A citywide bike sharing program will bring 700 bikes to 70 racks to the city this fall. But in time for the NBA All-Star weekend and Mardi Gras, people will be able to check out bicycles from several stations in the French Quarter and CBD during a "preview" period from Feb. 15-23.
The fleet of white bikes (with baskets, hand brakes and kickstands) comes from New York-based company Social Bicycles, which allows bikes to be rented out and returned to other hubs around town. This month's "preview" installs 35 bike at nine stations downtown (U.S. Mint, Lafayette Square and Cochon are among the stops) and the Lower Garden District outside the Avenue Pub. City officials signed off on the plan in November.
Riders download an app (search "Social Bicycles"), register their information and select a pay plan. Preview plan rentals are $8 an hour (with a $3 fee) or $10 for an hour of use during all 13 days. "It's really a small city," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "It's a lot easier to get around a on bike than a car ... It's a lot less expensive than driving."
Last month, Landrieu and officials demonstrated a self-driving shuttle
, what Landrieu sees as the kind of transportation options cities will need to embrace as more people move into cities, with New Orleans at the forefront. Landrieu says bike sharing — coupled with the city's expanding infrastructure for bicycles (most recently, a striped bike lane on Banks Street) — is the next step. "The future is here already," Landrieu said Feb. 15. "You got a glimpse of what American cities are going to look like."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau. nearly 4 percent of New Orleanians bike to work. The League of American Bicyclists ranks New Orleans as one of the fastest-growing cities for bike ridership, with a 208.7 percent growth from 2000 to 2013. Over the last several years, the city added more than 100 miles of bike lanes or infrastructure, from shared lanes to paths like the Lafitte Greenway.
The Social Bicycles stops will appear throughout New Orleans neighborhoods, but not too far apart or too densely packed. Officials don't want to recreate Seattle's city-run program, which the city shut down last month
after three years and declining ridership and financial woes. Funding set aside for that program instead went to pedestrian and bike safety projects.
At-Large Councilmember Jason Williams says he first used a bike sharing program in New York City, where its Citi Bike system — the largest in the U.S. — plans to expand a fleet of 10,000 bikes and 600 stations by the end of the year. "This city is tailor made for this," Williams said.