The Gamblers Blunder: Bike Commuting Downriver on Royal Street
Why go downriver on Burgundy…
when there is the majesty of Royal? Street music, art galleries, and eateries are all a part of the draw of commuting down Royal Street in the French Quarter. The only problem is, that by commuting downriver on Royal bike commuters are actually cycling against traffic.
While you are cycling in the direction of the current of the mighty Mississippi, motor vehicle traffic on Royal is actually traveling upriver. In our early history it could take a sail ship several weeks to get upriver from the gulf. It’s indeed a daunting task. It’s no different on a bike. You are slowing down your commute because you’re constantly bobbing and weaving.
In fact, the act of cycling against traffic is referred to as “salmoning” in the bike community. Amazingly, salmon swim upriver to the location of their birth to spawn. That’s not an easy task either. Rapids, waterfalls, bears, eagles, and fishermen add to the plight. As you will read, cyclist face some of the same obstacles by salmoning against traffic. Here’s why you shouldn’t do it…
For one, It’s illegal. I know that’s not enough precedence for folks in our city. So bare with me…I’ll try to persuade you by other means. But on a real note, you can get fined for riding against traffic. Legally, cyclist are to operate their bicycles like a motor vehicle. I don’t always agree with that legal code (I do like the idea of the Idaho Stop). But I think riding with the flow of traffic is a good law and it should be enforced.
Secondly, the three feet away from parked cars on the salmons left, is intended for the law abidings cyclist legal right to the right hand of the road. The worst is when there’s traffic on Royal and the bike salmon motions for you to move and give them the right away. Sir please!
Thirdly, you are making yourself susceptible to an accident. In my 5 years as a pedicab driver, I spent countless hours on Royal Street. I’ve seen this play out three different ways. There was the occasion when a cyclist was going the wrong way on Orleans Ave. and made a left to go the wrong way on Royal. Bam! You guessed it…the cyclist collided with another cyclist going the legal way up Royal.
I’ve also seen this happen on St. Louis and Royal, but a pedestrian was struck. Where’s the GoPro when you need it? The pedestrian was looking for traffic coming upriver…as she should have, and here comes a salmon rounding the corner as she steps out to cross. These accidents are frustrating and don’t need to happen. They’re easily avoidable and the simple solution is obeying the traffic laws.
Another common accident that results from salmoning is being hit by a motor vehicle. More than injury, this could prove to be fatal. I saw this happen on St. Phillip and Royal. When I pedicabbed I was a regular at CC’s coffee house. I’d grab a cup of joe and take a brake sitting in the back of the cab. Well, so goes the story.
It was a slow evening, not a lot of people out. A car traveling on St. Philip stops at the stop sign at the intersection of Royal. The driver has on their right turn signal. I know right, what a surprise, someone used a turn signal in New Orleans. Anywho, the driver looked for traffic coming up Royal. The coast was clear so the driver made a legal right turn onto Royal. What did the car strike? A salmon riding against traffic.
The cyclist was shaken but survived. Crazy thing is that the cyclist got irate with the driver. I couldn’t help but to step in and tell the cyclist that it was his fault! The argument didn’t last long. The driver and I chopped it up for a minute and the event was over.
But here’s the thing…when you ride against traffic motorist aren’t looking against traffic, they’re only looking for oncoming traffic from the flow of traffic. You are presenting yourself as an unexpected object that can be hit by a fast moving vehicle making a turn. Cyclist have been killed from these collisions…and it’s not the drivers fault. When you cycle against traffic you are gambling with your life.
I know that riding on Charters Street is like cycling in a third world country…plus there’s Jackson Square with signs clearly stating that bicycles are prohibited. I also know that bicycling is prohibited on Bourbon Street from 6pm to 6am 365 days a year. But bicycling on Bourbon below St. Ann is legal and once you get past St. Philip its smooth sailing. The fastest and safest way to commute by bike downriver in the Quarter is going downriver on Burgundy or N.Peters/Decatur/N.Peters.
Well, that’s my safety rant on salmoning on Royal. I care about bicyclist lives, so forgive me for being direct. I implore you, take one for the team and go with the flow of traffic.