New Orleans native Julia Wessman got to know Paris while living in the French capital for three years, and she got to see a lot of it thanks to that city’s bike share program. The system let her rent bicycles from a network of automated stations, pedal around on her errands or explorations, and simply drop off her hired rides at other stations when she was done.

“At first I thought it was a cute idea, and it was cheap enough to try, but once I started I found it was just such a great way to see the city,” Wessman says. “The Metro is great too, but on a bike you really see the city you’re moving through and see how it’s all connected.”

She thought so much of the program that after moving back home she entered a proposal for a local version into a business plan competition from the social entrepreneurship group 504ward. Though her proposal didn’t win, she learned that others were trying to develop a bike share system here, including James Drury, founder of the nonprofit New Orleans Bicycle Project.

Together, they are now working to create Roulez!, which they envision as a shared bicycle rental system in New Orleans. A fleet of modern bikes would be available to residents and visitors for short-term, hourly rentals from a network of street kiosks throughout city neighborhoods, secured by stout locks and accessed using payment cards. Roulez! now is working with Veolia Transportation, the French company hired in July to manage the city’s Regional Transit Authority, as well as with the Regional Planning Commission on ways to bring the system about.

Though key funding and operations questions remain unresolved, the Roulez! proposal has surfaced at a time when bicycle issues are getting more attention in New Orleans. Grassroots groups have long lobbied for better bicycling infrastructure, and more is beginning to materialize. For instance, roadwork begun this fall in the Central Business District will include new on-street bike facilities on six downtown streets. Work is also underway on the Lafitte Corridor Greenway, including a new bike path stretching from the French Quarter to Lakeview.

This fall, Time magazine named New Orleans to its list of top 10 urban bike rides, praising the accessibility of the city’s historic neighborhoods and the wealth of interesting sights and places to visit along the way. If Roulez! can get rolling, there could be a whole new way to experience it.

– I.M.