Land Use

Cyclists and pedestrians to benefit from new Complete Streets program started by city

Click here for a spreadsheet showing all bikeways complete, planned and under construction.

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

Byron Orlando Sandoval Lopez, 42, was cycling home on the St. Claude Avenue Bridge when a minivan hit him from behind, flinging him into the moving traffic that took his life. Kory Schenck, 26, was walking his bicycle across the Seabrook Bridge when a car fatally struck him. William Eddington, 64 was biking across Broad Street on Ursulines Avenue, moving against oncoming traffic, when a collision killed him.

In all three instances, drivers told police they didn’t see the cyclists until it was too late.

These three New Orleans deaths provide a window into one of the city’s more insistent – and overlooked —  safety hazards: dangerous traffic conditions for bicyclists. Bike down most streets in New Orleans and chances are you will dodge unlit intersections, potholes big enough to eat a tire, wheel-tripping horizontal grates and designated bike lanes several inches too narrow for safe passage. Even the most map-savvy travelers have a tough time finding bike-friendly streets to carry them all the way across town.  And if you’re bicycling after dark and have to cross a bridge, as Lopez and Schenck tried to do, you’re facing the most high-risk scenario of all.

In 2011, the dangers translated into the death of one biker and another 121 bicycle-related injuries in Orleans Parish, state records show. The prior year, the death toll was three cyclists with another 102 injured.

The numbers are small, but the patterns persistent. In the five years between1996 and 2001, crashes took the lives of 12 bicyclists in the city and injured 135 others, according to Charity Hospital data compiled by the Regional Planning Commission in a 2006 plan. All but two killed were black males and 78 percent of the crashes occurred in or within a quarter mile of a high-poverty census tract, the data shows.

In 2002, the city’s fatality rate won New Orleans  the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous biking city in the country’s third most lethal state for biking. In fact, Orleans Parish accounted for 49 percent of all bicycle crashes statewide, federal highway data shows.

“There’s a lot of ways to get hurt out there,” cyclist Tommy Gremillion, 55, said.

He should know. Several years back, he hit a cyclist while driving a FedEx truck in the French Quarter. The cyclist was riding the wrong way on a one-way street, Gremillion said, and suffered only minimal injuries, but the experience still haunts him.

“That’s why I quit driving,” Gremillion said. “You have to be cautious out there if you want to avoid injury, and not everyone is.

The issue crosses class and race lines. Despite a media focus on young, white and preternaturally hip pedalers, the data show that the majority of the city’s cyclists are men of color who don’t have cars and rely on bikes to get around. And the injury rate tracks that: Of the injuries reported between 1996 and 2001, 44 were sustained by black males under 18, but only two in the same age group were white males, the Regional Planning Commission states in its New Orleans Metropolitan Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, the most recent study of biking fatalities in the city.

“You can’t attribute the popularity of bikes to the influx of new people and the fact that people are all green,” Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer. “It is the fact that we are a poor city. People cannot afford to have cars and they get around on bikes.”

“This has always been the case and now we are becoming more conscious of it,” she said. “It’s an equity issue. People should be able to get to work, school or the store safely, affordably, and in a way that is healthy to them and the community.”

The movement to make streets safer for bikers is beginning to bear fruit in New Orleans. Unlike in other cities where designated bike lanes and other such amenities have been met with resistance from territorial drivers, there has been virtually zero public opposition here. Pre-Katrina, the city had 11 miles of bikeways. Now the city has 43.9 miles of bikeways constructed, including bike lanes, shared lanes, and off-street paths, with another 4.2 miles are currently in construction and approximately 15 additional miles in planning.

In September, the League of American Bicyclists recognized the city’s progress by designating it as a Bicycle Friendly Community.  The advocacy group, which awarded the city a bronze designation, commended New Orleans for its expanding bikeway network and growing biking population.

Yet even as the political stars align for the urban bicycling movement, significant challenges remain.

