How to treat bicyclists is a common question that those in motor vehicles have when driving in New Orleans. Our city ranks eighth in the nation for bicycle commuting, according to bikelaw.com. With the large amount of bicycle commuters have come many accidents and deaths, however.
There were 318 reported bicycle accidents in 2014. Although those in motor vehicles are often to blame, with nearly 40 percent of the accidents caused by those in parked cars opening a door on a cyclist, there are faults on both sides of the fence.
The repercussions if a motor vehicle driver injures or kills a cyclist are weak. For example, when Atlanta firefighter Sgt. Frank Guinn was killed last year while visiting New Orleans, he was hit by a driver with a suspended license. What was the jail time for that driver? Fourteen months for killing a dedicated member of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, who was also the father of three young triplet daughters. With lack of accountability comes lack of respect for cyclists.
Bad News Bike Club is the group that has been placing “ghost bikes” around the city in memoriam (and to raise awareness) of a cyclist who died at that location. “Why is it that as soon as someone gets on a bike, they’re not human [to motor vehicle drivers] anymore?” prods JP Pool, a member of Bad News Bike Club. It’s a legitimate question. There is animosity between cyclists and drivers, and with the recent attention paid to cyclist accidents and deaths, the tension is tightening. Motor vehicle drivers are not only to blame, however. How many times have you seen a cyclist fly through a stop sign, or even proceed through a red light at an intersection? I see this daily. To prevent accidents, both sides have to be aware of and abide by the law. When cyclists disregard traffic laws, they cause motor vehicle drivers to disregard cyclists and no longer see them as equals on the road.
Tips for Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Safety
- Always ride in the direction of traffic.
- Stop at stop signs and obey all traffic signals.
- Be aware of vehicular blind spots.
- Use bike lanes when it is safe to do so.
- Always wear a helmet.
- Have lights on your bike when riding at night.
- Cyclists need to use hand signals when making a turn.
- Drivers of motor vehicles need to treat cyclists as equals.
- Drivers of motor vehicles need to check their rear-view and side mirrors before opening a door on their car.
- Drivers of motor vehicles need to check their rear-view and side mirrors before dodging the turning vehicle or pothole in front of them.
In 2014, it was reported that 3.6 percent of Orleans Parish residents commute via bicycle. Cyclists often have a negative reputation. Not all bicyclists are homeless, bums, or addicts. Most cyclists are people just like you who are commuting to work or school. JP Pool (quoted above) could be bicycling to the Veterans Affairs Hospital, since he is a war veteran; Atlanta firefighter Sgt. Frank Guinn was simply training for an Ironman competition.
With an increasing number of cyclists in New Orleans comes a rise in bicycle theft. NOPD can get involved if your bicycle is registered. Then they would be able to track it down, similar to how they would handle a stolen car. But most people do not register their bikes, and need to use other resources beyond the NOPD. Publicizing your stolen bike is the most effective way to increase the chance of it being found, especially if you connect with local groups like Bike Easy and Stolen Bikes NOLA. These are civic-minded social groups that take action for the sake of bike and cyclist safety and theft. Stolen Bikes NOLA is a group made up of vigilante-type, bicycle bounty hunters of sorts. Using their Facebook group as a platform, cyclists can post a picture of their stolen bike along with information about the theft location and time. Then the members of the group keep their eyes peeled for the bike, while communicating with each other about where the “hot bike-theft spots” are currently located.
Tips to Protect Your Bike
- Take a picture upon receipt of your bike. Just as you would hand over a picture of a missing person, you can show a picture of your bicycle. That way, people helping you search for your stolen bicycle can clearly see the make and model and, more importantly, any distinguishing marks.
- Register your bike with the NOPD so they can help track down your bicycle. Bicycle thieves can see jail time based on the value of the bicycle they stole.
- Use a U-lock. Even better, use two.
- Be smart about where you lock up your bike. If you lock it to a street sign or pole, there is a chance that the bicycle can be removed if the thief is persistent and gets creative.
- If your bicycle is stolen, report it immediately. Also, search for your bike on Craigslist and at bike shops.
Motor vehicle drivers need to be aware of bicycle laws. Bad News Bike Club supports bicycle awareness, and not just by placing “ghost bikes” around the city. They also support the distribution of bicycle law awareness pamphlets at places like the DMV, where drivers can be educated as to how to properly treat cyclists. As well, cyclists can learn their rights, and the fact that they need to follow all traffic laws. It seems as if cyclists have a lot going against them. However, bicycle-friendly streets and trails are highlighted in the WhereYat.com article "Where Ya' Ridin'," which first appeared in the October 2015 issue. And thanks to bicycle advocates and supporters, it was recently announced that Napoleon Avenue will have bike lanes added, with a wide neutral ground. It is encouraging to see a step in the right direction, and hopefully more bicycle-friendly streets will be created.