NEW ORLEANS — Rolling like an army on wheels down St. Charles in New Orleans, cyclists blocked vehicle traffic Saturday afternoon to transport a white ghost bike through the city to be hung from a pole.
The ride was a memorial event for Robert “Hog” Blair, a cyclist who was hit and killed while riding his bike in October.
“My father had a light on his bike, he wore a big hat. It was hard to miss,” said Blair’s son, Robert Andrew Blair II. “He played his music loud, if you didn’t see that you weren’t paying attention.”
The bike will hang in the place he was hit on St. Charles as a memorial, and a message to city leaders. Cycling activists say poorly designed or non-existent bike lanes have led to hundreds of crashes. Blair is the fifth cyclist to be fatally hit in 2019 in New Orleans.
“If the city would separate bikes and cars we would not be ruining lives this way,” said cyclist Clark Thompson.
April Leigh is part of the group “Bike Uneasy” that advocates for bike lane improvements throughout the city. Leigh says she’s been hit by a vehicle while riding in the current bike lanes.
“I was where I was supposed to be in the bike lane they set up, but she never looked, pressed on the gas and hit me,” said Leigh. “Bike lanes are not set up correctly, they’re setting up basically traps for cyclists who think this is the safe place to be because cars disregard them and there are no physical barriers.”
City Councilman-at-Large Jason Williams was the only person from City Hall at the ride Saturday.
“The City Council is united in the fact that the city has let the cycling community down, it is time to set up and not just start fixing things but get it done,” said Williams. “We need to move quickly to avoid more deaths, injuries and near-misses.”
Williams said he would like to see the city implement concrete barricades, curbs or have a parking lane separate vehicles from bike lanes.
Even if the changes happen, they may not fix the deep division that exists between cyclists and drivers in New Orleans. A dispute flared between a cyclist and a driver during Saturday’s memorial.
“Every cyclist I’ve spoken, or almost all have suffered assault, harassment or physical injury,” said Charlie Schully, founder of Bike Uneasy.
Schully says they will continue placing white ghost bikes in the city every time another cyclist is killed.
Advocates at Saturday’s memorial say they had asked the city to put a protected bike lane on the stretch of St. Charles where Blair was hit when roadway repairs were underway in 2017. They said the city denied their request.
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