The Importance of Investing In Our People: Blue Bikes   
On Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, I was privileged to attend the launch of a program that has the potential to change the character of a major American city for the better. And I’m even more privileged to be working for the organization that made it happen.

Doesn’t that look like FUN? Here’s some background.

Bikes in the Big Easy
Over the past few years, New Orleans has invested in and reconfigured large swaths of the city to create new walking and biking lanes on many major streets. More than 100 miles of access ways have been created for people who don’t want to drive, fight traffic, bear the expense of high gas prices and car insurance or pay hundreds of dollars a month just to park their cars in the city.

To maximize the value of this investment, and to bring New Orleans into the national limelight as a walking/biking friendly city, we here at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana agreed to be the title sponsor of the Crescent City’s first bike share program. We call it “Blue Bikes.”. By the end of the year, more than 700 of these amazing, secure, high-tech bicycles will be available for use all over the city. Designed to be as convenient as possible, it will be simple for locals and tourists alike to rent a bike, ride it to a particular destination, then drop it back off, or lock it up and ride it back later in the day.

And the week after the launch, Bike Easy, a local bicycling advocacy group, honored Blue Bikes with its 2017 Bike Easy Award, the highlight of its annual honors of organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to better bicycling in Greater New Orleans. The group’s executive director wrote, “The Bike Easy Award choice was easy this year – Blue Bikes is clearly the most important thing that’s happened for biking this year (and probably in many years).”Here’s what they look like. You’re about to see them ALL OVER the city!

This is a picture of a woman riding a Blue Bike in New Orleans.

What do Blue Bikes have to do with health?

Now, Mike, why should we care about bikes in New Orleans?

You may be wondering what this has to do with Straight Talk, which focuses on healthcare policy, quality and costs. But, they’re related – you should care about Blue Bikes for a variety of very important reasons:

  1. One of the biggest drivers of your health insurance premiums are the health complications in our state that are brought on by lack of exercise and obesity. When you are overweight and/or get very little exercise, your risk for things like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, kidney failure, etc., goes up. Some of the key reasons people say they do not exercise more often are the lack of safe places to work out, the cost of buying exercise equipment or few options in their area. With Blue Bikes, residents of the New Orleans area have an easy-to-access, inexpensive way to grab a bike and get moving.
  2. Bike share programs like Blue Bikes also can increase residents’ access to farmers markets and grocery stores in food deserts, so people living in underserved areas can buy healthier foods. The large baskets on the Blue Bikes make shopping easier, too.
  3. Cities that have prospered in terms of economic development, and have growing tax revenues, not shrinking revenues, focus their energy on making their metropolitan areas easy to live in, easy to get around in and safe. If you’ve been to other big cities– like New York, Chicago, Miami, Houston or Philadelphia – in the past few years you’ve probably noticed they have active bike share programs. That’s because making safe paths for people to walk or bike leads to more residents staying in and investing in, a city. New Orleans, and Louisiana, could benefit from both of these results in a big way. With our state’s fiscal problems, finding a way to increase revenue and keep people from leaving Louisiana is a very big deal.
  4. Building a culture of health and wellness means we have to do everything we can to encourage people to go outside! See my blog comparing Louisiana to California for more on this.  Always a challenge in a state with our weather patterns, humidity and average temperatures, but the healthiest states in the union have populations that spend way more time outside than we do. Blue Bikes will contribute to that effort. And if you think about it, there are bike share programs in states that get lots of snow. I know that just happened here, but it’s rare. The bikes will let us take advantage of living somewhere that has mild temperatures practically year-round.
  5. More and more federal dollars are being tied to a region’s efforts to shrink its “carbon footprint.” The whole idea here is that burning less fossil fuels (which come primarily from gasoline in cars on the roads) in a concentrated area will improve air quality (never something Louisiana has done well) and make an area more in line with federal goals when we apply for grants and funding. Having thousands of people each month choose a Blue Bike and leave their cars in the driveway contributes to this improvement.
  6. Finally, it’s fun! Fun is a very important part of quality of life and health. People who have more fun feel better about their lives, are more optimistic, more outgoing, do more charity work and typically contribute to a more positive image of our state. Turns out, FUN is a big deal.

Look at these people riding Blue Bikes! It’s clear they are having a LOT of fun!

This is a photograph of two people riding Blue Bikes in New Orleans.

Biking Toward Better Health
For these reasons and more, Blue Cross has decided to invest in our people here in Louisiana and help bring bike share to New Orleans.

As someone who spends at least an hour a day commuting to work in my car, I can testify to the stress, risk and expense of all that driving. Would a nice bike ride before work really be a better alternative? You bet!

And since our mission is to “Improve the Health and Lives of Louisianans,” it seems imperative that we support efforts like Blue Bikes, which have already proven themselves in cities around the U.S., to give Louisiana residents an opportunity to bring some health and wellness into their lives.

Stay tuned! Much more Blue Bikes on the way!