Driving in downtown New Orleans during the Super Bowl was certainly inconvenient, but the mega-event also provided an apt backdrop for a project that could make getting around the city easier than ever in the long run.
Boosters for better bicycling in New Orleans used the run-up to the game to demonstrate a bike share system they want to develop in New Orleans. Hundreds of people took free pedals around town to test it out.
“People were pumped that they could just hop on a bike and ride,” says Jamie Wine, executive director of Bike Easy, a nonprofit that advocates for bicycling around New Orleans.
A bike share system is a fleet of specialized bicycles available to the public through a network of automated kiosks. Users pick up a bike at one station and drop it off at another near their destination, with visitors paying by the day to explore the city and residents having the option to pay a lower annual rate and access bikes anytime for errands or commuting. Such systems are in place around the world, where they’re widely praised as a convenient, healthy and low-cost way to get around densely populated areas.
“We have a proof of concept, and this is a proven model,” Wine says, pointing to programs now operating in 23 cities across the United States and 100 cities in Europe.
Last year, Bike Easy commissioned a feasibility study for a bicycle share system, which concluded that a small-scale system starting with 200 bikes and 20 kiosks could be built for about $1.5 million.
“The thing about it is, these systems make money,” says Wine. “You subsidize them at first, but then they become self-sufficient in a few years. Plus they’re producing jobs for people who are running the system. There are all kinds of ways that this is a win-win.”
City officials have expressed interest in the project. City Councilwoman Kristen Palmer, city Health Commissioner Dr. Karen DeSalvo and Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin all took part in the Super Bowl demonstration, which was supported by the Downtown Development District, Entergy, the Super Bowl Host Committee and B-cycle, a company that operates bike share systems around the country.
Work is now underway on a plan for a New Orleans system, which Wine believes could be in place by 2014.