Freddie King’s bike lane ordinance coming to a critical vote
The New Orleans City Council on Sept. 15, 2022, will vote on whether the protected bike lane designs will remain on MacArthur Boulevard and Newton Street. This legislation comes thanks to Councilman Freddie King III, who proposed the ordinance in response to the myriad complaints he’s heard from Algiers residents while he was campaigning for office and after he was overwhelmingly elected. Click here to read the proposed ordinance.
A third and final public hearing on the legislation was held Sept. 7, at Alice M. Harte Charter School, 5300 Berkley Drive.
We at Our Streets Our Choice know that proponents of the protected bike lane designs on Newton and MacArthur are rallying their colleagues in opposition to Councilman King’s proposal.
Here’s a look back at how we got to this point:
In his first public act as the New Orleans City Council’s newly elected District C councilman, Freddie King on Jan. 20, 2022, introduced resolution R-22-48.
The resolution directs the Community Development Committee, which Councilman King chairs, to “request input from individual stake holders regarding the continued need for protected bike lanes on certain streets in Algiers and to also establish a more robust review policy for current and future bike lanes; and to report back to the council with recommendations within six (6) months regarding further actions.”
During the meeting, he stressed that his resolution is focused on the Algiers bike lanes only.
“This resolution was drafted by me because I heard from the residents of Algiers. They felt left out of the decision-making process with the design of these bike lanes and the erection of the bike lanes.
“So, all throughout the campaign, in every Algiers neighborhood meeting I went to, I was constantly asked: ‘What about these bike lanes? Can there be a change? Can there be a process where we the residents, the citizens of Algiers have a decision. And I promised them, ‘Yes, if elected, I will give you that opportunity that you were not given in the beginning of this process.’
“So this is not against bike lanes. I has been put as, kind of, bike lanes against anti-bike lanes people, or bike riders against anti-bike riders. It’s not that at all. It’s simply to give the residents of Algiers, not any other part of the city, a voice in how their neighborhoods should look moving forward. It’s nothing more. It’s nothing less.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution. Click here to read the resolution.
Prior to the meeting, the council accepted comments from the public through its online portal. The OSOC Coalition later obtained the comments. Click here to read the comments.
You can view video of the Jan. 20 City Council meeting by clicking here. Scroll to 6:40:10 to hear the discussion and vote on Councilman King’s resolution.
Our initial report on King’s resolution
In his first official act as the District C representative, Councilman King called for a “robust review policy” focused on the Cantrell administration’s Moving New Orleans – Bikes program as it applies to Algiers. Saying he was living up to a campaign promise, King also sought more public input from Algiers residents on the bike lanes. The City Council unanimously said yes. It’s worth noting that because he sought the review for his constituents, he already as been the target of misinformation and one ghoulish attack. Click here to read more about this breaking news.
‘A domino effect’
In his coverage of Councilman King’s Algiers-specific bike lane resolution, City Hall beat reporter Matt Sledge of The Times-Picayune sought comment from Bike Easy’s acting executive director Allene La Spina. “We’re just keeping a close eye on what’s happening next,” she told Sledge.
A day earlier, Bike Easy actively urged bike lane supporters to engage their elected city officials and to submit comments to show support for bike lanes in response to Councilman King’s resolution. “We want to ensure our voices are heard and all stakeholders have an opportunity to weigh in,” La Spina wrote in a call-to-action posted on Bike Easy’s website.
She later told Sledge of the complaints that led to Councilman King’s resolution, “It seems to me that it’s led by a small group of folks in Algiers. Bike Easy’s stance is, ‘How can we make sure we educate, and make sure this doesn’t create a domino effect?’” Clearly, they don’t want New Orleanians to speak up and push back on the Cantrell administration’s Moving New Orleans – Bikes program. We know that Algiers residents aren’t the only people in the city who aren’t happy. You can read Sledge’s report by clicking here.
On the morning of Monday, March 28, 2022, the Community Development Committee convened its meeting. Representatives from the Department of Public Works, Bike Easy, the Our Streets Our Choice Coalition and Algiers Street Riders gave presentations to the committee.
Joining Councilman King were Councilwoman Lesli Harris and Councilman Joseph Giarusso III. The council’s two at-large members, Helena Moreno and JP Morrell, were absent.
Councilman King reiterated comments he made during the Jan 20 council meeting. He provided little information on the process ahead.
“I want to make this very clear. I’m sure I’ve said this a thousand times, and I’m going to keep saying it: This is not to remove any bike lanes. This meeting is to give everyone a chance to be heard. Nothing more. Nothing less.
“And from this meeting, we’ll have some studies done and more community input. And after that, we’ll come back to this committee in about six months to discuss this issue right here.”
Leading up to the hearing, fewer than 10 members of Our Streets Our Choice fanned out across Algiers on the Saturday before, planting more than 100 signs at intersections, distributing about 1,500 flyers and engaging anyone who would listen.
