City Council Testimony from Dan Favre
It’s been a rough month for the bike community, for the whole community. My deepest condolences to the families of Sharree Walls, David Hynes, and Frank Fisher, and my sincere wishes for a full and fast healing to everyone recovering from injuries.
Thanks to the work of the Ghost Bikes project to honor those we’ve lost, provide a vital tool in the grieving and healing process, and build momentum towards a future with safe streets.
My name is Dan Favre, and I’m the Executive Director of Bike Easy, the local non-profit whose mission is to make bicycling easy, safe, and fun for everyone in Greater New Orleans.
As I’ve been reeling from this tragedy along with so many in our community, it is the palpable desire for action to make our streets safe for everyone, to provide safe and equitable transportation options to all the people living in all neighborhoods of this City. it’s that clearly felt community desire that has inspired me and kept me moving. The urgency to act on the commitment to safe streets that are built to share feels so clear in this moment, and we must come together to reorganize our roadways and shift our societal attitudes. Thank you for having me here today as we chart our course of collective action.
The crash during Mardi Gras was a horrific, and preventable tragedy. The circumstances speak to a multitude of specific issues – drunk driving, event traffic management, but it is also indicative of the risk and fear many people face riding every day. Less than two weeks prior, Frank Fisher was killed while riding his bike to work in the morning, in broad daylight on a normal Wednesday.
There are many changes to be made – better education for all parties, stronger laws and enforcement to protect vulnerable road users, further work to eradicate drunk driving… At Bike Easy, based on research, on-going work, and a desire for the biggest and fastest impact, we have chosen to focus on the need to reorganize our roadways to better accommodate all people, no matter how they choose to travel that day. These events have shown what many of us have long known – a single stripe of paint is not always enough to protect people biking.
Now, make no mistake, New Orleans has been making progress on improving mobility and creating safe streets. We are building off a growing strength. We’ve got more and more hi-viz crosswalks and pedestrian signals. The RTA continues to rebuild and is undergoing exciting updates. Bike infrastructure and the bicycling culture of New Orleans have greatly evolved over the last decade or so.
And there are more people than ever riding bikes… which is great! The benefits of biking are impressive for individuals, families, and the broader community – even for those who will never bike. Biking can help reduce health disparities, improve equity, facilitate job access & economic development, contribute to quality-of-life… and let us not forget, biking is fun! It’s a joyful activity. But even if you don’t ride, more people biking is good for you – decreased traffic congestion, improved air quality, and more parking available. Bike lanes and traffic calming help reduce illegal and dangerous speeding, making our neighborhoods safer and more livable.
However, there are still major challenges to overcome to enable everyone to experience the benefits of biking, especially concerning safety and accessibility for people of all ages and abilities in all parts of the city. While the relative risk of riding has gone down over recent years. The four fatalities and multiple injuries that have already occurred in 2019 have show how great the need is to continue our push towards safe streets built to share and a connected and protected network of bikeways.
Creating safe mobility options is also an equity issue. In a report Bike Easy authored along with the National Complete Streets Coalition titled Complete Streets for Health Equity, the data showed that while 32% of people living in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish live in high-poverty census tracts, over 67% of crashes involving people walking and biking happen in those areas.
Almost 20% of households in New Orleans don’t have access to a motor vehicle, and that number increases to over 32% when the heads of household are black. And our unacceptable health disparities – up to 25 years life expectancy differentials – break along race and class lines.
But thankfully, we’ve already been working towards the solutions, and I’m hopeful that the we will use this moment to bring our community together in support of rapidly implementing those solutions.
First – creating streets built to share that are safe for all users, whether walking, driving, biking, taking the bus, or riding in a wheelchair.
The City Council passed a Complete Streets ordinance in 2011 that has propelled many of the advances we’ve seen in streets being built to share for the safety of all users. Of course, the approach to Complete Streets has evolved, and for over 2 years, the New Orleans Complete Streets Coalition, comprised of a variety of public health, mobility, and neighborhood organizations along with businesses and clubs, has been working to build public support and develop detailed recommendations for an updated Complete Streets policy that will facilitate implementation in a data-driven, equity-focused, and publicly transparent way. We appreciate this Council’s support of that policy update back in July, and we’re glad to see it once again invoked in the resolution you will take up today. The administration has also been considering the details of this policy, and we eagerly await a comprehensive update that follows the recommendations of the Council and the community.
Second – Work has also been happening to develop the details of implementing a network of connected and protected bike lanes that can dramatically improve safety and peace of mind for all travelers. Not only has incredible effort gone in from entities like the Federal Highway Administration, the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials, and the National Association of City Transportation Officials, and others, but also right here in New Orleans – from the Connect the Crescent pop-up demonstration to current work Mayor Cantrell’s administration is doing towards creating a citywide bikeway network plan and rapidly building it out, two projects we’ll hear more about at the next Transportation Committee meeting.
Protected lanes are located on or next to the road but are physically separated from motor vehicle traffic and only used by people riding bikes. Networks of connected and protected bikeway don’t leave people driving, walking, or biking to navigate incomplete connections that force everyone into unsafe and confusing situations.
When the bike network integrates with our transit system, safe walking, and efficient driving, everyone can get where they are going with the greatest safety and the least amount of hassle because the traffic flow needs of all are met through careful planning and smart construction. And when those networks link underserved areas to job centers, people are connected to opportunity.
Reorganizing our roadways can also help shift our collective consciousness, can help ensure everyone is more aware of one another, can help show that everyone deserves to get where they are going safely and comfortably. Study after study, including some right here in New Orleans, show that bike infrastructure helps encourage people biking to better follow the rules of the road and ride more safely. And protected bike lanes aren’t easily abused, the way we see it happen to so many of our standard bike lanes.
This is a big job, and it requires careful technical planning, robust community engagement, and smart construction. Bike Easy, the larger bike/walk community, members of the New Orleans Complete Streets Coalition, and so many more look forward to supporting the institutionalizing of the Complete Streets process. We are thrilled to for everyone to be a part of the City’s developing efforts to create a citywide bikeway network plan and rapidly begin to build it out. We very much look forward to more details and to helping ensure strong community engagement in the process. We look forward to seeing the capacity of the Office of Transportation grow and supporting the work towards safe, equitable, connected, and efficient transportation options.
On behalf of Bike Easy and the all the people we aim to represent – everyone who rides and all those who would like to enjoy the benefits of riding, I thank the Council for everything included in this resolution – from better education and enforcement to encouragement activities like Open Streets. And of course, I’m most excited about the infrastructure recommendations, for the value and safety those changes will bring to everyone.
Strong community engagement to support these actions is key. I encourage everyone here today to keep showing up, bring your friends, your neighbors, total strangers. Come to more of these Council meetings, come to the bikeway planning and regional transit reimagining meetings that will be announced soon, be active in your community speaking up for active transportation. Help bring people of color and low-to-moderate income individuals who have long been left out of it into the transportation planning process.
As we mourn the loss of young, bright lives, let us come together to ensure that:
- We have a Complete Streets policy that is data-driven, equity-focused, and publicly accountable so when roadways are reconstructed they become safe streets that are built to share and
- That we have a safe, connected and protected bikeway network that works for all.
All levels of government, civic leaders and businesses, advocates and everyday commuters – let’s work together to eliminate deaths on our roadways, to provide easy and safe ways for everyone to get to work, to school, to the park, to the store, no matter how they choose to travel that day.
To honor Sharree, David, Frank, and all who have been hurt or killed on our roadways, let’s do this. Let’s do this right. Let’s do this right now!