increased as well.
The general support of the pop-up bikeway was met with some concerns by residents both in the St. Bernard neighborhood, as well as throughout the city. An issue frequently mentioned was the specifics of the design. Some people worried about individuals exiting vehicles into the bike lane, as well as the difficulty of making certain turns when biking.
When asked what form of bike infrastructure they would like to see in New Orleans, the top three forms residents chose were one-way protected lanes, two-way protected lanes, and off-street bike lanes. Such responses suggest that there is true public support for protected bike lanes in the city.
More data is needed to better understand the potential impact future bikeway installations may have on New Orleans residents. That said, there remains a need for more protected bike lanes in the city, evidenced by the responses to survey questions.
New Orleans has made great strides for biking safety in recent years. We now consistently rank in the top ten of American cities with highest portion of people commuting by bicycle, coming in at #6 this year. These dedicated bike lanes constitute real progress. But our number of crashes remains too high. Bike Easy believes that to reduce those crashes, New Orleans should begin the work of creating a network of protected bikeways that decreases the vulnerability of people biking, whether it be to work or visiting a friend across town. The specific designs for such protected bikeways might differ greatly from the design deployed this summer on St. Bernard Avenue. That’s fine. The larger point remains: reductions in serious crashes come from either reduced speed limits or separated spaces for people biking and people driving to travel.
That’s why a network of protected bikeways is a key component in Bike Easy’s push for more streets built to share for every part of greater New Orleans. Safe, accessible, protected routes should run through and connect all of our major neighborhoods — Uptown, Mid-City, Algiers, Lakeview, Gentilly, the 9th Ward, New Orleans East, as well as communities in Jefferson and St. Bernard Parishes.
Over the upcoming months, Bike Easy is looking to pursue more opportunities to demonstrate streets built to share in other parts of the city. One approach we’re taking is to help foster the creation of neighborhood biking and walking committees across Greater New Orleans, beginning with our own neighborhood: Central City. Across New Orleans, we’ll be enlisting local residents, you and your neighbors, to be the spokespeople for your neighborhood. From the ideas for improvement that you all would like to see, we can use the ‘Saint Bernard Avenue Pop-Up Protected Bikeway’ as a model for the improvements you would like to see in your neighborhood to ensure safe, accessible streets built to share for everyone in the community.