New Orleans Bike-Share Can Start Off on Promising Path - Next City

With the launch of bike-share this month, New Orleans residents will see 70 stations installed throughout the city over the course of the next several weeks. While other transportation amenities in New Orleans’ downtown areas, like the new streetcar line bordering the French Quarter, have come under criticism for being designed for tourists instead of locals, the city says that the Blue Bikes program is built with residents in mind. That could signal good news on everything from mobility to jobs.

Bike-share has demonstrated a capacity to increase access to jobs for low-income residents across the United States, says Kate Fillin-Yeh, strategy director at the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

“Bike-shares can really show how closely tied physical mobility is to economic mobility,” says Fillin-Yeh. “You can’t have a job if you can’t get there.”

Fillin-Yeh says that because bike-share use can be cheaper than buying gas, and can help avoid cumbersome bus transfers or parking fees, the systems can really help people traveling short distances get to work at a low cost. She notes that not only can bike-shares connect low-income residents to jobs, they can also catalyze more ridership citywide by building awareness and prompting investment. Cities are more likely to paint more bike lanes, and drivers are more likely to become accustomed to higher volumes of riders, in turn incentivizing more biking overall.

The need for expanded job access is certainly evident in New Orleans, where in 2017, only 11 percent of jobs were reachable in 30 minutes or less without a car, and where black male unemployment was 44 percent in 2016. The city has made some progress: Since 2011, New Orleans has more than doubled the number of bike paths and lanes. But for whom exactly, has the access been improved? That’s the question a new report asks, released by the National Complete Streets Coalition, local advocacy group Bike Easy, and Smart Growth America. By evaluating the complete streets approach to increasing bike and pedestrian resources from a health equity perspective, they found that despite an increase in biking facilities throughout the city of New Orleans, the most unsafe conditions still exist in high-poverty areas. In New Orleans and neighboring Jefferson Parish, 36 percent of people live in high-poverty census tracts, but more than 67 percent of crashes involving people biking or walking occur in these areas. And while blacks in New Orleans only make up about a quarter of observed ridership, they account for almost half of bicycle fatalities. These findings suggest that more resources and investment are needed in the form of infrastructure improvements and driver education efforts in these high-poverty areas.

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