Earlier this month, Palmer, an avid pedaler herself, won unanimous approval from the City Council for an ordinance that establishes a “Complete Streets” program at City Hall.  Complete Streets is a national movement to encourage road design that prioritizes the needs of cyclists, pedestrians, transit users and people with disabilities. Much like Complete Streets regulations passed in cities such as Charlotte, N.C., Tupelo, Miss., and Rockville, Md., the Palmer-authored ordinance requires the city’s Public Works Department to work with the City Planning Commission to create design standards and policies that promote walking, biking and transit usage and that comply fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ordinance, planners must consider amenities such as bike lanes, crosswalks, traffic-calming measures, curb cuts, street and sidewalk lighting and other “targeted pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements.”

New Orleans is the first city in Louisiana to adopt such a policy, though the state itself enacted a similar statute in 2010.

Advocates, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu, say the policy is nothing short of a paradigm shift, one that contravenes decades of planning exclusively for cars and other passenger vehicles.

“Up until now, making streets safer has been done in an ad-hoc way,” said Matt Rufo, program manager for the KidsWalk Coalition, a project of the Prevention Research Center at Tulane University. “This will make it happen as a matter of policy, as the rule rather than the exception.”

The following photo essay is a look at the cyclists who stand to benefit from the new policy. They were photographed at intersections identified by the Regional Planning Commission as crash “hot spots” because of the frequency with which accidents occur there. Several of the cyclists featured were found through Insight New Orleans. Insight New Orleans is a part of American Public Media’s Public Insight Network, an engagement platform for people to share with journalists their knowledge and insights about timely issues. (Photo Essay by Andy Cook)





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  • JD

    BikeEasy is collecting bicycle incident stories. If you have been involved in an incident in Metro New Orleans please go and help out this organization.

    -NOLA Cyclist

  • Dar

    what’s with the lack of helmets?

  • You don’t need a helmet. Cycling isn’t risky, it’s driving that’s risky. Nobody makes drivers wear a helmet! Check out for more.

  • JFW

    Bicyclists must obey laws of the road as well, such as the prohibition of riding bikes on City sidewalks and obeying traffic signals. Countless times I’ve come close to being mowed down by an adult bicyclist speeding down a Magazine Street sidewalk.

  • jeffrey

    What’s wrong with cyclists using their own judgement at stop signs and traffic signals? Anyone who rides regularly understands that it’s fairly easy to asses the hazards of a side street intersection without having to automatically stop at every posted stop sign. This is possible because bikes and automobiles are completely different modes of transport. They shouldn’t be subject to the exact same regulations.

    But this is pretty obviously the direction we’re headed.

  • AWESOME photo essay!

    re: stop signs. see this Idaho stop law, akin to the boat traffic laws. make the law work for everyone, not just cars!

    re: badly paved streets
    check out this map

    there is more safety in numbers, than there is in a helmet.



  • SparkyD

    This article is good to point out the growing awareness of bicycling, but it also shows how misunderstood “Complete Street” standards are in this City (and other places) as it only focused on bicycles and motorists. Successful Complete Street design includes all users—pedestrians, wheelchair users, bicyclists, and motorists. They are designed for safety, efficiency, and aesthetics; they include streetscapes with some combination of sidewalks, commercial/residential frontage, and planting zones, ADA accessible crosswalks, bike lanes, street parking, and motorist travel lanes. The point is all users should be considered in the initial design—not as an afterthought.

    New Orleans is making good inroads for this endeavor, but much more needs to be done with regard to route connectivity/design, integrating sidewalks into road repairs, and a greater adherence and education about the Rules of the Road for bicyclists and motorists alike.

  • jeffrey

    Scott, thanks for the link to that “Idaho stop” story. Notice that the law allowing for these differences failed in Oregon which, of course, only calcifies the problem. And that, I think, is the real problem with the recent faddish demand for cyclist recognition. It changes the environment such that now everyone is subject to unnecessary micro-scrutiny.

