COMMENTARY: New Orleans: It’s no Minneapolis, and that’s OK

COMMENTARY: New Orleans: It’s no Minneapolis, and that’s OK
July 13, 2009
by Greg LaRose
New Orleans CityBusiness

There are two things you want to make sure to have on you if you’re biking in New Orleans: a cell phone and a debit card.

The cell phone is to call for a cab when a tire goes flat, as one of mine did the morning of July 4 at the Fly at Audubon Park. The debit card came in handy after walking my bike to the entrance of Audubon Zoo, where I withdrew the cash for a cab ride home.

I was taking the setback in stride, just another day on the unforgiving streets of New Orleans, until the cab driver said he would charge me an additional $5 to stow my bike, which weighs a fraction of the average tourist’s suitcase.

Disgruntled, I flashed back to just a week earlier when I was in Minneapolis for a conference attended by business journalists from throughout the country.

Upon arriving in Minnesota, I noticed two differences from New Orleans. First, I didn’t break a sweat in the midday sun; and second, I was able to board a light rail train from the airport to downtown. And the railcar had space for parking bicycles.

“No,” I told myself. “I am not going to write one of those columns about why this city is better than New Orleans.”

Minneapolis’ luster wore off a little when I had to walk a half-mile from the rail line through major street construction to reach my hotel, although it dawned on me that there was more roadwork on this one street than perhaps all of New Orleans.

An explanation for the upheaval came the next day from Mayor R.T. Ryback, who stopped by our conference. Keep in mind Ryback is a former business journalist, but it says something when the mayor of a major city takes time out of his schedule to personally thank 100 or so visitors.

Ryback glowed when he mentioned that Minneapolis is the nation’s No. 2 bicycle-friendly city behind Portland, Ore., according to the League of American Bicyclists. He didn’t mention a report that places his city (and Portland) among the “5 Housing Markets That Have Further to Fall,” but he did explain the obtrusive construction in front of our hotel.

It’s for the next wave of light rail that will take passengers from the existing 12-mile, north-south Hiawatha line and move them east and west. Built five years ago, the Hiawatha route serves 37,000 passengers a day.

By comparison, the St. Charles and Canal streetcar lines averaged a combined 11,400 riders a day in May.

Light rail in New Orleans is like Bigfoot. You’d like to think it could exist but until you see it, you don’t believe it.

Although I quashed it before leaving Minneapolis, the urge to sing the praises of the city struck me again while I was stuck in a cab with my crippled bike in the back seat.

Then I got to thinking. If someone told me I could never visit Minneapolis again, it wouldn’t upset me that much. It’s a nice place as Midwest destinations go and the people are great.

But it doesn’t pull at my heart, not like New Orleans.

Despite its pockmarks and pitfalls, the Big Easy is endearing in a way other cities could never be. And although she routinely breaks our hearts by falling short of her potential, there’s something that keeps us coming back to her.

Guess I better find a tire repair kit — and keep believing in Bigfoot.•
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