NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - In the heart of New Orleans' Mid-City neighborhood, people biking is not uncommon, especially on the Lafitte Greenway, a bike and pedestrian trail.
Where the Greenway meets Jeff Davis Parkway, cars roll right through the crosswalk, but when a pedestrian is there, drivers are legally required to stop.
Many say, drivers and people biking need to be aware and follow the rules of the road now, more than ever.
"When Katrina struck in 2005, there were 11 miles of bike paths in New Orleans. Now it's over 100," Dan Favre said.
Favre, executive director of Bike Easy, says the area has also seen huge growth in the number of people using bike lanes.
"Three hundred percent in the last 15 years statistically," Favre said.
Part of Bike Easy's mission is to make sure streets are accessible and safe.
"As we see more people riding bikes, we have been seeing more crashes as well, sadly," Favre explained.
Surveillance cameras captured some disturbing examples in the last few months. In two of the cases, vehicles hit bicyclists riding in bike lanes and then drove away from the scene.
"The motorists, think of that bicyclist as your mom, your dad.. an old man like me," Michael Maples said.
An avid bike rider, Maples is hard to miss, wearing a fluorescent vest and a hard hat. He believes everyone could be a little more educated when it comes to the rules of the road.
Bike law expert attorney Charlie Thomas tells us bikes are allowed anywhere vehicles are allowed except on interstates or in areas where there's a posted bike ban. There are several types of lanes for bicyclists. Sidewalks, unless you're younger than 15-years-old, are forbidden.
"It's actually illegal to bike on the sidewalk," Favre said.
Often you'll see markings in the street that include a bike with an arrow. Those lanes are called sharrows - essentially reminders that drivers share that lane with people biking. There are dedicated bike lanes where white painted lines indicate a lane specifically for bike riders, and you may have also seen what are considered high-quality bike lanes with protective barriers. A prime example of one exists on Old Behrman Highway in Algiers. For people in that neighborhood, it's opened up transportation options they didn't have before. It's not just bicyclists who use these protective lanes, but walkers and even those in motorized wheelchairs.
According to traffic laws, bikes are considered to be vehicles, and people biking have the same rights and responsibilities as people driving.
"When you're on your bike, it's really, really important that you ride with the direction of traffic. You want to be as far to the right as practicable or safe," Favre said.
Like drivers, people biking are required to obey traffic signals, including stopping at a red light and coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. People biking are also required to use hand signals when turning, and when they're slowing down, to warn others, they should point their hand in a downward position. Drivers must allow 3 feet between a vehicle and someone on a bike and shouldn't harass bicyclists by yelling or honking.
Once the sun goes down, and that's happening earlier now, people biking must be visible and bright.
"You need a white light on the front, a red light on the back," Favre said.
With a record number of people biking and the likelihood of more bike paths added in the future, Maples hopes drivers and bike riders keep a watchful eye behind the wheel.
"I want to challenge all of the motorists and the bicyclists in New Orleans to really try to have some compassion," he said.
This time next year, a bicycle share program is expected to come online where essentially people will be able to rent a bike from one bike station and drop it off at another. Seventy stations and 700 bikes will launch beginning next fall.
In addition, the city says NOPD officers have received additional training this year on traffic laws and effective enforcement with a focus on bicycling and walking.
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