University of New Orleans Researchers Help to Make Bicycling in New Orleans Safer, More Fun and Easier

The University of New Orleans Merritt C. Becker, Jr. Transportation Institute recently released the city of New Orleans’ first feasible bicycle share study and bicycle map, which researchers hope will make bicycling safer and more accessible for all New Orleans residents and visitors.

Researchers also have recently released two companion reports showing an increase in cyclists and pedestrians in the greater New Orleans area -- and a corollating increase in bicycling and pedestrian crashes.

UNO researchers worked together with Bike Easy to produce a bicycle share feasibility study for the City of New Orleans. Bike Easy is a fast-growing, volunteer-led grassroots nonprofit organization focused on ensuring riding a bike in New Orleans is easy, safe and fun.

The bicycle share feasibility study, released in August, provided step-by-step recommendations on how to bring a bicycle share system – or network of bicycles and automated kiosks enabling short-term rentals -- to the city.

Researchers found that installing a small-scale bicycle share system of about 200 bicycles and 20 kiosks in New Orleans downtown “would cost about $1.5 million, and would have a profound positive impact on New Orleans transportation network,” said Tara M. Tolford, a research associate at UNOTI, who said that research indicates that New Orleans is ideally suited for such a program, and that its operation would be financially self-sustaining within three year. To help keep biker safe, researcers also provided the city's first bicycle map and guide to safe cycling.

The New Orleans Pedestrian and Bicycle Count Report compiled by UNOTI researchers revealed that New Orleans is becoming a more active city and has seen an increase over the last three years of both bicycles and pedestrians.

Researchers tracked bicycles and pedestrians at key locations throughout the city and saw a 54 percent citywide increase in estimated daily traffic for bicyclists and a 38 percent increase in estimated daily traffic for pedestrians. Pedestrian traffic in the French Quarter appears to have increased by 78 percent between 2010 and 2012, underscoring recent reports that New Orleans tourism industry is strengthening.

Growth in bicycle traffic has been especially pronounced at key “gateways” to the city’s central business district, indicating that a greater share of residents may be using bicycles to commute to work, said Tolford. Researchers aimed to review the impact of new facilities on active transportation and found that in recent years, builders have substantially increased investments in bicycle infrastructure.

The report compared relative change in estimated daily traffic for bicyclists at key locations and user characteristics and found that during the three-year period, sites with bicycle facilities present or nearby saw their daily bicycle traffi increase at a much more rapid rate than those with no nearby bicycle facilities: an 89 percent increase at sites with infrastructure versus only 29 percent at sites without.

Helmet use also increased much more sharply at these locations than at locations with no dedicated facilities, which could signify that new infrastructure encourages safer behavior – or that it “encourages new and more cautious riders who wouldn’t otherwise bike to try it,” Tolford said.

Louisiana and the New Orleans metro area have long had rates of bicycle and pedestrian crashes and fatalities well above national averages, Tolford said, citing the New Orleans Regional Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Report, 2009-2010, compiled by the Pedestrian Bicycle Resource Initiative at UNOTI. While long-range data suggests that the region appears to be making some gains in bicyclist and pedestrian safety, this still remains a critical concern.

The greater New Orleans area has seen an increase in bicycle crashes every year from 2006 to 2010 (the most recent year, said Tolford who connected the trajectory to the city’s population rebound following Hurricane Katrina and a surge in popularity of bicycling.

Pedestrian crashes are well below pre-Katrina levels, and do not appear to be on the rise, but are heavily concentrated in New Orleans’ downtown neighborhoods and on several key corridors that should be examined in greater detail, said Tolford who said that 20 percent of bicycle and 25 percent of pedestrian crashes in Orleans Parish in 2009 and 2010 occurred in the French Quarter or New Orleans’ central business district.

Researchers “identified seven statistically significant geographic clusters of bicycle crashes and nine statistically significant geographic clusters of pedestrian crashes in Orleans and Jefferson Parish in 2009-2010, where an inordinate number of crashes are occurring in proximity to each other,” said Tolford. “That will be the subject of upcoming research to identify the specific design characteristics and/or operating conditions that may have contributed to high crash incidence.”