nola.com - NOPD pledges better bike law enforcement
Wednesday, Mar 27, 2019
NOPD pledges better bike law enforcement
Updated Mar 27, 2:13 PM; Posted Mar 27, 12:47 PM
By Kevin Litten, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
A top New Orleans police official sought to reassure City Council members on Tuesday (March 26) that the department has plans to increase enforcement around bike laws, including a crackdown on motorists who block bike lanes.
Council members last week urged Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the NOPD to take quick action in the wake of a March 2 crash on Esplanade Avenue that left two cyclists dead. Until Tuesday, Cantrell’s administration had not discussed specific enforcement plans, and the NOPD had not responded to interview requests.
During a presentation Tuesday, NOPD Deputy Chief Paul Noel fielded questions from council members, who relayed stories from dozens of cyclists who said they had been involved in crashes or near-misses on the city’s network of mostly unprotected bike lanes. Last year, the Wall Street Journal ranked New Orleans as the sixth-most dangerous city in America for bicycling.
The deaths of Sharee Walls and David Hynes show how far the city has to go to make biking safe.
Noel told council members that NOPD takes “all traffic matters very, very seriously” and said the department has begun training officers through a program known as “Bike’s Eye View.” Half of the time is spent in the classroom and the other half has officers riding the city’s bike lanes, he said.
The program will “give them a view from the cyclist, and I think that’s going to be really eye-opening,” Noel said. The department is also emphasizing ticketing motorists stopped in bike lanes, he added.
Councilman Jay Banks has proposed increasing the fine for motorists who stop in a bike lane from $40 to $300. Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer also wants city parking enforcement officers to write more tickets for parking in bike lanes.
Cycling advocates have been documenting the prevalence of vehicles using bike lanes, and some are confronting drivers. Dean Gray is president of Stolen Bikes NOLA, which attempts to recover bicycles taken by thieves. He has posted confrontations with motorists and posted them to the group’s Facebook page.
Gray told council members that during a recent ride down Baronne Street, he “could not ride for more than 30 feet without a car coming into the lane.” In an interview last week, Gray said he’s frustrated that the city talks so much about planning newly protected bike lanes without emphasizing enforcement.
“They can plan all they want,” Gray said. “Until it’s enforced, there’s nothing that’s ever going to happen.”
Activists have become especially sensitive to blocked bike lanes after a garbage truck fatally struck cyclist Frank Fisher, who had to swerve into traffic to avoid cones set up in the Carrollton Avenue bike lane, according to his attorney.
Noel said the city has deployed bike-mounted officers during special events, and they will be instructed to emphasize blocked bike lane enforcement.
City Council members also pressed Noel to increase drunk-driving checkpoints, especially around large events to discourage people from drinking and driving. The driver in the fatal Esplanade Avenue accident is alleged to have been intoxicated.
Noel said more DWI enforcement would be difficult given how thinly stretched the department is, especially around Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. The NOPD department made nearly 900 DUI arrests last year, he added.
“We shouldn’t have to make that many arrests with ride sharing and people who can get rides home,” Noel said. “We have entirely too many DWI arrests.”
Councilman Jason Williams also urged police to explore the diversion of bicyclists and pedestrians to side streets, away from main thoroughfares during major events. It would require the closure of those side streets, Noel said, something he said he’d have to explore.
The city’s Department of Public Works also discussed enforcement Tuesday, focusing mostly discussed enforcement of people illegally parking in loading zones. Williams said he hopes Public Works could leverage its fleet of tow trucks to remove illegally parked vehicles. Councilman Jared Brossett urged the Cantrell administration to target taxis parked illegally in bike and travel lanes.
“I think that the administration has to clamp down on making it better for the pedestrian and the cyclist and the everyday motorist,” Brossett said.
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