I’ve had such a busy summer so far–teaching, writing, learning, walking touring, meeting, editing, etc.–that I haven’t had much of a chance to just ride my bike around. I’d been eyeing this Tuesday for a couple weeks though. I had a few things to do that morning, but the rest of the afternoon was mine to ride wherever, and with a weather report that had us topping out at 80 degrees, I was pretty excited.
Spring cycling is the very best thing. Monday’s ride took me up to Roland Park for an appointment and then I decided to just keep riding up Roland Avenue to enjoy the fancy bike lane that nobody seems to like but me. I got to the end and then turned around to come back the other way. And then I saw the ghost bike near St. Georges Road. Continue reading
I fell in love with riding a bicycle when I lived in New Orleans. This city is completely flat, it’s compact, and you can bike anywhere in 30 minutes or less. More than that, though, it was the right place for me at the right time with the right bicycles, and four years of riding my way all over this place helped me feel at home in a way I had never felt before.
And I need to feel at home right now. We’re coming up on the anniversary of my father’s death, killed by a left turning driver who claimed he couldn’t see my dad in the crosswalk because his windshield was fogged by his morning tea. It has been a year of learning how to get done and undone by grief, and I’m tired. I miss him, and among many, many other things, I miss how happy it made him to watch me be so happy on my bike. I miss that we’ll never take that tour he was planning for us, that I’ll never get one of those texts from him asking if he can send me some gear, that I’ll never get to call him from somewhere beautiful I reached on the bicycle he bought for me in early 2009 just to say thank you, thank you for helping me figure out how to see this. Like this.
And so here I am, vacationing with the folding bike he found a little bit ridiculous in New Orleans, the place that helped me find this love, and with it the sense of curiosity and attention that sustains me.
My first ride was a short one around the neighborhood where my dear friend S. lives. She lived in Treme for years, and her new spot out near the Gentilly bike lane requires some reorientation. I headed out with vague directions to turn left and then left again, and followed streets with familiar names until I ended up in City Park, flush with memories. I had forgotten, though, how much time you have to spend looking down at pocked and seamed asphalt here–remember to look up and down, straight and over the shoulder. I replied around the new gold course, had some Feelings about that, and then headed back. I wasn’t sure exactly how to do that, but I figured I’d go on feel. That’s a strategy that doesn’t work all that often, but on this day it did.
The next day started with a ride in a bike lane toward the Quarter for beignets. Circle Foods is open now, and there’s a new streetcar line with tracks that can’t be trusted on a bike. The Quarter is filled with out of state license plates and people carrying cameras and maps, heading just where I was. The beignets are still sweet, the coffee too, and then it was uptown via Baronne, how-you-doin’s all the way.
I’ve made that ride hundreds of times, and it was the same, except for the partially protected bike lane. The house falling down just past MLK is still falling down, but the fork embedded in the intersection right there is gone–there’s a patch over that asphalt. The fancy new condos are still there, right next to old homes being eaten down by overgrowth. Just past Jackson is still off-roading. I zigged and zagged my around construction, walked up Magazine for awhile, ended up in a bike lane on Charles, and all the up to Carrollton for lunch and a haircut.
I took another way home–over to the bike path along Jefferson Davis (yep) and back to Bayou St. John. I stopped to snap this picture of the Lafitte Greenway. This was in the planning stages when I left, and now it’s here. And it is beautiful. I choked back tears–I am a crybaby–as I felt the anxiety of negotiating with cars lift. So many memories of riding this way, and here it is, I’m still riding this way.
And then I took a left on Broad, into another bike lane. I remember when New Orleans got its very first bike lane on St. Claude, in 2008, I think. Here we are, 8 years later, and bike lanes are everywhere. I know from following the news that the lanes don’t keep people safe, and that cars are still killing cyclists and pedestrians at devastating rates. My dad was killed in a crosswalk. No amount of striping will protect us from inattentive drivers, and paint can’t magically transform an unsafe street into a safe one.
But it’s not nothing. For the first couple of years after the out in the lane on St. Claude, cyclists were riding just to the left of it. Turns out people have to learn how to recognize and use new infrastructure. I hope everyone learned to use and respect the lanes here.
And then I was back, I folded up the bike, and felt grateful for the reminders that things change, but I still love riding a bicycle around New Orleans. Gratitude.
