An Algiers bicyclist’s letter to the New Orleans City Council
Members of the City Council,
Given the daily challenges you face in representing your constituents, I appreciate the time you’re devoting to the bike lane controversy in Algiers and to considering whether to remove 2.2 miles of protected bike lanes on two our roadways.
I am Paul Purpura. I was a first-time homeowner in Algiers in 2003. I was a second-time home buyer in 2007. Since then, I’ve lived on Danbury Drive in the Aurora West neighborhood, two blocks off MacArthur Boulevard. My two children, now young adults, grew up in Algiers and survived the so-called “carnage” of bicycling with friends in our neighborhoods. I, too, ride my bicycle for exercise and mainly on the Mississippi River levee.
In 2019, I heard the city was studying bike lanes. I don’t recall what I heard or where I heard it. At the time, MacArthur Boulevard had sharrows. I drive MacArthur at least four times daily. We had very few bicyclists. I recall seeing only one rider with regularity on MacArthur, a 20-something man with a buzz cut who rode a small BMX bike to and from his job at a rapid oil change business on Gen. de Gaulle Drive at Behrman Place.
Absolutely nothing the Cantrell administration did in 2019 and 2020 – NOTHING – caught my attention. I did not know what a protected bike lane was until the administration began installing them in my area in early 2021.
I was not alone in being caught unaware. Soon after MacArthur was redesigned for bicyclists, Aurora West resident Denise Davila began a change.org petition in asking the Cantrell administration to stop bike lane development specifically in Algiers and to study traffic patterns. As of this writing, the petition has more than 1,425 signatures. See for yourself by clicking here.
Subsequently, I learned much about the Cantrell administration’s Moving New Orleans – Bikes program. I learned that a national group of bicycle manufacturers and retailers, People for Bikes, contributed at least $2.6 million to assist in developing the city’s bikeway plans and to send my former council representative and members of the Cantrell administration to Seville, Spain, to see bike lanes. See for yourself by clicking here. People for Bikes also paid engineering consultants to help the city develop its bikeway. See for yourself by clicking here.
Four months before I learned what the Cantrell administration was doing in my neighborhood, it received national accolades from People for Bikes for its plans for Algiers. See for yourself by clicking here.
Local news coverage in the spring of 2019 announcing the city’s bike lane planning meetings was sorely lacking, I discovered. The most in-depth report appeared in the newspaper on April 9, 2019. In it, the reporter described protected bike lanes as “essentially sidewalks for bikes.” No where did the reporter mention the loss of general traffic lanes. See for yourself by clicking here.
It is clear that the administration fails miserably in fully explaining clearly to residents, up front, that its bike lane program involves the closure of general traffic lanes. I’ve also learned that local bike lane interests have had more involvement in planning the administration’s bikeway than we residents have had. I’m not alone in Algiers in believing that had residents known what was involved, the push back would have been strenuous before decisions were made. I suspect the city knew this as it forged ahead with its accelerated implementation.
Just recently, Mayor Cantrell ceremonially broke ground on a Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard overlay project in Central City that will include protected bike lanes. Nowhere in her press release does it mention the loss of general traffic lanes. See for yourself by clicking here. I had to explore city websites to find mention of what MLK Jr. will look like when the work is done. I had the benefit of knowing what to seek, given my experience in Algiers.
As it turned out, the Cantrell administration used proceeds from the 2016 bond issue to pay for the Algiers bikeway. I voted favorably for that bond issue, after the city led us to believe that a portion of it would be used to repair streets. Given what this administration has done, and how it has done it, I’ll never vote favorably for another bond issue in New Orleans. Indeed, Mayor Cantrell ran for re-election in touting millions in “infrastructure improvements,” which includes her bike lane program.
During the more than 1 1/2 years since the Cantrell administration redesigned MacArthur, I still see no appreciable increase in bicycle traffic. I see an Edna Karr student riding to school and an elderly man pedaling slowly for exercise in the mornings. I’ve seen two or three riders on Holiday Drive at Gen. de Gaulle on Saturdays. More than anything, I see bike-riding locals who ignore the bike lanes. See for yourself by clicking here. And I’m seeing for the first time people who tell our city leaders that they regularly ride bikes on MacArthur.
Since the protected bike lanes were installed on MacArthur, we’ve noticed an appreciable increase in congestion at Kabel Drive when schools are in session. See for yourself by clicking here. And here. School bus drivers have difficulty navigating the redesigned roadways because of the flex posts. See for yourself by clicking here. Fire engine operators see similar difficulties. See for yourself by clicking here.
