Improving Health in Louisiana
As president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation, Michael Tipton says his goal — and the mission of the nonprofit, Louisiana-based health insurer — is to improve the health and lives of Louisianians. As such, the organization partnered with the City of New Orleans to bring Blue Bikes to the Crescent City. The program is 100 percent privately financed through sponsorships, advertisements, rental fees and private capital, so no city or public funds are used to operate Blue Bikes.
In early Aug. 2017, the City of New Orleans announced that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana would be the title sponsor of the bike-share program (hence the name, Blue Bikes), and the first bikes hit the streets in Dec. 2017. The first phase of the program is bringing a fleet of 700 bikes into New Orleans, with 70 stations. The goal is to expand Blue Bikes to 90 stations and 900 bicycles over three years.
“Through the end of July 2018, Blue Bikes riders have taken more than 170,000 trips and ridden more than 350,000 miles — that’s enough miles to bike from New Orleans to New York City 236 times,” Tipton says. “From Blue Cross’ perspective, we’re glad to be part of bringing Blue Bikes to New Orleans. We regularly get feedback from business leaders, nonprofit partners and residents, thanking us for our involvement in bringing bike-share to the city.”
In many Louisiana communities, including New Orleans, walking from point A to point B isn’t always an option, and driving has its own set of challenges (such as like traffic, parking and pollution). In many communities, not everyone has the option to drive and must rely on alternate transportation.
“At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, we are so proud to partner with the City of New Orleans to make Blue Bikes available for everyone in the city,” Tipton says. “The Blue Bikes program operator has worked with us, the city and community groups to provide a green, affordable transportation option that increases physical activity; gives residents of food desert areas a way to shop at grocery stores and farmers markets for fresh, healthy food; and makes it easier to get around the city while avoiding the hassle of traffic and finding parking. In addition, Blue Cross has worked with the mayor’s office and other city offices to connect the program with area nonprofits in promoting safe biking and community development. We want to make sure everyone has access to use Blue Bikes.”
Safety is priority No. 1, and all of the Blue Bikes are equipped with security technology, GPS tracking, a locking device and a bell. “The bikes have front and rear lights that turn on automatically once the bike is unlocked, along with reflective materials to make riders easier to spot on the road,” Tipton says. “Riders can report any mechanical issues they have, such as a flat tire, using a key pad that’s on every bike.” While Louisiana State law only requires riders under age 12 to wear helmets when biking, Blue Cross urges bikers of all ages to wear helmets when riding.
Program data so far has shown that the wellness benefits of Blue Bikes are adding up. “As of July 2018, Blue Bikes riders had burned more than 14 million calories,” Tipton says. “There are about 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat, roughly, so the calories burned on Blue Bikes are equal to shedding 4,000 pounds. Or, in food terms, it’s close to burning off 47,000 po-boys.”
Environmental health benefits from Blue Bikes are also apparent. “As of July 2018, Blue Bikes riders eliminated more than 300,000 pounds of carbon gases from the atmosphere by using green transportation,” Tipton adds. “For context, burning one gallon of gasoline releases about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide — that means Blue Bikes riders saved the equivalent of more than 15,000 gallons of gas.”
In addition to being active and reducing carbon emissions, other key benefits of the program include less traffic congestion; having an affordable, environmentally friendly option to get around; and overall community vibrancy. “We think Blue Bikes can be a true problem solver and beneficial solution for getting around New Orleans,” Tipton says.
Blue Bikes have regularly been present at festivals, community events and outreach activities since the program launched. This month, Blue Bikes is offering free rides for everyone, all month long. There will be several events taking place to promote this opportunity.
According to Tipton, Blue Cross is interested in partnering with other areas in Louisiana where bike-share programs could be a solution to health and transportation challenges. “Many communities across the state have watched the success of Blue Bikes and are considering how they could start similar programs,” he says. “We look forward to supporting their planning efforts and potentially being engaged in ways that meet their health needs, similar to our goals for Blue Bikes in New Orleans.” bluebikesnola.com