Monday’s ride was far too short, the day given over to grading and emailing and fire-putting-out, but hey, at least I got out for a quick pedal around the neighborhood under our springtime skies. My first stop was across the border of 33rd Street for a surprise visit to R.’s place. I had a book to give her, but that was just a ruse because I wanted to see her face and watch her perfect grey cat slink through the spring flowers. Continue reading
I didn’t have to go in to campus on Wednesday, so I spent my morning answering a thousand emails and grading a thousand this and thats until it was time to head downtown to meet C. for lunch. I took it easy, letting the bike carry me down the hill and to the left, down the Fallsway bike path and left again through Little Italy before taking a right on Central Avenue to enjoy that weird shifting bike lane down to our lunch date. Central Avenue has a bike lane that feels like nobody really planned it, they just thought they’d throw down some paint. I appreciate that after crossing Fleet, it shifts to the middle, between the straight and turn lane, but cars still don’t seem to expect me to follow that lane. And then it runs next to back-in parking and ends up taken over by the front of all those cars. Like I said, it’s a great idea to have a lane here, but yeah. I locked up my bike to a parking meter, because bike racks are still a rare thing around these parts, though there are plenty of bikes riding all over downtown. C. and I had a lovely lunch, spent mostly with him answering my zillion questions about Zipcar. He works there now, and it turned out I had a lot more questions than I thought I did about car sharing. Who cleans the car? What happens if I report low gas in a car? Is the extra insurance really worth it? (I decided that I’m finally middle class enough to start buying my way out of risk–quite the revelation.) Who names the cars? Who joins up? How do you talk folks into sharing instead of buying a car? Did they give him that logo jacket, or did he have to buy it? (They gave it to him.) And then I got a tour of the office–all open floor plan, filled with bikes and Red Bull, I even met a couple of the guys who keep all those cars clean–it was like seeing behind the curtain. I love my car share membership, even though I don’t use it all that often. Every time I go to book a car I see the actual cost of driving, and I have to stop and think: do I really need a car to do what I’m about to do? Almost always the answer is NO, but sometimes the answer is yes, and I book my car, a little extra time to go through a drive thru, because that’s what cars are really for, if you ask me. Zipcar means I don’t have to own a car, but I can still drive a car if I need to–total win, and I wish everyone would give up their cars–doesn’t yours mostly sit around all day anyway?–and jump on board with the sharing plan.
And then I wandered around the neighborhood, checking out the construction at Harbor Point(e), already missing the open view of the water, now obscured by the tall buildings going up to provide more expensive housing for people I am not entirely sure exist. I stopped at the Whole Foods for some bulk groceries and got back on the bike to head home. It’s the time of year where every ride feels like nostalgia for summertime when I take these rides much more often, and it was good to be on another old route. And then I had to jog into the traffic lane on Central because the bike lane is now valet parking for the Hyatt, another building that’s blocking the view. Talk about a total buzzkill. Urban change is always happening, whether we call it gentrification or development or something else, and loss is always a part of that change. For me, this is what the losses looked like on Wednesday–not the biggest ones by any means, but losses nonetheless.
Thursday’s ride took me down the hill and around the Inner Harbor and up and over through Federal Hill for a day with A. and her sweet baby girl. The wind was light, which meant an almost balmy day, and it put me in such a good mood. I followed the newly-striped bike lane down Guilford down to South Street. It’s all scraggly, running right alongside parked cars, jogging right and left as it passes through one intersection after another. It’s striped all the way to the Inner harbor, big NO PARKING signs lining the street across Lombard. On this day, the bike lane was filled with limousines transferring rich people to the Renaissance hotel, and I was like, seriously? Continue reading
Monday was my last day in New Orleans, and I used it to bike as many places as possible. When I first moved to NOLA in 2007, there were no bike lanes. Then the St. Claude bike lane went in, and then there was one on Broad Street, and that tiny stretch of Magazine in front of the WWII Museum, and the protected bike lane out in Gentilly, and now they are all over the place, and I wanted to ride them all. I wanted to take that favorite ride out through City Park and to Lake Pontchartrain to see the bayou and look for pelicans. I wanted to get lost out in Gentilly and do laps around Audubon Park and ride the Mississippi River Trail out to the end to see what they’ve done to that riverfront park in Kenner and if that abandoned suitcase is still there. Continue reading