A Short History of MacArthur Bike Lanes

A Short History of MacArthur Bike Lanes

Algiers residents along MacArthur Boulevard found their street drastically changed over a three-day period.  Not only did it affect residents along this busy thoroughfare but also the surrounding quiet, bedroom communities.

An ordinary bike lane became a designated bike lane protected by unsightly bollards, and aggressive striping. The configuration elbowed out a travel lane for parking spaces to protect the cyclists from traffic.  Residents lost curbside parking to these few, new parking spaces.  The unfortunate residents parking in these spots traverse the bike lane to access their property.  Safety cameras cannot now view them walking to their front door. Residents now feel vulnerable walking to their homes.  People were having difficulty backing onto MacArthur when their street view is blocked by parked cars or bends in the road.  Worse of all, instead of having to wait for the many cyclists to pass by before they could arrive home, there were rare bike sightings.

So many changes—so few bikes.

The street had been re-configured for a very small segment of this bedroom community. (The policy does not fit the need).  Shops and businesses are not intermingled with homes.  Cyclists were more app to use the lanes for leisure rather than commuting.  And many do not use the lanes at all.  (Bike lanes often are replete with trash cans, pooled water, trash, and growing pockets of grass—please see prior, unsightly bollard installations on General de Gaulle).

Questions and frustration began to fly around the NextDoor app which connects so many community members.  Calls were made to City Hall, the local councilperson’s (Kristin Palmer) office, and the City’s Transportation Department.

No satisfactory answer was given.  The summarized official line seems to be “This is good for you.  This is how cities are changing.  It does not resonate with us that there are so few cyclists in your area.”

As citizens began to dig into the details of these changes, it was determined a 2016 bond to fix the streets included bike lanes: however, …

According to the city’s Department of Public Works website on bicycling:

“A Protected Bike Lane can improve perceived comfort and safety of bicyclists. It requires more space than a Bike Lane or Buffered Bike Lane and typically functions best on streets with few conflicts such as driveways or cross-streets. ”

What’s the City’s Plan?

Complete Streets (later named Moving New Orleans – Bikes) is meant to provide a low-stress environment for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and public transportation.  (More citizens of this area of Algiers use public transportation rather than bikes).

However, responsible planning must give way to the vast majority who use the streets.  Not all areas of Algiers (like New Orleans) are the same.  Busy bike areas such as uptown, the French Quarter, Treme, By-Water, Algiers Point–all have different needs than these Algiers bedroom communities.

In 2014, the state codified its Complete Streets policy through legislation presented by then-Sen. David Heitmeier, an optometrist and Democrat from Algiers.  Our Streets Our Choice Coalition (OSOCC) has spoken with Senator Heitmeier, and learned the current configuration was not the plan.  There is no state budget item for the legislation.  It is unfunded by the State.

In April 2016, New Orleans voters approved $120 million bonds to improve streets.  The  Department of Public Works capital budget document stated the funds would be used for Complete Streets which included “installation of bike facilities in the CBD/French Quarter to connect the existing network” of bike lanes.

The plan by Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Algiers Councilwoman Kristin Palmer is a  “planning effort culminated in the New Orleans Bikeway Blueprint map and was released to the public September 10, 2020. The City remains committed to the guiding principles of an equitable, low-stress, connected, useful and timely bicycling network that is targeted to connect all our neighborhoods, and especially those with equity priorities.”  (Try commuting to the ferry to reach the city on a hot rainy summer day!)

The process kicked off in April 2019 with a series of public input meetings about the existing network. The second series of meetings in August 2019 presented the public input from April and introduce the draft bikeway network map. Through careful planning and public input, this 4-month process built on recent progress to create a vision for the City’s network of connected, protected, and low-stress bikeways …”

OSOCC has spoken to people who attended these meetings—attendance from local residents who drive was low.

To achieve these goals will require strong community engagement from all road users – whether you ride your bike every day or haven’t gotten on one in decades, we want you to be involved! Good bike infrastructure can help solve the mobility challenges we all share.”

The outreach appears primarily to have reached the cyclist community but not the driving community as evidenced by those who believe they were blindsided by these changes.

Did you get the memo?

The cycling community does appear to have the ear of the city.  In April 2021, Jennifer Ruley, the Mobility and Safety Lead Engineer of City of New Orleans, travelled with Dan Favre of Bike Easy and Blue Krewe travelled to Europe together for research.

Algiers Builds Its Voice

During January through March, 2021, residents of Holiday Drive travelling onto MacArthur lost a turning lane to new, oddly configured bike lane replete with high concrete curbs which rise suddenly out of the street.  To turn, you must narrowly navigate and almost enter another travel lane.  The concrete curbs and the narrow lane would seem to be a hazard for emergency response vehicles; and, if overridden, may damage a vehicle’s undercarriage.

Poor configuration hampering free flow of traffic.

Then changes began along MacArthur.  The changes were not consistent and create visual anxiety as each section of the road appears different with different configurations–creating a wildly hectic and very distracting drive.  Forget looking at a phone as the source of a possible accident—the configurations alone are a gauntlet for even the most determined commuter.

