Bicycling Around New Orleans
Some things make New Orleans a great bike city. Other things pose real challenges, but overall, I think the good outweighs the bad.
On the plus side, the city is extremely flat, and except by the water, the winds are usually fairly gentle. The core of the city is quite compact, so odds are your ride will be short. And the infrastructure is improving, with a lot of bike paths and bike lanes added in recent years. And temperatures are often mild, especially in the springtime when Jazzfest is held.
On the negative side, many streets, especially smaller side streets, are poorly paved, with jarring potholes. Manmade obstacles including canals, railroads, and highways can make planning routes for cross-town trips harder. And bike theft is common - if using your own bike, a U-lock or other strong lock is a must.
Where to Get a Bike
If you're driving to New Orleans, you can bring your own, but that's usually not practical if you're flying.
Many bike shops and bike tour companies offer rentals, most commonly of cruiser-style bikes. Rates aren't cheap though, often around $35/day or $150/week. Rentals typically include a lock and a helmet.
Given the price of rentals, if you're wanting a bike for more than just a few days, another option to consider is to just buy a bike when you get to town. Walmart sells fully assembled adult bikes starting around $90. These are obviously lower quality bikes, but should be fine for just riding around town for a week or two. When you leave town, just give the bike away.
The newest option is to use Blue Bikes, the bike share system now available. If you're staying within the service area, and don't mind walking a few blocks to get to a bike, this may be the easiest and cheapest option. Bike share is discussed in detail below.
Biking to and from Jazzfest
The Fairgrounds has designated bicycle parking corrals at both the Gentilly and Sauvage entrances. Bring your own lock.
If coming from the French Quarter or Downtown, the recommended routes to Jazzfest are Esplanade Ave or the Lafitte Greenway.
On Esplanade, you'll share a single lane with auto traffic from the river to I-10; after that there's a designated bike lane all the way to the Fairgrounds neighborhood. Expect heavy car and bike traffic on Esplanade, especially around 7 pm when the festival ends for the day.
The Lafitte Greenway is a paved off-road trail that starts on Basin St a couple of blocks outside the Quarter, and runs to the Mid City neighborhood. To the fest, I'd suggest staying on the Greenway to Jeff Davis, make a right and then a slight left onto Moss St, along the right side of the bayou. Then right on Desoto, left onto Rendon, right onto Grand Rte St John. (Avoid GRSJ between Moss and Rendon, since that's where the taxis line up). Stay on GRSJ across Esplanade, then left on Sauvage to the Fairgrounds. Bike parking will be to your right on Fortin. That route is 2.7 miles from the intersection of Basin & St Louis St.
If you prefer the Gentilly gate, stay on GRSJ to Crete St, left to Fortin, then right to Gentilly. Then walk your bike along Gentilly to the entrance and bike parking.
Coming home, just reverse this. Be prepared to walk your bike the first couple of blocks until the festival crowds thin out.
New Orleans now has a bike share system. Called Blue Bikes, it's ideal for riders looking to take short or quick one way trips.
You do need to sign up and create an account in advance before riding, either online or on the app. You can do this on your smartphone and ride immediately; but unlike some other systems, you can't just swipe a credit card at the station. The website mentions hubs with enrollment kiosks, but none are yet installed.
Once you sign up, you get a 6 digit account number and a 4 digit PIN. To unlock a bike, you enter the 10 digits on the keypad on the back of the bike to unlock the integrated U-lock..
There are two different pricing plans. The Hourly plan costs $8 per hour of usage. It is pro-rated to the minute, so a 15 muinute ride would cost $2. The Monthly plan costs $15 per month, and includes up to 60 minutes of riding each day; usage above 60 minutes is charged at the hourly rates. The monthly plan auto-renews by default, but you can turn that off. If you're in town for a week or two of jazzfest and riding a lot, $15 seems like a real bargain. For the occasional rider, the hourly plan may end up cheaper - but they charge the initial $8 when you enroll, so if that 15 minute ride is the only one you ever take, it'll end up costing $8 and not $2. All prices do not include 10% sales tax.
New users who sign up for the monthly plan using promo code BLUESPRING2018 will get their first month for $5. Valid until May 31.
Blue Bikes offers a hybrid of station-based and dockless systems. There are 70 stations, called hubs, scattered around the service area. Capacity varies, but the larger hubs may hold up to 20 or so bikes. But you do not have to return the bike to a hub: for an extra fee of $1, you can instead use the included U-lock to lock the bike to any public rack or other fixed object anywhere within the system area. And if you find an available bike locked up outside a hub, if you ride it and return it to a station, your account is credited 75¢. You can ride outside the service area but you should end your ride inside the service area: rides ending outside the service area incur a hefty $25 fee.
For now, the service area includes the Bywater, the Marigny, the French Quarter, the Warehouse and Central Business Districts, the Lower Garden District (out to Jackson Ave), plus the Treme, Mid-City, part of the 7th Ward, and the Bayou St John area including the Fairgrounds where Jazzfest is held.
The green markers on the map show the hubs. The blue markers show where there were available bikes outside hubs (as of when the screenshot was taken).
The smartphone app and website show a real time map of bike availability.
Bike share was introduced in New Orleans this past December, so 2018 will be the first Jazzfest with it available. The system seemed to work well during Mardi Gras, with good availability, but it remains to be seen how well it works for Jazzfest. There are 700 bikes in the system, and I can imagine 600 of them being ridden to Jazzfest, and then remaining parked there all day. And when cab and bus lines get long, some folks who didn't bike to the fest may decide to bike home; in this case, all the available bikes near the fest may be gone for those leaving later.