This past May 2013, New Orleans received a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community award from the League of American Bicyclists. Undoubtedly, the award was well deserved. New Orleans now has almost 2% of its population commuting by bike, and the city has gone from fewer than ten miles of designated bikeways before Hurricane Katrina to approximately fifty-eight miles of designated bikeways today.
As the city celebrates the recent recognition as a bicycle friendly community, it is imperative to continue building momentum for bicycling in New Orleans. While we have all heard much fanfare about the good that bicycling does for cities and sustainability, New Orleans is particularly poised to benefit tremendously from improved bicycling conditions.
At 27%, the poverty rate in New Orleans is almost twice the national average of 15%. Additionally, 37% of New Orleanians are afflicted by asset poverty, meaning they could not survive a job loss for anything upward of three months. Improved conditions for bicycling can help build wealth among New Orleanians by making it easier for people to choose more cost efficient transportation options. The cost of owning a car can run about $500 per month or higher over the lifespan of a car, whereas a bike costs $500 once, with approximately $100 per year to maintain it. With such staggering differences in cost, any measure to making bicycling an easier choice can have a significant impact on New Orleanians who are trying to build wealth.
Another way that New Orleans can benefit from improved bicycling conditions is through the creation of an enlightened, active citizenry. Bicycling is a mode of transport that happens at a very human pace and scale, allowing bicyclists to notice more of their surroundings and become better acquainted with the city. A bicyclist on a morning commute may venture off the main thoroughfares to avoid high-speed traffic, encountering new neighborhoods, becoming more aware of both the positive and negative aspects of the city. This heightened awareness of the city can be the first step in creating an empathetic, engaged and active citizen. With many social issues to combat, New Orleans can surely benefit from a more aware and involved citizenry.
As New Orleans celebrates the great strides it has made in improving conditions for bicycling through education, infrastructure, policy, promotion, and urban design, it should continue to build momentum to increase the number of commutes by bike in New Orleans. Doing so can have far reaching benefits in many areas, including building wealth and an active citizenry in the Crescent City.
How have improved bicycling conditions impacted your community?
Credits: Images by Jessica Yoon. Data linked to sources.