We were struck by how so many Algiers residents and business owners are unaware that the Cantrell administration, with support from bicycle advocacy groups, plan to create more bike lanes — and potentially close more motor vehicle lanes in their communities to accomplish this. Many residents were aware of how the city redesigned Newton Street and MacArthur Boulevard to accommodate protected bike lanes. None wanted to see those designs replicated, particularly on Woodland Drive and Gen. Meyer Avenue, both of which are slated to get protected bike lanes.
Our Streets Our Choice’s presentation covered seven areas, beginning with a discussion on how the grass-roots group was formed in early 2021, after bike lanes appeared along MacArthur Boulevard and Holiday Drive. The city failed to sufficiently reach out to residents who were to be most affected by the changes, we argued. We also discussed how a bicycle industry organization had substantial influence over how the city’s bike lanes network was designed. And, we urged the city to scale back its plans to reduce motor vehicle lanes because the Belle Chasse bridge and tunnel are being replaced by a bridge for which tolls will be collected — thereby sending more traffic into Algiers.
Click here to see our PowerPoint presentation that was displayed during the hearing.
Here’s a 3-hour, 15-minute video of Monday’s hearing, as recorded by the City Council and published publicly on its website. Scroll to the 1:21 point to see Our Streets Our Choice’s presentation.
Included in our PowerPoint presentation were short video clips featuring Algiers residents Gisele Schexnider and Eric Gordon. Below are the longer versions of those clips.
Describing herself as “an American with a French accent,” Gisele Schexnider is one of more than 100 homeowners on MacArthur Boulevard. In early 2021, the city dramatically redesigned MacArthur, removing two of its four car lanes, barring residents from parking along the curb and installing hundreds of 29-inch-high bollards to benefit bicyclists. She lost the one on-street parking spot she had. Please take three minutes to hear describe what she sees – and what she doesn’t see:
In April 2019, Eric Gordon, a retired, lifelong Algiers resident, attended one of the meetings the city held in connection with its bike lane plans. He shares his recollections about what he saw was in store for Gen. Meyer Ave., and what he didn’t see for MacArthur Boulevard. Take two minutes to watch (and take note at 1:20 of the car entering from the left, its driver casually running the red light to turn east on MacArthur):
A second public hearing
On Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, the Community Development Committee held a second hearing on the question of Algiers bike lanes, specifically those on Newton Street and MacArthur Boulevard. Two employees of the Cantrell administration’s Department of Public Works who oversee the bike lane program presented the city’s position. They asserted that the protected bike lanes have made the roadways safer for everyone, including motorists.
During this hearing, Jennifer Ruley, the Cantrell administration’s mobility and safety lead engineer in DPW, suggested that because bicyclists don’t usually ride in large groups, they’re overlooked.
“They’re not as visible to other roadway users,” she told the committee, as though to say that local Algiers residents don’t know how many people use the bike lanes.
She added: “Manual counts taken by the University of New Orleans in December 2019 – this was prior to these bike lane improvements – um, indicate that on any given day, there are between 55 and 155 bicyclists per day using the bike lanes on MacArthur near Holiday.
“Two months ago, city staff observed six bicyclists using the bike lanes within 20 minutes on Newton Street,” Ruley added. “And two weeks ago, we observed nine bicyclists within two hours using the bike lanes on MacArthur at Holiday.”
(Editor’s note: Algiers residents who have heard Ms. Ruley’s suggestion that 55 to 155 bicyclists ride MacArthur at Holiday Drive shake their heads with absolute skepticism and utter contempt. So, the takeaway is that we just don’t notice them because bicyclists don’t ride in large groups?)
The hearing had its contentious moments, such as when a bike lane proponent known to be hostile to Algiers residents who dislike the MacArthur roadway design appeared to accuse Councilman King of barring a pro-bike lane Algiers resident from attending a private meeting of the Huntlee Village Neighborhood Association.
Here’s a 1 1/2 hour video recording of the Aug. 29 hearing, downloaded from the City Council’s website. OSOC edited the video only to exclude the portions of the hearing that were unrelated to the bike lane question.
The Sept. 7 community hearing
Although an exact count was not immediately available, easily more than 150 people attended Councilman Freddie King’s community hearing at Alice M. Harte Charter School. The attendees included Councilman Joseph Giarusso, whose presence is much appreciated.
However, Councilman King left attendees a bit confused by what his proposed ordinance will do.
Should the City Council approve it during its Sept. 15 meeting, will the protected bike lanes be removed on MacArthur Boulevard and Newton Street? That’s been the understanding of late.
Or, as Councilman King told the audience on Sept. 7, does his proposal call for removing the flex posts on these two roadways only? (One of his staffers said after the hearing that the proposed ordinance will call for the removal of protected bike lanes).
He reiterated his position on bike lanes citywide: “My intentions are not to get rid of bike lanes,” he said, alluding to bicycling groups that have spread misinformation about his proposal. “That has been a lie from the very beginning.”
Councilman King’s staff had attendees sign in as they entered the gym, with people opposed to the bike lanes sign the lists to the left and those who favor the bike lanes sign the list on the right. Opponents outnumbered proponents by far.
He said his staff will use the data to create a maps with dots representing opponents and proponents and their proximity to MacArthur and Newton.
We hope to report more on Councilman King’s legislation in coming weeks. Check back!