- Many of the streets here were originally intended for horses and buggies.
- The water table is so close to the surface that it's impossible to repave the roads every time the pavement cracks.
- It's called "The Crescent City" because it's laid out on the curve of the river. Outside the Quarter, the blocks are rarely squared off.
The most important thing about driving safely in New Orleans is to relax. If the person in front of you is driving oddly, they may well have good reason. Because of the narrow, curving nature of the roads here, it's sometimes hard to see things clearly, especially if you're behind some gas-guzzling SUV. A person or pet may have wandered into the road, a road crew might be repairing a broken water main, or a monster pothole may have opened up, ready to swallow you and that SUV up in its maw.
Being in a hurry might also keep you from reading the signs. New Orleans, especially in the areas of mid-city, uptown, the Garden District, and the French Quarter, has a lot of signs about not turning right on red or turning right on the right arrow only. Several intersections do not allow left turns, requiring you to drive up a block and do a U-turn.
Tulane Avenue does not allow left turns at all. This was originally done to ease traffic congestion when the avenue was the main way into the city. No one has changed it since, and no one knows why.
Beware of Unknown Roads
A lot of the streets here don't make a lot of sense. If you're going someplace new around town, it's a really good idea to GoogleMap it. Because of the bicycle-spoke layout of the roads, many streets start/end in odd places, and the "south" version of a street doesn't necessarily connect with the "north" version.
New Orleans has a few streets that only last for a block or two, or that go down several blocks, lapse for a block or two, and then start back up. Others, like Prytania, take a radical jump sideways before continuing on.
But most important of all, New Orleans is a tourist town with a lot of alcohol. Visitors can get overwhelmed by the pub-crawls and drive-thru daiquiri stands. Any car you see that's weaving or acting odd should be treated as a major hazard. Give it space.
Of course, if you're the one who's been pub-crawling, stay out of the car. The buses and streetcars here run regularly, even late at night.
Partying in New Orleans doesn't just mean booze, however. We tend to throw pretty things into the street, and people tend to ignore traffic to retrieve them. And we don't only have parades at Mardi Gras.
So, if you see a long line of people and maybe a band and some umbrellas bobbing up and down, you need to slow down and watch for people darting out into the street.
And don't honk your horn. You'll just look like a tourist.