by Alan Delery
I’ve been a bike rider all my life. I even chose to ride to work rather than drive my car, in my teens and early twenties. This was on Elysian Fields and Gentilly, both of which were not particularly safe for bike riders and I had to be extremely careful. My point is that I was determined to ride and had to learn to respect the space I was in.
As an adult, I moved my family to Algiers and continued to ride. I remember when I couldn’t ride from my home in Walnut Bend to the ferry without riding on General Meyer which required me to ride on sidewalks at times to stay safe. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was when the Levee path opened up so I could ride all the way through to the Ferry. I rode up Holiday Dr. to Holiday Place up to the levee and down to the Ferry.
Things progressed and I started noticing bike markings on some roads. I often rode on Holiday and MacArthur. I felt safe enough, but recalled having to pull over and stop at times as cars passed in the right lane. It was nice when cars moved to the left lane when they saw me, but that didn’t always happen. If I was riding with a group, we sometimes took the right lane for safety reasons.
In 2016, I was excited when I found other bikers who wanted to ride together. We started a Facebook group called the Algiers Street Riders. We usually did evening rides on the levee with our colorful lights, as other groups around the city did. We attempted to do neighborhood rides, with the intention of getting others to join us. We believed if we only rode on the levee the community wouldn’t learn about us and the opportunity to connect with neighbors this way. We did this a few times but the neighborhood rides didn’t feel safe for the group and that ended our street rides.
Participation dwindled but I know people continued to ride on their own. I learned about the Complete Streets project in 2019 and attended their awareness meetings at the Main Library and the Arthur Monday Center. I was excited to see plans to improve bike safety in New Orleans and Algiers in particular. Maybe, it would make biking more accessible to others who weren’t as comfortable with riding. I thought, how exciting it would be to open our communities up and we can meet our neighbors during these rides.
I wrote and received a Complete Streets mini grant to introduce more people to the bike corridors. This was before the bollards went up as the different bike corridors were still being completed. The intent of my grant was to take people on guided bike rides, on each corridor, and allow them to get a better understanding of the various types of lanes, ranging from shared lanes, as on parts of Newton, to designated lanes as well as protected lanes.
At the end of each ride, I asked participants to complete an online survey to outline their observations and safety concerns.
During these rides we talked about bike safety and explored ways to enjoy our neighborhoods without having to get into a car. Walking and biking gives a totally different experience that we miss in the rush of getting from point A to point B in a car. By the way, I also love getting on the road with my Jeep with the windows down and the top off. There are many ways to enjoy our city. I’d like to make it as safe in as many ways as possible.
When I first wrote the proposal for the grant to bring awareness to the bike lanes, I never imagined the uproar they would create. I looked at it as a great opportunity for our community. It actually helped build my relationship with my three sons as we began to ride together. I bought new bikes for them for Christmas and the family was able to bond together in ways that we hadn’t in the past. I learned more about neighborhoods that I didn’t normally travel. We got to see a diverse and beautiful community.
I have a vision for shared roads with people meeting and talking and enjoying the outdoors together. I understand and respect that people have different concerns and don’t see this opportunity the way I do. It’s not for me to force anything down your throat and I’m interested to see how this works out.
I hope there can be reasonable compromise that allows the streets to be safe for everyone. With proper awareness and respect for one another, I hope to see more bikers on the streets enjoying their neighborhood and not just the outskirts of Algiers.
My final comment is that when I led the guided rides, it became more dangerous on the created bike paths when people blocked the lanes with their cars. I’m not saying they should receive tickets, but I’m simply saying that it creates a more dangerous situation when the path is blocked.
I’ll continue to be involved in community meetings as we address this issue. You are my family, my friends and my community. I don’t usually jump in on online conversations but just wanted to tell my story.