  • alli

    SparkyD, I think the main barrier to a larger city-led focus on sidewalks (and thus the pedestrian environment) is that by law, sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner. Additionally, the city is probably using the AASHTO manual instead of a different engineering design guide that has better intersection/sidewalk/etc treatments for pedestrians.

  • Lib

    I applaud this story – I am a complete streets advocate. But I think it is interesting that only two of the bicyclists featured in the photo essay are African-American when according to the article the “majority of the city’s cyclists are men of color.” Since the photo essay “is a look at the cyclists who stand to benefit from the new policy” it kinda makes it look like the policy may be overlooking the majority of NOLA’s bicyclists.

  • jeffrey

    What I like about the photo essay is one of the subject tells us that she bikes specifically in order to show the rest of us how easy it is. Thank you, kind citizen, for presuming that I need to be led by your awesome example.

  • Ariella Cohen

    Thanks for all the comments! To address some of the concerns:
    Lib, you are right to point out that only three of nine cyclists featured are people of color. I assure you the racial breakdown was not intended to have an editorial meaning. We found our subjects through a combination of traditional man-on-the-street scoping for willing subjects at specific high-risk intersections and the use of an online system — The Public Insight Network. We may have sacrificed some diversity in subject by limiting where and how we reached our subjects.

    To address your concern, Sparky, we chose to focus on bikers because it one critical element of Complete Streets that many of our readers are passionate about. BUT YES, the ADA retrofits and other changes to make streets accessible for all users are just as key as the bike lanes.

  • Lib

    Thank you for the explanation. I did appreciate the range of ages. Not all bicyclists are 20-somethings. And also that the cyclists represent various parts of the city.

  • BikeErrywheres

    I applaud the new complete streets ordinance. One spot that really pisses me off is on Canal St. between Broad and Galvez. The side of the road that was re-done next to the giant bulldozed “future LSU/VA” site used to have a parking lane that made cycling pretty safe on Canal St, but when they re-did the sidewalks they installed bump-outs of grass into the parking lane so you have to swerve out into the traffic 2 or 3 times around there. SO STUPID! They made it LESS SAFE in exchange for what, some grass?

    That should have to be re-done, especially since the only way to get to downtown from a good chunk of mid-city now is along Canal St or Tulane Ave, both dangerous streets because of the fast speeds. Just give us a little space, please!

  • SparkyD

    The AASHTO “Green Book” of standards states , “Sidewalks are integral parts of city streets”; my point was the title references pedestrians and Complete Street programs, but only focused on bicycles. I noticed the video Scott Eustis posted discussed the hierarchy of yielding to pedestrians, bicycles, and motorists–subtle, but important. The article in itself was great.

  • thanks for the shout outs.

    The Idaho stop law, and the rationale for it, also has a local analogue in the boat traffic laws.

    Powered vessels must yield right of way to unpowered (sailing) vessels, in Lake Pontchartrain, for example. (and kayaks? i’m not sure)

    as a cycle-oriented guy i must admit that the analogy must continue to interactions between pedestrians and cyclists–the more powerful actor must yield to the slower, cyclists must yield to pedestrians.

  • re: “John” ‘s comment on separated infrastructure.

    Separated Infrastructure is the cry of cycle advocates worldwide. in new orleans, especially in the old city, the grid is so packed, i think designating off-trunk streets as “bike” streets is more likely to encourage cycling than little bike strips in the door lane in major streets like broad, etc.

    we at nolacycle tried to figure out some already well-paved off-streets to designate as “routes.” none of us could agree on anything, and then Lauren got a job Crewing movie sets. but here is how far we got:

  • oh wait

    here is the routes we came up with, Uptown mostly..

