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Cycling the Crescent City: Help 'Connect the 9' with community bike ride and festival

Tomorrow morning community members and organizations will come together to host a free group bike ride and festival to raise awareness for the structurally ailing, physically endangering, transportationally discriminating, and geographically isolating St. Claude Avenue Bridge over the Industrial Canal.

The ride is scheduled to begin at the Green Project at 2831 Marais Street at 10:30 a.m. and, after crossing the St. Claude Bridge, will make stops at the Make It Right Foundation houses as well as Bayou Bienvenue prior to arriving at the Lower 9th Ward Village for a community festival at 1001 Charbonnet Street.

In addition to free food and drinks, basic bicycle repairs, and bicycle light giveaways, the festivities after the ride will include excursions to Global Green, a community bicycle workshop and tabling by local community organizations, as well as a petition to improve the condition, safety, and usability of the bridge and testimonials from community members about its current state of existence.

Beginning with the formation of Bike Easy’s St. Claude Bridge Safety & Access Committee and a partnership with the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED), the event is the result of nearly a year and a half’s worth of hard work to draw public attention to and come up with a solution for the issues facing the aging but vital piece of New Orleans’ transportation infrastructure.

The St. Claude Avenue Bridge was built in 1919 and serves as the primary connection point for residents of the Lower 9th Ward to the city’s more centrally located commercial districts. Additionally, as cyclists and pedestrians are not allowed on the North Claiborne Avenue Bridge, it is the only viable option for the numerous area residents who do not commute by car (46 percent of residents within 5 miles of the St. Claude Bridge do not own a car, compared to 32 percent city wide).

Yet the dimly lit bridge provides little to no safe pedestrian or bicycle access. 18-wheelers are actually required to “share” the 11-foot-wide right lane with cyclists. There are only narrow pedestrian walkways on either side of the bridge that are difficult to cross for those with impaired mobility.

According to the most recent publicly available crash data, there were 78 total bicycle and pedestrian collisions with motor vehicles on the bridge from 2007-2009. The single bicycle-related fatality recorded in the New Orleans area during 2011 occurred on the St. Claude Avenue Bridge.

With this in mind, Bike Easy and the CSED coordinated with graduate students in the Masters of Urban Planning program at the University of New Orleans last year to perform the Connect the 9 study to identify potentially life-saving improvements for cyclists, pedestrians and transit riders using the bridge. The organizations also performed a survey of 120 people using the bridge over the course of two days to identify the community’s top safety concerns.

They were: lack of a bike lane, poor lighting, and speeding vehicles.

For those interested in supporting this grassroots community effort to improve New Orleans’ livability while having some fun and getting some exercise, details for the Connect the 9 Community Bike Ride and Festival again are:

When: Saturday, March 9, 2013
10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Where: The ride starts at 10:30 a.m. at the Green Project,
2831 Marais St., New Orleans
It ends at the festival location around 12:30 p.m.,
Lower 9th Ward Village
1001 Charbonnet St., New Orleans

Cost: Free but supporters may make a donation here.

M.T. Hinson writes about the cycling community in New Orleans for NolaVie.