New Orleans has made great efforts to expand bike paths across the city. The city now has nearly 70 miles of bike lanes in use or under construction. There are also 14 miles of off-street bike paths, including those in City Park and Audubon Park. Becuase of these improvements, the League of American Bicyclists has designated New Orleans as a brozen level bike friendly city. This is a great development for bike enthusiast, environmentalist, and those just interested in exercise or enjoying our wonderful city. However, these improvements are far ahead of the city culturally.
Drivers have not yet adjusted to the presence of these bike lanes. For years, driver and pedestrian habits have developed that make riding a bike on city street fairly dangerous. Many drivers are either unaware of the laws regarding bicycles on public roads or simply ignore those laws. Perhaps the collective conscience of the city’s drivers just does not have bicyclists in mind when driving.
Until those driving cars and trucks become more accustomed to sharing the road with bicycles, it is a good idea for those on bikes to take extra precautions. First, a bicyclist should never assume that those driving cars see them. Many drivers aren’t looking for bicycles when turning or changing lanes. Bicycles just aren’t on their radar screen.
Second, don’t assume that the drivers of cars know or respect the rules of the road regarding bikes and cars. Many drivers aren’t aware of the laws regarding lane sharing for example. Additionally, those who do not cycle may not be aware of the danger of passing a bicycle at an excessive rate of speed.
Finally, it is best to avoid very busy streets and peak rush hour traffic if possible. Drivers tend to be even less aware of cyclist during these times. Also, wear protective gear and equipment. A Helmet can save your life. Reflectors, lights, and bells significantly increase a cyclist’s visibility.
With time and the increased presence of bicycles on city streets, drivers will adapt and change their habits. New Orleans now has the infrastructure to become a great city for bicyclists. However, the drivers on the road need time to adjust. Perhaps the best advice for bicyclists and pedestrians alike is to follow all traffic laws themselves. This should help to change the culture. This means bicyclist need to stop at red lights and pedestrians need to use crosswalks and refrain from jaywalking. We can’t expect drivers to obey the rules of the road while we disobey those same rules.
Bicycle accidents are on the rise and until driving habits change, those on bicycles can never assume the driver will yield right of way, know the law, or respect their right to be on the road.
For more information on how to protect yourself while bicycling and what to do if you are involved in an accident visit our website. Also, here is a link to a DOTD Bike Path Map that also shows roads with wide shoulders and bike lanes.