Bike Ride in New Orleans

My Commuter Bike in Audubon Park, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

My Commuter Bike in Audubon Park, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

I drove to the Big Easy over the weekend to pick up my son Lee (who just graduated from Tulane) and bring him back to Dallas for the holidays. Since I had plenty of room in the car I removed the wheels from my commuter bike and packed it in.

I have always wanted to ride a bicycle in New Orleans and never have. The French Quarter especially is full of folks on bikes (both natives for transportation and tourist rentals for entertainment) and I have always enjoyed hanging outside and watching folks ride by.

Photos I’ve taken of bikes in the city:

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans

Stylish bike rider, French Quarter, New Orleans

Magazine Street, New Orleans

Magazine Street, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans

Bicycle, French Quarter, New Orleans

Bicycle, French Quarter, New Orleans

My son lives out by the university and I thought I might ride through the Garden District down to the quarter and back – it would make for a nice long day with plenty of cool places to stop along the way. He was working Sunday and I would have time to myself.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. When I arrived the city was unbearably hot and humid and on the day I had planned on riding a cold front blew in and brought a powerful set of thunderstorms with it.

My commuter bike is set up with fenders and I have rain gear – but this was too much. A good rule of thumb is that when the lightning is so violent the thunder is setting off all the car alarms in the neighborhood every few seconds – it’s storming too much to go out.

This went on all day. When it would lighten up a bit I would think about venturing out – but another band would blow onshore and the skies would open up with a drenching downpour and howling winds. I ended up staying inside all day.

We were going to drive back to Dallas the next day, but he had some things he had to do in the morning so we couldn’t leave early. That gave me time to get in a quick little ride before we left. It was still very cold (for New Orleans), wet, and windy – but bearable, so I headed out.

I rode through the Tulane campus, now empty for the holidays, and up St. Charles for a bit (they have a bike lane along some of the street). St. Charles in New Orleans is the most beautiful street in the world (in my opinion) though the traffic is pretty nasty for a bicycle.

The city has sharrows painted on Nashville so I chose that route down to Magazine Street and rode there for a bit looking at the shops and restaurants before heading over to Audubon Park and circled the zoo down to the Mississippi.

My Bike along the Mississippi, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

My Bike along the Mississippi, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

I rode back through the park and the Tulane campus then took a side trip down Freret to cruise through a nice up-and-coming area of shops and restaurants.

That’s about it. It was fun, glad to get it in. Lee warned me the streets were rough and he was right. I’m glad I have a front shock on my commuter bike – the ride was through a constant series of cracks and potholes. As I rode toward the river I thought to myself that it would be uphill coming back – in Dallas the streets slope surprisingly steeply down to the Trinity River – but in New Orleans it isn’t true, of course. That city is about as flat a cycling route you will ever see.

The traffic there is nasty, of course. I’m sure you could get used to it – but it’s pretty tough, even compared to Dallas, which is well known as the least cycle-friendly city. The key is to learn your town, your neighborhood, and your routes – which can’t be done in one cold and blustery morning.

Now I need to go back when the weather is better and do a bit more exploring.

New Orleans – St. Charles Streetcar

The grandest ride in America was the St. Charles streetcar. You could catch the old green-painted, lumbering iron car under the colonade in front of the Pearl and for pocket change travel on the neutral ground down arguably the most beautiful street in the western world. The canopy of live oaks over the neutral ground created a green-gold tunnel as far as the eye could see. On the corners, black men sold ice cream and sno’balls from carts with parasols on them, and in the winter the pink and maroon neon on the Katz & Besthoff drugstores glowed like electrified smoke inside the fog.

—– from The Tin Roof Blowdown By James Lee Burke

The St. Charles streecar in New Orleans is one of my favorite things in the whole world. If you have never ridden it, put it on your bucket list. Now.

The best time to ride the streetcar is at sunset on a hot late summer evening. The windows open and the breeze from the motion sweeps the sweltering afternoon away as the purple sky darkens beyond the southern mansions and ancient oaks. You sit on the wooden seats jostling as the machine tumbles down the neutral ground. The lights flicker mysteriously and each new section of track is greeted with a flash of lightning, a clacking cacophony, and a whiff of ozone from under the wheels.

The streetcar becomes a time machine… no… not that… it is a timeless machine. The streetcar is exactly as it was ages ago, the floods, Katrina, countless Krewes from countless parades gone except for the risible plastic beads hanging from the trees, the mansions, the music, the food… all are distilled into a parallel pair of rails and high voltage overhead that lumber from the edge of the French Quarter way out past Tulane and Audubon park.

The streetcar is not only a tourist attraction – you share your ride with office drones from downtown banks, lawyers from big firms, and dishwashers nodding off after a long day – the heartbeat of a city brought cheek-to-jowl together. It isn’t very fast – waiting for riders making change at the old-fashioned boxes, drivers bracing themselves to swing heavy levers, stopping at lights while the cross traffic fights out of the way. You can almost walk this fast. But you get there and the getting is everything.

When we are in town we usually stay in a bed and breakfast on St. Charles not far from Tulane and when I wake up in the morning I always like to lay in bed and listen for the streetcars. When you ride them they are all jangling and jump but somehow, from outside, they are smoother, slick steel wheels and sliding commutator sparking along. A bell at the intersections if the cars don’t move fast enough.

Like all of New Orleans, it’s hard to figure out why there aren’t more fatalities along the route, with the traffic, walkers, runners all thrown together with few signs and fewer rules. But they get along, somehow. They always do.

Inside the St. Charles Streetcar

One of my favorite spots is this unassuming little coffee shop at St. Charles and St. Andrews. I like to sit out front, sip my coffee, and watch the streetcars go by.