New Orleans: a city known for carnal consumerism and excess. Hardly a destination for environmentally friendly, human fueled transportation-or is it? If you’re planning a trip this season, consider being kind to your body and your budget by taking to the streets with a different mode of transport: the bicycle.
Luckily for cyclists, New Orleans’ topography is less interesting than its fabled nightlife; flat streets and a relatively concentrated center let you cover plenty of ground with little exertion. French Quarter Bicycles (522 Dumaine St.) offers 24-hour rentals (mainly mountain bikes and hybrids) and a visitor-friendly location for $25, while Joe’s Bike Shop (2509 Tulane Ave.), though somewhat off the beaten path, will set you up with a brand new cruiser for only $15.
Depending on your interest and stamina, this sensual city has hours worth of sites and smells well suited to travel on two wheels. While there are few routes with marked bike lanes, main streets are generally wide enough to afford bikers access, and the narrower “rues” of the French Quarter and Garden District are predominately one-way so you can keep an eye on traffic.
Unlike the overrated, generically rowdy Bourbon Street, the rest of New Orleans’ French Quarter retains an authentic, subtle charm from the numerous shops, cafÃ?Â©s, and leafy balconies which line the streets. Check out the vendors and artists along Jackson Square, park and lock up for a walk through the busy French Market, or just pedal slowly and watch for Mardi Gras beads glittering in the tree branches above. Nearby, where Canal Street meets the Mississippi at one of its deepest points, you can walk your bike onto the free Canal Street Ferry and churn across the river to historic Algiers, a small community with few tourists and lots of tiny, well-preserved “gingerbread” cottages. The ferry runs frequently (every 15-20 minutes), though you may want to extend your stay once you discover some of the little cafÃ?Â©s and snowball shops near the ferry landing at Delaronde St.
Back on the city side, continue up Canal Street and follow the St. Charles streetcar line to bike a lush, green route that takes you first through shops and restaurants, then past some of the antique mansions of the Garden District, of which St. Charles serves as the northernmost border. Take St. Charles a couple miles past Louisiana St. (the eastern boundary) and you’ll reach Audubon Park. The 350 acre space shows definite evidence of city planner Franklin Law Olmsted’s attention to detail. Cars are banned from a two-mile pedestrian/cyclist loop, herons and ducks flit freely from oak tree to swamp, and the Audubon Zoological Garden stretches for 58 acres in the mid-section of the park. No surprise then, that credit goes to Olmsted’s stepson and business partner, John, who designed the park in the late 19th century.
As you make your way back to the center of town, take your time crisscrossing the smaller streets that make up the Garden District, and even brave a ride past Lafayette Cemetery (Washington Ave. & Prytania St.). Though surrounded by a brick wall and offering limited hours, you can still catch a peek of the spooky mausoleums that characterize many a N’Awlins resting place. The above ground “burials” were done to avoid century-old drainage problems, but whatever the practical reason, the effect is haunting. Scenes from the film Interview with a Vampire were shot here, and, for you Anne Rice fans, that’s her private residence a few blocks away at First and Chestnut.
Return to the world of the living by riding past some of the antique shops on Magazine between Washington Ave. and Louisiana Ave. It’s unlikely you’ll have room in your bike basket for any of the stately/funky furniture for sale, but you’ll probably have better luck finding a unique gift here than the dime-a-dozen souvenir shops of Bourbon Street. After a few hours in the humidity, a rejuvenating stop at Surrey’s Juice Bar (1418 Magazine St.) may be in order-and yes, they’ve got a bike rack out front. Fresh juices, coffee and brunch are served, but like many restaurants in the area, they’ll close up by around 3pm.
If you’ve still got the energy after covering over a dozen miles, head north up Canal, or take a break and enjoy the air conditioning of a streetcar aimed for City Park. Double the size of New York’s Central Park, this sprawling chunk of green contains the New Orleans Museum of Art, a free outdoor sculpture garden, and, if you’re lucky, a few lazy alligators drifting through the lagoons under moss drenched oaks. The streetcar will get you there for $1.25, and though the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority plans to install bike racks on their fleet of 360 (the Airport-Downtown Express bus is already equipped), the old-fashioned streetcars won’t allow bikes on board, so be sure to lock up well if you hitch a ride.