Traveling Back in Time, To The Future…Maybe

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The bicycles go ashore in France.
The bicycles go ashore in France.

Sorry about that, I just channeled an 80’s comedy/science fiction movie. On the other hand, it is kind of true.

This past weekend I had the chance to visit some of my old stomping grounds, New Orleans. I was tagging along on one of my wife’s business trips. We had the opportunity to stay in a wonderful old hotel in the French Quarter. She had business things to take care of on two of the days so I got to go sightseeing with my brother.

What does this have to do with being outdoors in Arkansas? Hang on for just a second and I’ll get there…

So I wandered around enjoying not only the old city but also taking in some other history in the form of the World War II museum. Things from various time periods in U.S. history unfolded in front of me. One thing really caught my eye in the museum. This quote was at the top of one of the photos in a D-day exhibit.

Nobody dashed ashore. we staggered. With one hand I carried my gun, finger on the trigger, with the other I held onto the rope-rail down the ramp, and with the third hand I carried my bicycle. – Cpl. Peter Masters

Now that's a bike rack!
Now that's a bike rack!

This was in reference to landing just after the initial fighting. Yes, bicycles, proof is in the pictures. So I thought that was pretty cool and soon noticing more bicycle related things about New Orleans during the rest of my visit.

Bikes were everywhere! Sure I saw a few “nicer” bikes but for the most part they were of the Walmart/Murray/Next variety. Locked to light posts outside of bars, restaurants, stores, etc. Not just in the French quarter but pretty much all over town. I saw on the roads designated bike space. I saw cool bike racks all over that promoted the city itself.

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How did they do this in such an old town, a town with old narrow streets, with traffic from all over the country, street car tracks, odd u-turn style traffic control? Heck, New Orleans has a long history of supporting the petroleum businesses with oil refiners surrounding the city. I didn’t remember this many bikes almost 2 decades earlier when I lived here. What happened and how did they do this?

I did some checking and found that Tulane University did a study on usage of the new bike lanes in New Orleans.

Observers found a 57 percent increase in the average number of riders per day during a two-week period in November 2008 – just six months after the lanes were installed – compared to a study period in the same month a year earlier when no lanes existed. The research article, which is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, is one of the few to examine cycling for an extended time period before and after lane installation, says lead author Kathryn Parker, assistant director of Tulane’s Prevention Research Center.

Pretty cool stuff.

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So why can’t we take this model to cities here in Arkansas? Little Rock, Jonesboro, Ft. Smith, Northwest Cities…we could do this everywhere. Why don’t we? Arkansas comes up short on pretty much every list of states as far as healthy lifestyles. Are you asking your state legislators for statewide plans to improve the health of Arkansans? Are we utilizing federal transportation dollars for pedestrian and bike friendly routes to work, schools and shopping? The cost of what New Orleans has done is minimal compared to the health costs of Arkansans. We are talking about a stripe on the road, not widening, not separate paths, a stripe on the road and in some cases just a symbol that let’s people know that this area is okay for bikes also. Let’s hope we can move forward to a future with more bikes. Heck, they helped us win World War II they can help us now.

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See, I went from World War II France to New Orleans and still was able to make it all about Arkansas Outside! Don’t forget to check out our Facebook Page!

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