New Orleans’ Complete Streets ordinance, often cited as defense of protected bike lanes, appears to include the requirement that ridership and community participation be regularly evaluated. See for yourself by clicking here.
A year ago, in August 2021, the Cantrell administration announced planned changes to the MacArthur in response to community concerns (We’ve no idea of who complained). As a result, the administration removed about 100 flex posts, or about 15 percent of the original layout along the 1.7-mile length of MacArthur. It removed protected bike lanes in two blocks, benefitting 10 residences that have off-street parking, and fixed a much-needed safety hazard at Kabel Drive, where eastbound MacArthur’s two general travel lanes merge to one.
In the August 2021 announcement, the Cantrell administration also said it would study traffic changes on MacArthur. See for yourself by clicking here. We’ve anticipated this study, hoping the city could tell us how many bicyclists are using the new bike lanes. We’re still waiting to see it.
During the Aug. 29, 2022, Community Development Committee meeting, Jennifer Ruley, mobility and safety division manager at the DPW, asserted that UNO did a “manual count” of bicyclist traffic at MacArthur and Holiday and found that on average, between 55 and 155 bicyclists rode on MacArthur at Holiday daily in December 2019. I’m not the only Algiers resident who greets these numbers with extreme skepticism. Listen for yourself by clicking here. Further, she told council members that a city employee recently counted nine bike riders on MacArthur in a 2-hour period.
Ms. Ruley and bike lane advocates say we Algiers residents simply do not notice the bicyclists. This, in response to complaints by Algiers residents who say they see no or few people using the bike lanes. We’re expected to believe what they say and not what we see. It’s laughable.
I don’t believe the Cantrell administration plans to do a serious bicyclist count. Nor am I expecting it to gather other solid data, including whether the roadways are safer. It’s apparent that the administration wants the public to believe our roadways are far more dangerous than they are in order to justify its bike lane design decisions.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of carnage on our streets,” Ruley told Councilman King during the Aug. 29 meeting.
Based on local news reports, three bicyclists were killed in Algiers, one each in 2019, 2020 and 2021. All were killed on Gen. de Gaulle Drive. And in at least two of these fatalities, the bicyclists disregarded red lights, rode into the path of oncoming traffic and were struck. Reportedly, one bicyclist has been killed on MacArthur in recent years, and Councilman King has pointed out that that person was at fault and inebriated.
As a daily driver on MacArthur, I’ve seen no shortage of car wrecks, no shortage of motorists speeding. On occasion, I’ve seen motorists use the newly designed parking lanes on MacArthur to pass drivers traveling slower than the posted 35 mph speed limit. I routinely see eastbound drivers on MacArthur accelerate aggressively at Kabel Drive to get ahead of other motorists before the two lanes converge into one lane.
Yet, bike lane advocates now assert that the protected bike lanes have made MacArthur safer for motorists. They base this assertion on calls for service reports that someone pulled from explore.nola.gov in alleging that car wrecks with injuries on the boulevard have been halved since the protected bike lanes were installed.
Any journalist who sits in a newsroom near a police scanner knows to not report calls for service dispatches until police confirm or refute the information upon arrival at the scene. How often does NOPD respond to residential burglary alarms only to find that they’re false alarms?
These assertions initially surfaced during the Aug. 29 Community Development Committee meeting, made by a member of the public. Are we to accept as fact these allegations raised by a guy who walks in off the street, a guy who doesn’t live in Algiers but who is fighting obsessively to retain the protected bike lanes on MacArthur and Newton?
Yet, the bike lane advocates are running with it.
I get it. As a renter in my 20s living in Mid-City, Esplanade Ridge, the French Quarter, Uptown and Faubourg Marigny, I rode my bike extensively. As a UNO student, I rode up Elysian Fields from the Marigny. As a cabinetmaker, I often rode west on Airline Highway, beyond today’s Saints training camp, from Mid-City, Esplanade Ridge and the French Quarter, to work at a cabinet shop (a 25-mile round trip).
Riding on Esplanade Avenue in the late ‘80s, I was struck by a van whose driver fled. I’ve had many near-misses caused by motorists who wrongly believe bicyclists must yield to them, as recently as 2020 on Gen. Meyer Avenue. I’ve been to an emergency room because of bicycling injuries caused by my negligence.
I understand the hazards associated with bicycling. I’m all for bicyclist safety. I’m extremely aware of bicyclists when I drive.
Please support Councilman King’s efforts on Thursday. And in doing so, please send a message to the Cantrell administration: Before it installs protected bike lanes across New Orleans, do more to ensure that residents who use the affected roadways have full input.
Thank you for your time. Please visit our website, OurStreetsNOLA.com
Submitted to City Council members on Sept. 12, 2022