  • Off the cuff

    I’ve used biking as my primary mode of transportation since the mid 90’s when I was a student in high school. I’ve never owned a car or possessed a driver license. As a recent transplant from PDX to NOLA I would disagree with the bronze award. I think New Orleans flat geography makes it an ideal place to commute but the roads are a mess. The roads are dangerous, biking at night even with lights is risky. On many roads like Nashville, Camp or Esplanade a biker has to constantly avoid the parts of the street where the concrete juts out and suddenly caves in and back again. It can be scary, well more aggravating than scary. And my ass hurts.
    Up until I moved here honking his horn would always piss me off “don’t tell me to get out your way.” I originally thought that is what the drivers were doing to me here, more often than not; cars have done it to let me know they are behind me. It’s an alert. I always try to make eye contact with the driver, you have to be able to communicate with each other. We don’t have turn signals on our bikes so we have to let the drivers and other cyclists know if we are turning left or right. I can count on one hand, since the five months I’ve been here how many cyclist signal to the driver behind them, or say something to me when they are passing me. No, I can’t always hear you approaching from behind. I do pass red lights primarily to make it safer for me. There are some intersections where it’s just better for me to get ahead of the pack.
    If we all followed the rules of the road both drivers and cyclists, I am sure there would be a steep decline in traffic accidents and fatalities. But that is not the case, so I am not and no one should encourage others not to wear a helmet. I am not going to place the responsibility of my safety onto drivers, I am simply taking ownership of my life and placing the responsibility of my safety in my hands. We live in a city, a city I now call home where you can take a drink to go. Drinking and driving is illegal but that does not stop assholes from doing it, so why would I trust that asshole to watch out for me? Why would I trust the drunken cyclist to watch out for me or any other absent minded driver/ cyclist? I know my previous helmet protected me in a collision with a skateboarder on Portland’s Steel Bridge. It worked for me.

    I hope as we create a culture of commuting that we remember to remind ourselves that we too need to take responsibility for our safety. Was it solely the drivers fault in the deaths of those individuals, did the cyclists have lights or clothing that was bright or reflective? Did they have access to those things? If not, than we also as a community to provide these resources to those who don’t have access to bike safety equipment. I think we should cultivate a culture where we learn to look out for each other.

  • KH

    One street which is currently bike-unfriendly is Newcomb Blvd., where the fence design blocks cars and bicycles alike. If you’re riding your bike on Newcomb, you need to get onto the sidewalk and pass through narrow posts to access Freret St.

  • Bike advocates, those who know how fucked city halls blight program is, and those who can afford a little spare time and can show some anarchist good will, please read this:

  • iAMamused

    I am really getting tired of cyclists complaining about idiot drivers. As a resident of this city who is now paying higher insurance because of a collision with a bicyclist (yes it goes against your collision coverage not comprehensive) I am fed up with bicyclists belief that they can do whatever they want. Repeat after me, YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE TRAFFIC LAWS.

    Every single day, multiple times a day, I see bicyclists violating traffic laws. Riding the wrong way down a street is ILLEGAL on a bicycle as well as not coming to a COMPLETE stop at a stop sign. Nobody cares what the laws are in other states. You have to obey the laws of the state you are in. If you are riding the wrong way down a street I am on you better get out of my way because I sure as hell am not giving you ANY space to pass.

    It amazes me that there is so much crying and complaining when the police write tickets to cyclists for breaking the law. Like every other traffic/vehicle related law in this city I don’t think they are doing enough. Just look at all the cars illegally parked everywhere.

    I will not shed a tear if you get hurt or killed colliding with my vehicle if you are not following the law. I might even sue you for the damages.

    If you are riding with the flow of traffic following the laws and are courteous to other vehicles on the road (yes your bike is a vehicle) then I will respond in kind. Please, be a contributor to a civil society and follow the laws. Don’t blindly blame the drivers of cars. Bicyclists have the same risks that a motorcyclist has. Ride defensively and always be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you see them before they see you so you are prepared if they don’t.

    This article however informative is lacking in information regarding the enforcement of traffic laws. How many tickets to cyclists have been issued by NOPD during the periods discussed. Even if that number has gone up I don’t think it has gone up enough. Traffic laws are intended to make the streets safer. BOTH drivers and cyclists need to obey those laws to keep everyone safe. I feel like there needs to be a greater stress on educating bicyclists before we worry about re-designing streets and intersections.