Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bicycle Diaries

I wonder what it would be like to live in a city with actual, enforceable bicycle laws. This article in Slate got me thinking about riding bikes, and how we handle it in the South.

As a disclaimer, I grew up on ridiculously bike-friendly St. Simons Island. The locals knew that their bread was buttered on the side of easy living and margarita drinking, and took steps to ensure tourists and locals would be able to move freely from condo to beach without needing a car to do so. Public dollars were spent either widening the bicycle/pedestrian paths that already existed or putting in new ones.

Thus began my animosity towards "pro-bike" culturalistas who constantly eschewed the bicycle path to ride in the middle of narrow two lane roads at all hours of the day. While I can excuse racing bikes who haul ass and don't want to run the risk of running down the dog-walking population of a retirement community, I became livid when the casual cyclist from some northern state would lazily troll down the middle of my lane all helmets, child seats and orange flags a flutter.

I have seen similar behavior exhibited on the streets of New Orleans. As if we didn't have enough bad drivers around this city, we have to deal with an increasing number of bad bicyclists.

For example. Prytania, Magazine and Freret are all too narrow for the existing two lanes of auto traffic and on street parking for either side. Drivers on these streets constantly plow into parked vehicles. Those drivers maintaining the road usually have to cross the center line for whatever reason to avoid obstacles in their own lanes. And yet, each of these roads lies within a street grid where a lower traffic, parallel road exists just a block away.

Now, from one bicyclist to another, why is there any reason whatsoever to add to this automotive chaos a bicycle? I ride all over the city, and have never had the need to stay on any of those three streets for more than a block.

Next example? Esplanade Avenue. There are some parts of this street where bikes don't really have a choice, as several streets nearby run at odd angles. But Esplanade is two lanes on either side, so there is room for most of the route (there are some bottlenecks). But there is still on street parking, people entering and exiting vehicles, traffic moving left to avoid you on your bike, and other cyclists trying to pass your swerving nonsense to the left.

From one bicyclist to another, how is it acceptable to be texting someone while in transit on a bike? On a rough road? With moving traffic and pedestrians all around? As if this wasn't dangerous enough. I ride all over the city, and I get texts and calls all the time while riding. Do you know what I do? I PULL THE F OVER if I need to take the call.



patsbrother said...

In many places, sidewalks are for walking. In such places, bicylcists must ride on the road.

For example: Athens. Even in a bike-friendly town like Athens it is verboten to ride your bike on a sidewalk that abuts a business. This, for the simple reason that doors open outwards.

I believe this is the rule in Atlanta. Add to that the deplorable state of sidewalks in many areas (Atlatna, New Orleans, and Albany among them) and you develop a culture of cycling in the road. Again, this is actually encouraged in many places and illegal to do otherwise.

This is why you have people riding bikes on an 18-inch shoulder but not an five-foot-wide sidewalks on St. Simons.

Why people don't use parallel streets in New Orleans is something I can't pretend to answer. If Athens had a larger grid, more manageable grid than it does, the side streets would be packed with bikes. (Strangely, the grid only seems to exist where elevations vary wildly.)

Normal New Orleanian differentness, I suppose? You do live in a balmy town where people wear jackets in the summer, after all.

rcs said...

I don't ride on side streets for the same reason cars don't: inferior road surface, more stop signs, poor visibility at corners. Plus, in many areas they're unsafe in other ways: to take your example Esplanade is a horrible road for bikes but the side streets of Treme are not for the faint of heart (I turn off when I cross N. Broad.)

On the other hand, the against-one-way riders in the Quarter, Marigny and Bywater drive me right up the wall.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

@ Sprout: Yeah, that is true. They probably don't know any better. One can only hope they'd be observant enough to notice the dozens of other people riding bikes on the path.

@ RCS: Yeah, you right. And there are places on the main streets where it isn't so bad for a bike. But there are some bottlenecks folks on two wheels should be more adept at avoiding.

I'd posit that the Bywater and Marigny are two of the best neigborhoods for bikes specifically because there are so many one-lane streets. And the blocks are smallish, so bikes should be able to find the next one lane street with little inconvenience.

I'm kinda partial to the bicycle paradise that is Faubourg St. John & Mid-City. I can't wait till the Lafitte Corridor is completed.