What We Are Saying: Just Say No to Bike Banks on Bayou

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If  you haven’t been to historic Bayou Road lately, you should plan a visit soon.

There is a lot going on along the economic corridor. New, small businesses are moving in. And old storefronts have gotten a facelift.

Southern Rep has moved its theatre there.

There is even a young industrious brother selling fresh fruit in Kruttschnitt Park, the grassy median in the center of the road. We think his effort is a grand example of ingenuity and self-sufficiency. Instead of lamenting the lack of opportunity for himself and other young brothers, he is creating economic opportunities and encouraging healthy eating habits all at once.

That’s why we are saddened—no, no, upset—to learn that there is a contingent set on pushing him out because apparently what he is doing doesn’t fit their image of Bayou Road. Really, there are folk bothered by a young Black man selling fresh fruit on a street in New Orleans—a city that has a history of street vendors almost as old as itself. Those folk must not be from here. Folk like this young brother have lived and worked on Bayou Road going back 300 years, and now some contend that he has no place there.

That’s now how this works. That’s now how any of this works.

To be sure, any disparagement and scorn for this modest entrepreneurial effort are little more than veiled attempts to marginalize the people of this community, to dispel them and to drive them out to make way for some other use of the area—perhaps the location of bikesharing stations. In fact, we understand that a location along 2400-2500 block of Bayou Road is one that is being considered for one of the 70 or so bike sharing stations that will soon go up around the city.

One quick question? Where will you put it? 

If you haven’t been to historic Bayou Road lately, you should plan a visit soon.

When you visit you will see that there is just barely enough room for cars to traverse and park on Bayou. It signals a boom in commerce. People are visiting the notable section of the city, patronizing any one of the varied businesses along the corridor. Perhaps they are stopping at the Caribbean restaurant for a bite to eat or dropping by the Community Book Center to stock up on their summer reading material. Maybe they are taking an appointment at the hair salon, getting their natural locks styled to perfection. And many are eagerly anticipating the opening of the Half Shell restaurant, which will feature fine dining in a friendly, neighborhood environment.

We have no trepidation in saying that many of these businesses are Black-owned, and most of the customers that frequent them are not coming by bike. Of course, we are not saying that no one bikes down Bayou Road. We are saying that it is not a primary mode of transportation for those who visit Bayou Road. Neither is it the safest. While the bustle of Bayou Road signals active commerce, the narrow street and congestion also make it a precarious thoroughfare to navigate. Bikesharing stations and an influx of bike riders do not need to be added to this mix.

As we look at this plan to place bike sharing stations throughout New Orleans, we wondered, why Bayou Road? In fact, we have taken a look at the map of the hundreds of locations that residents are voting on electronically. They seem to be piled—one on top of the other—in the center of the city, the very neighborhoods that have been targeted for gentrification. Yes, we said it…gentrification. You know what we are talking about, too, those sometimes subtle and at times overt activities, policies, plans and programs that are designed to push out historic, often minority residents of a community to make way for richer and often times Whiter folk who aren’t happy to simply move into a neighborhood and enjoy its quaint appeal as is, but instead want to change the face of the community and displace residents that were there long before their arrival.

We’ve heard all the arguments in favor of the bike sharing program. It’s an economical way to travel. It’s healthy. It helps poorer residents who cannot afford cars get to and from work inexpensively. Okay, we get that. We even agree. And goodness knows there are folk in far-flung areas of this city where public transportation is lacking that could use all the help they can get to get to active bus routes and workplaces. So, why aren’t any of these stations planned for the far areas of Gentilly, the Ninth Ward, New Orleans East or even Algiers, where poorer residents could surely benefit from being able to share a bike and ride it to the ferry for a quick and inexpensive ride downtown?

Bike sharing in the middle of the city for poor, far-flung working residents makes about as much sense as those communal living facilities some brilliant developer dreamt up for low-wage workers who can’t afford to live near the downtown and CBD-area hotels and restaurants at which they work despite the hundreds of luxury, high-end units that have been built all around them in recent years.

Nothing about this process indicates that it is designed to serve those most in need of alternative means of traveling around New Orleans. In fact, the voting process currently underway to determine where the bikeshare stations will be located is as undemocratic and exclusionary as can be. The online voting platform is not user friendly and has not been adequately marketed to all residents, in our opinion; and the process is biased against the many residents of this city who are not technology savvy, do not have Internet access or Google, Facebook or Twitter accounts, which are required to log-in. Let’s be real clear here, the folk that can’t afford reliable transportation and actually need bicycles as an inexpensive way to get to and fro aren’t tied to smartphones, swiping and clicking their way through life.

 

So let’s at least be honest. This bikesharing program, which will cost the city nearly $3 million to establish and a little more than $1 million to operate annually—like so many other things in New Orleans—appear to be not really for the people of New Orleans.

 By the way, if you haven’t been to historic Bayou Road lately, you should plan a visit soon.

When you do, you will see that it is an increasingly thriving commercial district with Black property owners and businesses owners who have taken very seriously their own redevelopment of their own district. And it doesn’t need a bike sharing station and the traffic it would bring. And what it doesn’t need are pie-in-the-sky promises of what some random outsiders will do for our area as if we don’t already know what is best for our communities.

So should you be able to negotiate the online voting platform and successfully register to cast vote, then locate the proposed Bayou Road bikeshare location among the hundreds of other proposed locations that look as if they are piled on top of each other, concentrated in the center of the city, we urge you to cast your vote against placing a station along Bayou Road, an area where business and property owners have already committed to saving and strengthening their own community.

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