By Claire Byun
Citywide bicycle operation and equipment requirements underwent a little shakeup last week, and the changes are meant to make the roads safer for everyone.
The New Orleans City Council unanimously passed amendments to meant to improve bicycle safety at their latest meeting. The bike amendments were part of the council’s consent agenda and faced no opposition from the public at the meeting.
City Councilmember Jared Brossett introduced amendments to current ordinances regarding bicycle safety, operation and equipment requirements. Brossett brought those amendments to the council’s Jan. 12 meeting but they were pushed to the council’s latest meeting.
Brossett added the ordinances to the Transportation and Airport committee’s docket a few months ago, and that committee recommended approval of all the amendments. Brossett serves as chair of that committee.
“As a community, we must remember that all roadway users have a great responsibility to use public roads and streets legally, safely and respectfully,” Brossett said. “These ordinances are the first steps to making New Orleans a safer city for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists.”
The new ordinances were initially proposed at an August meeting of the city’s Transportation Committee after a yearlong study by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Advisory Committee. The study produced four key findings, including a need for transparent local crash data and a coordinated attempt across all city departments and agencies regrading bicycle and pedestrian safety.
Several traffic hand signals for cyclists and vehicles would change under the new ordinance. Under current law, the right turn hand signal requires the hand and arm extended upward at an angle of 45 degrees from shoulder or elbow. The new law changes that angle from 45 degrees to 95 degrees, which is completely vertical (as opposed to angled).
Cyclists would also not be required to “continuously give” signals if the “hand or arm is needed to control the bicycle,” under the amendment.
One of the most impactful changes comes under the ordinance regarding riding on roadways and bicycle paths. The current ordinance only state that cyclists should ride as near to the right side of the road as practicable, exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction. Brossett’s plan adds four amendments to that rule which exempts bikes under the following circumstances:
-When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.
-When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.
-When reasonably necessary to avoid fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lane or any other conditions that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.
-When approaching a place where a right turn is authorized.
Brossett also added three more criteria to the ordinance forbidding cyclists from riding more than two abreast (except of lanes set exclusively for bikes) and allowing bicycles to operate on the shoulder of a roadway. Bicyclists would also be allowed to ride as near the left-hand curb or shoulder as possible when preparing for a left turn – but only if there are two or more marked traffic lanes and traffic travels in only one direction.
Increased safety – and therefore a decreased rate of cyclist and pedestrian deaths – is one of the goals pushed by the city’s bicycle safety advisory committee. In 2013, there were 703 traffic fatalities in Louisiana and 13.8 percent involved pedestrian. That’s the fifth highest rate in the country, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The amended ordinance would require vehicles to stay out of bicycle lanes except to: prepare for a turn within a distance of 200 feet from the intersection; pull into an alley, private road or driveway; or to leave a parking space. Vehicles would also be required to yield the right-of-way to all bicycles and could only enter the bike lane if “protecting the driver and others from harm.”
Motorized bicycles, under Brossett’s ordinance, would not be allowed in the bike lanes “when the operator travels at no speed greater than what is reasonable or prudent” and in a manner which “does not endanger the safety of bicyclists.”
Vehicles would be required to pass bikes with at least three feet of space between, and throwing objects, taunting or harassing cyclists is also banned.
To learn more about all the bicycle amendments passed by the Council, see our story from earlier this year.