If you are visiting the French Quarter, casinos, or just the Central Business District, a car may be more of a burden than an asset. Most hotel parking is valet/remote/expensive/difficult at best. New Orleans is ready for visitors, and the rapid transit, trolley cars and buses are plentiful 24/7. Walking is fun and healthy during daylight and early evening. After midnight, you may want to call a taxi, but likely it will be a short trip at reasonable cost. For a great way to see the city, try renting a bike from one of the several bike rental companies in the French Quarter or Marigny.
Be alert that the streets of much of the city were laid out before the automobile, especially in the older parts of town of most interest to visitors. There are many one way streets, and in some neighborhoods two-way side streets may be so narrow that cars going one way may need to pull to the side to let vehicles going the other way pass when someone has parked on the street.
Due to consolidation of the underlying soils, potholes are common and road conditions are often poor for a developed country.
Street signage is sometimes unclear or missing, and some signage lost in Katrina not yet replaced, although the situation has been improving significantly.
Parking is often hard to find around many areas of interest to tourists, but there are generally pay lots in the area. Hotel parking can cost over $30/night downtown and in the French Quarter. One garage in the Quarter offers a discount coupon that can be printed out before hand. They only charge $15/night when a customer presents the coupon.
Those who don't know how to parallel park may wish to just leave their car in a pay lot when visiting much of the city.
Those staying in or near the French Quarter can easily get around by foot, with optional occasional trips by streetcar, bus, or cab if they wish to visit other parts of town. In the French Quarter, bicycle rentals are available at a bike shop on Dauphine Street near the hotels of Canal St as well as at an antique shop on Decatur Street near the French Market. Other places with bike rentals include a bicycle shop in the Marigny Triangle neighborhood on Frenchmen Street and another Uptown on Magazine Street.
The Riverfront, Canal Street and St. Charles streetcars travel to or near many of the sites listed here. Fares for buses or streetcars are $1.25, 25¢ extra for a transfer (good only on another line but not a return trip on the same line). Express buses are $1.50. Day passes are available for $3. All buses and streetcars provide change cards.
Public transit is by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority ("RTA").
Note on Mardi Gras: During Mardi Gras in February, transportation of any sort will be a challenge. If you decide to get your own car, parking will be exorbitant (as high as $10 per hour) in the French Quarter and the City Area. Should you try to get a taxi, chances are you will have to call more than one company, and several times each, before you get a booking. After that, you will probably have to wait an average of 45 minutes to one hour. If you wish to travel from across town during Mardi Gras, is strongly recommended that you do get a car and park close to the streetcars or just outside the city area.
The older neighborhoods of the city, (which comprise nearly 45% of the city), were laid out along the banks of the Mississippi River. Except for the grid of the French Quarter, streets were laid out either following the river's curves or perpendicular to them, not according to compass directions or a grid.
For this reason, locals in these parts of town often don't give directions according to "north, south, east, and west". The four directions, instead, are "up" (or "up river" or "up town"), "down" (or "down river" or "down town"), "river" (or "towards the river" or sometimes "in"), and "lake" (or "towards the lake" or "back" or sometimes "out"). Don't be daunted, this makes sense when you take a moment to understand it.
Look at a map of the city. If, for example, you are taking the streetcar that runs along Saint Charles Avenue from the French Quarter to Carrollton, you see that the route starts off going south, then over some miles gradually turns west, and winds up running northwest. This is because Saint Charles reflects a bend in the river. From the local perspective, the entire route goes one way: up (or on the return trip from Carrollton to the Quarter, down).
Know that Canal Street is the up river boundary of the French Quarter. (Keep going further "up" away from the Quarter and you'll be in "Uptown".)
Some streets are labeled "North" and "South", this reflects which side of Canal Street they are on (despite the fact that Canal Street runs from southeast to northwest). The part of Rampart Street on the French Quarter side is North Rampart Street; the part on the Central Business District side is South Rampart. Also, a good map of the entire city is a must, as people from out of town may have to learn to simply match letters on signs to letters on the map. You see, most street names are French and Creole in origin and may be hard to pronounce. For instance, try to pronounce these example street names : Urquhart, Rocheblave, Dorgenois, Terpsichore, Tchoupitoulas, Burthe, Freret. (For the record, locals say "Urk-heart, Roach-a-blave, Der-gen-wa, Terp-sic-cor, Chop-a-two-lis, B'youth, Fa-ret.") Now you understand.
Many major New Orleans streets are divided, with a "neutral ground" (median) running down the middle. For this reason, the traffic lights have no dedicated cycle for a protected left turn. On streets with a wide neutral ground, there is a solution. Imagine turning from an avenue to a street; the solution is to turn left on green, queue in the stretch of the street between the two halves of the avenue, then proceed once the traffic light on the street has turned green. On streets with a narrow neutral ground, there is not enough room for cars to queue. In these situations, left turns are often prohibited; the solution is to go straight, take the next U-turn, then take a right turn when you arrive back at the intersection. Streets such as Tulane Avenue famously have "No Left Turn" signs posted for miles. In these situations, the adage "three rights make a left" comes in handy.
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