Officials: Bike safety a primary concern
Crossing Freret Street is no easy task.
To raise awareness and make New Orleans streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, Dan Jatres is heading an initiative that hopes to reduce the amount of accidents and fatalities by 10 percent in the next two years. Jatres serves as the director of education and outreach of the greater New Orleans Pedestrian and Bicycle Program for the Regional Planning Commission. His campaign includes radio public service announcements, informative brochures on safe biking practices and a training session for police officers to better inform them on pedestrian laws and rights.
“It can be scary sometimes,” freshman Kiah Wright said. “You see a mass of people walking across and follow their lead, assuming that the traffic light has changed. But when you’re halfway into the street, you notice that a car’s coming toward you and not stopping.”
Because of the high concentration of pedestrian and bicycle activity in the vicinity of Tulane’s Uptown campus, as well as a high-traffic street that divides campus, accidents are likely to occur.
In the greater New Orleans area, high pedestrian injury and bicycle accident rates are the norm. In 2005, 1,183 pedestrian and 677 bicycle injuries occurred.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Louisiana ranked second highest in bicycle fatalities and the eighth most for pedestrian fatalities in the United States.
“We’re pretty bad,” Jatres said. “We have an average of 2.2 fatalities per 100 million miles driven, which is astronomically high when compared to the rest of the country.”
“We’re going to bring in police officers and get them squared on what the law says about interactions with pedestrians and motorists,” Jatres said.
In a study done at Tulane in 2004, it was found that there were approximately 1,300 bicycles on the Uptown campus.
“Tulane is one of the, if not the most, concentrated area of bicycles in the city, and has a pretty large concentration of pedestrians,” Jatres, a Tulane alum, said.
Jatres said that bicycling against the flow of traffic is dangerous.
“One of the big things here in New Orleans is that people ride against the flow of traffic,” he said. “Some people think that’s what they are supposed to do, but it is illegal and dangerous because you’re putting yourself in a position in which a motorist isn’t expecting to see you.”
This makes it especially dangerous for motorists and pedestrians on McAlister Drive who do not expect bicyclists to ride toward them.
“There’ve been instances in which a bike has come from the wrong direction as I’ve begun crossing, and it throws me off a little,” Wright said.