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After months of heated debate, Council votes to remove some protected bike lanes in Algiers

MacArthur bike lane
Carly Berlin
/
WWNO
A portion of the protected bike lane on MacArthur Boulevard in Algiers.

After months of heated debate from residents over parking, traffic, and bike safety, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to remove two segments of protected bike lanes in Algiers on Thursday.

The ordinance was introduced by Council member Freddie King, who represents Algiers. It orders the city to remove “bollards or similar traffic control features for the exclusive use of bicycles or other non-motorized vehicles” – the physical barriers separating people riding bikes from people driving cars – in two areas of Algiers.

Those two areas are MacArthur Boulevard between General De Gaulle and Woodland drives, and on Newton Street between Elmira and Behrman avenues. The ordinance requires the Department of Public Works to return these roads to their previous configuration within 60 days.

Per a presentation given by Council member King, that means MacArthur Boulevard will return to having a bike lane delineated only by paint on the road, and Newton Street will return to having a shared lane for cars and bikes, with no delineated space for bikes.

Echoing a concern that some residents have consistently emphasized in public meetings, King argued that there had not been adequate community engagement ahead of the bike lane buildout in Algiers, which began in 2020.

“This is about not allowing communities to have a voice in how their neighborhoods should look,” he said.

Other Council members agreed, and Council member At-Large JP Morrell noted around 3 p.m. that he planned to introduce a new ordinance later in the meeting that would require the Department of Public Works to do more robust community engagement before making future street changes.

Thursday’s vote marks a victory for some Algiers residents who have voiced opposition to the protected bike lanes for more than a year, many organized under the banner of Our Streets Our Choice. The group of residents said they don’t object to bike lanes in concept, but they alleged that the elimination of driving lanes on some major thoroughfares in Algiers has snarled traffic and taken away coveted street parking spots.

Gisele Schexnider, a member of Our Streets Our Choice, said she lost the parking spot in front of her house on MacArthur to the bike lanes.

“Who’s going to buy a house without on-street parking?” she said.

Before he was elected to the council late last year, Council Member King also expressed his desire for the bike lanes along Newton Street to be removed, according to a letter provided to WWNO. King’s law office is on the 1800 block of Newton, along the protected bike lane route.

But those who want to see the protected lanes stay — including the Mayor’s office — stress that they’re a critical, and potentially life-saving, safety feature.

“I’m here, asking you today, not to sacrifice my safety for a parking spot,” said Bill Katzenmeyer, an Algiers resident and avid user of the bike lanes.

New Orleans is currently experiencing a spike in traffic fatalities, a situation described as a “public health and safety crisis” in a press release issued by the Department of Public Works and the New Orleans Health Department, just hours before the ordinance was approved Thursday.

Last year, there were 69 traffic fatalities in New Orleans, the highest number since 2004 and a 35% increase from 2020, according to the release. An additional 338 people were severely injured on New Orleans roads last year, the highest count since “at least 2013.”

The release didn’t note the Council’s move to take apart protected bike lanes specifically, but did say “these tragedies are nearly all preventable with smart road design, traffic calming measures and individual safe driving behaviors.”

In an interview with WWNO before the vote, Jennifer Ruley, the mobility and safety division manager for the Department of Public Works, said she’s concerned that the Council’s vote could open the floor for elected officials to pick apart road designs made by certified professionals — created with the intent to keep all users of a road safer.

“You, as an elected official, are also taking a risk for if someone gets injured, or killed, because you insisted that a design change happen,” she said.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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