Bike For Our Lives Rally Demands More Safety For Cyclists On New Orleans Roads
During Carnival 2019, Nellie Catzen was one of many bikers who survived a crash involving a drunk driver who hit people pedaling on Esplanade Avenue after the Endymion Parade. She held back tears as she spoke of the tragedy – and the two friends she lost that day – at a bike safety rally on Saturday.
“There isn’t a day that I am not with them in this corner. There is not a day that I am not devastated by their preventable deaths,” Catzen said of his friends. , Sharee Walls, 27 and 31. -Old David Hines, who died of the drunk driving accident. Catzen said she frequently had flashbacks of holding Walls’ hand as she died.
The wreckage, which led to the arrest and 90-year-old sentencing of Tashonty Toney, has been a recent and major example for cycling advocates when they protest against the city’s poor and dangerous infrastructure for cyclists . The flat terrain and narrow distance between neighborhoods make New Orleans appealing to cyclists, but its streets and weathered drivers put biking in jeopardy.
The Ride For Our Lives event, where hundreds of people gathered, began with a jazz funeral procession to honor the deaths of citizens who lost their lives while cycling in the city.
Data from National Highway Traffic Safety shows New Orleans recorded nearly four cyclist fatalities per 100,000 population from 2007 to 2016, making it one of the worst cities in the country for cyclist safety. In the past two years, 11 cyclists have died in the parish of Orléans, according to the LSU Analysis and Research Center.
Another form of protest against the city’s lack of bicycle safety is Alex Fleming’s Ghost Bikes. Fleming creates the bikes completely painted white and places them at fatal accident sites.
As memorials help passers-by realize the need for caution, Fleming says he’s tired of doing them because each represents preventable death
“There is a world where pedestrians, drivers and cyclists coexist,” Fleming said. “People cannot drive here and there is no law enforcement.”
He described the streets of New Orleans as the “Wild West” compared to other cities he biked to.
Fleming says ghost bikes are often suppressed by the city or by unknown entities. The parks department told Fleming that Ghost Bikes needed permission from the grieving family, a process Fleming disagreed with.
“It’s very insensitive to go to a grieving family and ask for a signature when they are worried about burying their child,” Fleming said.
When a tag from the city’s parks service was left on a ghost bike in memory of Fleming’s friend and neighbor, Sher Stewart, who was killed while riding her bicycle at the intersection of the street Pauger and St. Claude Avenue, Fleming was furious. However, David Lee Simmons, RoadWorkNOLA’s safety awareness manager, released a statement days after apologizing for the tag, and said they were determined to work with Ghost Bikes and other groups. cyclists in the future.
The city said in 2019 it was targeting 75 miles of protected bike lanes across the city, but protesters say progress is slow and makes them vulnerable to vehicles. Now the city boasts of having installed more than 100 miles of on and off-street cycle lanes, with more to come, but protesters said the installed trails and lanes are a patchwork of unrelated paths, with a danger lurking between them.
“We do not block the traffic. We are the traffic”, he was chanted several times during the testimony of the speakers and while the bikers roamed the city.
Blake Owens, who operates a bike shop for the Youth Empowerment Project, said the city’s unconnected cycle paths need to be connected to provide more safety for commuters.
“It’s not something that only benefits bikers,” Owens said. “It makes driving easier, it makes the RTA easier, it makes it safer for people walking in their neighborhood.”
Zina Harris, who hosted the event, reminded the crowd that it was election time in the city and candidates were listening.
“For our city leaders, we need infrastructure for the streets so that we can promote and support businesses, so that we can access our jobs,” Harris said.
2019 census data showed that 16% of New Orleans residents do not have access to a car, almost double the national average. This leaves a large part of the city’s population in search of alternative means of transportation, which often means cycling.
“Bike lanes are a form of transportation. Not everyone has a car,” said Councilor Jared Brossett, who attended the protest. “We are here to promote awareness and education, and to respect all modes of transport.”
The danger has not, however, tarnished the popularity of cycling in the city, which is evident not only by the stream of cyclists for several kilometers on Saturday, but also by the groups of cyclists who roam the city. Owens, who also runs GetUpNRide, a Tuesday night social race, said biking brings people together.
“If you watch a soccer match with someone you don’t know them, but you all cheer on the same team, at the end of the match you know something about them – it’s the same with bikes , ”Owens said.