The outcry from residents was evident from a variety of sources such as NextDoor, and a meeting on May 25, 2021, was arranged by the Algiers Neighborhood President’s Council (ANPC) which was attended by 300 plus residents who tried to voice their concerns to the city.  The city explained their position but was not prepared for the boisterous crowd who felt blindsided by the city changes.

Their ire was also drawn by the fact Dan Favre of Bike Easy/Blue Krewe had access to Councilmember Palmer but citizens were held at a distance and asked to write their concerns in notes to be read to the city representatives.  As opined by Jason Berry (local resident) “there seems to be an ulterior private interest at play regarding a bike rental business … there was even a mention of “tourists” utilizing the bike lanes.”

The city told the audience New Orleans is using money raised through the 2016 sale of bonds to finance these changes.  This caused a further uproar as residents felt the money was given to the city to fix streets and potholes not make travel more difficult.  (Perhaps our potholes should identify as bikes!)

The city stated it would talk with the ANPC soon, but this has not materialized.  Residents had difficulty banding together and wished to speak as one voice.

Aurora West resident Denise Davila began a change.org petition calling on the city to justify its MacArthur Boulevard redesign.  Neighbors began meeting, buying signs and shirts for other neighbors–And the Our Streets Our Choice Coalition (OSOCC) was born—staffed by dedicated volunteers.  The petition is the best evidence Algiers residents want to halt the bike lane progress until such time as the city and the residents can meet and reach a conclusion.

Gilbert Crowden, President of the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association, and Daina Purpura of Our Streets Our Choice Coalition spoke with Councilperson at Large, Helena Moreno, who stated she would do what she could to address these concerns.  Gilbert has assiduously reached out to council members.  Moreno is the only one to respond.

One note of concern – The City’s Department of Transportation told residents the lanes weren’t designed to accommodate fire trucks but the lane changes were discussed with NOFD. This makes no sense and is concerning because had they talked to NOFD surely they would have designed the bike lanes to accommodate the fire trucks. Why would the DOT contact NOFD and in the same breath not have the fire trucks in mind as they put the configuration together? This is puzzling to say the least.

The process forward is augmented by election season, residents are eager to talk to new candidates to hear their plans to bring resolution to this matter.

We Are Not Alone

The push back against imposed and poorly configured bike lanes versus community input is also affecting other communities:

What have cities learned from California?  If you include the public during planning, you will have a long wait.

Many of these quotes from Aurora Hills current results will resonate with our community.

“Arlington has embarked on a transportation vision of providing a safe environment for all travel modes, also known as the Complete Streets Program

As I reread the Arlington transportation presentation for our project … , it occurred to me how benign and utopian the project seemed. That should have been the first clue

And then came the medians, protected bike lanes, bike rental rack and central to all of this, the complete removal of two lanes of a four-lane street … .  What could possibly go wrong?

So now we have the same (but probably more) number of cars on the same road with less lanes.  This is where the fairytale turns to a nightmare…enter aggressive driving and cut-through traffic.

As frustrated parents, neighbors and Arlington county citizens, we, individually as neighbors … , and collectively through our civic association have been engaged with the county for over a year to no avail.

The … Complete Street project has been a complete disaster for the residents in our neighborhood and despite our continual pleas for help for nearly a year to protect our single family neighborhood; we have had no relief.”

This article from the all aspect report is also illuminating

“According to SmartGrowthAmerica, as of last fall some 1,400 jurisdictions around the country had adopted Complete Streets as their official transportation policy.

Massive investment, dubious outcomes

… even advocates acknowledge that despite the investment, despite the messaging and information campaigns, despite myriad policies, ordinances, and regulations, fewer people are using bikes as a regular means of getting around …

Americans generally are all for bike lanes and transit, so long as policies match actual need.

Unfortunately, in too many cities officials are in thrall to a small but vocal and well-funded minority pushing an anti-car agenda. Rather than adapt policy to local conditions these groups force a one-size-fits-all approach.

Promises to the contrary, these changes to roadways and built environments have been disruptive, and not in the good, forward-thinking way. In city after city, town after town, residents and merchants tell the same story: Bike lanes, road diets, and other reconfigurations were installed with little to no community engagement. The outreach that is done is carefully crafted to produce the desired outcome, i.e., support for the changes.

Bike Advocates Losing Ground

Nevertheless, despite their overwhelming advantages in messaging, funding, and organizing, and their undeniable political clout in cities nationwide, the bicycle advocates seem to be losing ground.

… aside from a few hardcore cyclists the vast majority of people will never ride down a busy boulevard, no matter how “protected” the bike lanes may be. People simply don’t want to ride down the street inches from giant buses. … The irony is that in the vast majority of cases there are parallel streets a block or two away that would be perfect for bike lanes.

People are fed up

In Tahlequah, Oklahoma citizens banded together and defeated a planned road diet on that city’s Main Street. … A recent Seattle Times poll found people in that city have lost patience with bike lanes.

… In interview after interview, residents and business owners express frustration. They haven’t been part of the process. Elected officials talk a good game about community, then impose projects communities don’t want and didn’t ask for. There’s a strong whiff of paternalism, and that breeds resentment.”

Reading the material from other localities, we can see the same dynamic–very low input from the community, aggressive road diets, and deaf administrations.  It seems coordinated.  Did we miss the invite?

                                              – by Christy Lynch

Video Credit:  Jason Berry aka SpyBoy Media, LLC