Along for the Ride

May 18, 2003

Amanda R. Rittenhouse
Phone: (504) 865-5210

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical. Why do I need to take a bicycle safety course? I already know the basics. Wear a helmet. Ride with traffic. Know the hand signals. What else is there? At the time, I didn't realize that I had much to learn. But despite my ignorance, I did agree that if I was going to be on the newly established Bicycle Advisory Committee, I needed to learn as much as I could.

The committee formed in February after the Office of Environmental Affairs and the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission received a $50,000 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to promote bicycle safety.

Liz Davey, Tulane's environmental coordinator, facilitates the committee, which comprises staff, faculty and students from various university departments and offices. Since the committee represents a range of cycling experience, the idea of taking a safety course met with mixed reactions.

While some were asking, "Which of my three bikes should I bring?" I was thinking, "Where can I get a bike?" So with some uncertainty, I began part one of the course taught by Stanley Cosper, Tulane Public Safety officer and committee member. Eight of us met one Thursday afternoon in the committee's usual monthly meeting place, 201 Alcee Fortier Hall.

Cosper began with "Effective Cycling," a 45-minute video. I quickly realized I didn't know half as much about bicycle safety as I thought. There's a big difference between knowing how to ride a bike and knowing how to handle one. By the end of the video, I knew when to yield to cross traffic, how to change lanes, where to position myself at an intersection and, most import-antly, that cyclists fare best when they act and are treated the same as drivers of other vehicles.

Cosper then focused on safety issues specific to New Orleans. For instance, to avoid drivers who run red lights, it's safer to wait a few seconds after the light turns green before entering the intersection. He discussed how to maneuver around potholes, streetcar tracks and other obstacles in the road and emphasized knowing your route.

Audrey Warren, a graduate student at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, also a bicycle mechanic and committee member, ended the session with a review of bike maintenance and a safety checklist. Are the handlebars securely attached to the bike? Do the tires have enough air? Are the brakes functioning correctly?

With checklist in hand, I went home and looked over the bike I would ride the next day during part two of the course. I was amazed at how comfortable I felt with the bike and its many parts. I knew that if there were any problems, my training would help me to spot them. By the end of my inspection, I was secure in knowing this bike could safely take me from point A to point B. The next afternoon our group met at the Office of Public Safety in the Diboll Complex.

Our session began at the top of the parking garage where Cosper showed us def-ensive riding techniques to avoid collisions with pedestrians, other cyclists and cars. We continued on to Weinmann Road, where we learned to jump curbs for times when we may need to get out of the road quickly or in Cosper's case, pursue a suspect.

But the true test of the course came when we rode our bikes down St. Charles Avenue and on through neighborhood streets to the Jackson/ Gretna Ferry on Tchoupitoulas. I had been quite nervous about the prospect of riding alongside cars. But when we actually merged into traffic, I had more confidence than I ever thought I would. I knew the rules of the road and how to handle my bike.

Riding down St. Charles I thought, "You just haven't seen New Orleans until you've seen it from a bike." It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I truly felt like "the king of the world."

The committee is considering a streamlined version of the course for the Tulane community and also monthly rides. If you are interested in learning more about bicycle safety and gaining confidence on your bike, e-mail Cosper or Davey at

For more information about where to ride in New Orleans, you can pick up the Bicycle Map of New Orleans at the Tulane University Bookstore. Test your knowledge of bike safety at

Amanda R. Rittenhouse can be reached at

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000