New Orleans cycling lessons for Belfast

What could Belfast possibly learn from New Orleans about cycling? More than you might think according to New Orleans tourism chiefs.

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What could Belfast possibly have in common with New Orleans? One of the intriguing aspects of this story in the Irish News is how New Orleans has developed a cycling network from scratch since Hurricane Katrina, and what Belfast can learn from this”just get on with it” attitude.

Playing in the streets

Playing in the Streets, copyright Chris Waits (waitscm on Flickr) (CC BY 2.0)

The Irish News reported on a US State Department promotional tour in Europe which brought the comparisons between the two cities:

Tourism and economic chiefs in the Big Easy admit they see “many striking parallels” between their great city and the north’s more modest capital (although in population terms, both claim an urban population of around 400,000).

Speaking to the Irish News, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) senior vice-president of tourism Kim Priez saw among other similarities that:

Both are spending millions of public and private funds rebuilding their cities, one after the devastation caused by a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina in August 2005) and the other by a man-made 30-year conflict.

“We had the world watching us as we were being destroyed, so when we were rebuilding, we just had to change and make it better.”

NOCVB’s communications vice-president Kristian Sonnier added: “My advice to reinventing Belfast would be: don’t simply rebuild what you always had.

“Really think about what you would like to have that you never had before, and a simple but good example for us was bike lanes. We had five dedicated miles for cyclists before Katrina. Now we have more than 100 miles.

“So instead of doubling down what was broken before, re-imagine the things you’d like. It’s working for us.”

Original article, Irish News, 7 Mar 2016
Belfast has more in common with New Orleans than you may think

Comment

This is a bolt from the blue and excellent to see cities which actively pursuing increased cycling levels encouraging Belfast to do the same. While we’re slightly behind New Orleans now in terms of total network length, Belfast is catching up with current work in the city centre and a city-focused Bicycle Network Plan due shortly from the Department for Regional Development.

It seems that, a little bit like Seville, cities which plough on with route development can reap rewards in a very short space of time:

There are thousands .. in New Orleans who use their bike as their main way of getting around. The U.S. Census Bureau has new data showing New Orleans has the fifth highest rate of bike commuting in the country. (WWL-TV)

I suspect both Belfast and New Orleans share problems in terms of the quality of their networks. Belfast’s most advisory (i.e. useless) cycle lanes seem to be matched by the North American tendency to use painted solutions (mid-road lanes, buffered lanes, sharrows).

However the occasional flagship project can boost the profile of cycling and help to create demand for better facilities – in this case New Orleans’ Lafitte Greenway and Belfast’s Comber Greenway and Connswater Community Greenway.

It’s a sincere hope that in a few years representatives from Belfast will travel the world to demonstrate our own best practice in developing protected cycle routes and a joined-up city-wide network. Although I wouldn’t say no to a wee trip over to Louisiana in the meantime..

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