It's become customary for mourners to set up "ghost bikes" — painted white bicycles covered with flowers and cards — at the sites of fatal collisions between cars and bicyclists. It's a sad sight, and it has become a sadly familiar one in New Orleans. Last week saw the city's sixth traffic-related bike fatality of the year at the corner of Canal and Broad streets, where a cyclist was hit by a dump truck.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration has made much of New Orleans becoming a bike-friendly city, touting the number of bike lanes added in recent years and having a soft opening of the beautiful new Lafitte Greenway, which runs from Mid-City nearly to the French Quarter. What the administration hasn't done is enforce laws that would make this a truly bike-friendly city.
Last December, the city unveiled a dedicated bike lane on Baronne Street downtown with much fanfare. It reduced Baronne to one lane of vehicular traffic heading out of the CBD — and it was probably the worst place it could have been done (why not on wide Loyola Avenue, which already has a streetcar?). City Hall assured everyone it was only a pilot program, to be assessed in six months.
In May, a Gambit cover story showed in words and pictures that the Baronne Street lane was virtually meaningless due to lack of enforcement. RTA buses regularly use the bike lane; delivery trucks park in it; and cars drive right through it — forcing bicyclists into the middle of the street. At the time, Department of Public Works Director Mark Jernigan said he couldn't estimate the number of tickets the city had written for such infractions. Baronne business owners and neighbors said enforcement was nonexistent.
Little has changed since then. Two more bicyclists have died after being struck by cars — one on Elysian Fields Avenue heading home from work, the other last week on Canal Street. Enforcement is so lacking that concerned cyclists held a "die-in" on the steps of City Hall last month to draw attention to the problem.
Now New Orleans City Council members Jared Brossett and LaToya Cantrell say they intend to formulate a plan. Brossett's Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Committee will have its first meeting Aug. 21 — six months after it was created — in the Council Chamber. It's a start.
"As I travel throughout the district," Cantrell said in a statement, "I regularly see bicyclists and drivers blatantly disregard one another on the streets — cars deliberately driving in bicycle lanes and bicycles running red lights while weaving in and out of traffic, all without getting a citation."
After the bicyclist was killed last week, the mayor issued a statement saying, "I am fully committed to making our roadways even safer for all users whether they are biking, walking or driving." That sounds good, but words mean little when the city isn't willing or able to write tickets or stop buses from driving in bike lanes. We urge Brossett's committee to come up with concrete solutions quickly — and get cops to enforce the law.
Bike infrastructure is meaningless when the bike lanes are dotted with ghost bikes.