Cruising Carnival Part I: Mardi Gras, New Orleans
The first Mardi Gras in the US was actually held in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama, then the capital of French Louisiana. There was significantly less traffic back then.
Major holidays tend to mess with city travel, especially when they occur on weekdays or involve multiple parades. The annual celebration of Carnival combines both! So we’ll look at a few cities around the world this week to give you an idea of what to expect as we approach the end of the season. We begin with New Orleans, LA, famous for its Mardi Gras celebration.
The Big Easy Driving
Though “Mardi Gras” refers to the Tuesday directly before the Catholic period of Lent, celebrations can sometimes begin more than a month before the actual date.
Last year’s celebrations began Saturday, February 15 and lasted through Tuesday, March 4. Mardi Gras in New Orleans typically starts slow, but continually builds with more parades, more events and especially more people in the streets adorned with masks and beads. At the time of the writing of this article, parades (which can sometimes make driving difficult) have been occurring regularly since Tuesday, January 6, and will continue through the actual date of Mardi Gras, February 17.
From the beginning of Mardi Gras through its close on Tuesday, March 4, a few things are immediately noticeable:
- Active usage increases
- Increases in daily driven miles
- Increases in alerts by drivers
The opening weekend of Mardi Gras last year saw significant spikes in active usage compared to normal, with 33% and 49% increases February 15 and 16, respectively.
Usage returned to average levels until Mardi Gras weekend (February 28 – March 4) where it increased 43%, 44% and 45%, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Incident reports were also up on those days well, at 39% – 60% more then average.
Out of the two weeks leading up to the big weekend, usage, alerts and miles driven increased on every one but three:
- The Monday following opening weekend (February 17)
- The Monday and Tuesday preceding Mardi Gras weekend (February 24 & 25).
Why? There wasn’t anything going on. Even in the 2015 schedule, there are no events or parades scheduled for those days. So if you’re a tourist looking to drive to The Big Easy this weekend, leave today, February 9 or tomorrow, February 10.
If there’s a traffic hazard this week, it’s most likely not because of Mardi Gras. On February 9 and 11, Monday and Wednesday this week, there are two home games for the New Orleans Pelicans NBA Basketball team. Last year, reporting shot up 127% during a Pelicans home game on February 24, 2014, with reports of traffic increasing the most. Historically, this was one of the “quiet” Mardi Gras days since no parades are happening. We already know major city events create traffic so expect this to happen again.
In closing, some good news: according to data from last year’s Mardi Gras, the parades and celebrations don’t have a huge impact on traffic. Throughout the month average speeds hover around 30 MPH, and both drive times and lengths are standard compared to the rest of the year. Maybe more people are walking; maybe the parades are constrained to areas away from major commuting thoroughfares.
Or maybe, after more than 300 years experience, New Orleans knows what it’s doing.