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In New Orleans, You Should Follow the River

6:50 AM PDT on May 4, 2010

1252010346_2f7fb1ee91.jpgA city determined by the Mississippi. (Google photo composite: Leto A. via Flickr)

Today on the Streetsblog Network, there’s a lovely post about the geographic idiosyncrasy of New Orleans, from NolaCycle Bike Map Project.

This is the blog of a group whose mission is "to create a high
quality cycling map of New Orleans" by collecting data from real people
who ride the streets of the city, then digitizing it. Print maps are
also in the works. 

The post reveals just how tricky it is to figure out optimal bike
routes in New Orleans, a city whose shape and street plan and very
existence are determined by the Mississippi River. And as the state of
Louisiana faces environmental crisis, it also touches on how respect
for the river’s natural power might be the best hope for the city’s

The first lesson…is to forget your compass and followthe River. Uptown is the direction Upriver; Downtown is the directionDownriver. Don’t move north and south, but to the River or away fromthe River. While you are in the city, away from the River always meanstoward to the Lake, Lake Pontchartrain.

You can blame all of New Orleans on the Mississippi River, becauseit built the soggy land we ride on. It built the streets crooked toconfuse Midwesterners. It built it flat so that you won’t wear yourknees out pedaling that beat-up cruiser bike. It built it wet, so thatthe pavement sinks, settles, and slides at different rates, makingpotholes, sinkholes, and buckled pavement. It built it low so that youhave take bridges to get out of town. And when we stopped it frombuilding New Orleans, we started to lose it to the Gulf of Mexico.

Re-establishing the ecological function of the river is the only wayto stave off coastal land loss and the destruction of New Orleans.… Theriver is the cyclist’s ally in the fight against fossil fuels.

Being mindful of the river and its curve can get you where you’re going faster.

The entire project illuminates just how vital on-the-ground
knowledge of a community is for creating navigational tools. Google’s
recently launched bike mapping feature has come in for some criticism
because it doesn’t always incorporate such human knowledge; it remains
to be seen if it improves as people alert the company to problems with
suggested routes. There’s really no substitute for the advice of people
who know which way the river lies.

More from around the network: Urban Velo on the fight to create better cycling conditions in Asheville, N.C. Urban Milwaukee writes about how a street in that city was narrowed and the world did not come to an end. And Seattle’s Orphan Road cites Boston’s Big Dig cites the greenway built over Boston’s Big Dig as a cautionary tale.

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