Creating Safer Streets in Gentilly
Stories from installing a Living with Water and Traffic Calming pop-up
This past Saturday, Bike Easy staff, volunteers and partners from The Urban Conservancy and Tulane’s Small Center, as well as local artist Saegan Swanson braved the heat to install a traffic calming and ‘living with water’ pop-up project at two intersections in Gentilly.
In the Gentilly neighborhood, and many areas of the city, wide lanes allow cars to travel at high speeds down roads and through intersections. Two particular intersections in Gentilly—Elysian Fields at Mirabeau and St. Anthony at Mirabeau can feel quite dangerous to cross for pedestrians. The safety of our streets is not only affected by the users on the road but also how those roads manage stormwater. Dozens of volunteers, armed with floppy sunhats and plenty of water, came out this past Saturday to help install high-visibility crosswalks, murals, curb extensions, physical barriers, and a mock rain garden to show how we can improve our built environment to prioritize community health and safety.
At Saint Anthony and Mirabeau Avenue, volunteers started early Saturday morning to paint a mural across each of the intersections as a beautifying, traffic-calming technique. The “River Rays Mural” you see below was inspired by the shades of blue and green in the Mississippi River and surrounding foliage. The rays are meant to mimic the light playing off the river as it moves. As we seek improved ways to live with the ebb and flow of water, we must better the ways we move through our streets. This ‘river crosswalk’ is meant to safely ferry walkers from one side of the road to the next, while encouraging drivers to stop and let them pass.
The paint used by volunteers was collected by the City’s paint recycling program and donated by Green Project. Just as the Mississippi river influenced this mural, so did the choices of residents painting their homes. 10 shades of blues or greens created each ‘ray of light’, so nearly fifty homes and families had a hand in influencing the colors of the mural, simply by recycling their unused paint.
At Elysian Fields Avenue, volunteers installed a mock rain garden to demonstrate how we can better live with water and to illustrate Gentilly’s unique position in the city’s stormwater management network. A rain garden is a low area filled with deep-rooted, water-loving native plants. Beneath the topsoil, a layer of sandy soil and sometimes gravel filter water into the ground. While we weren’t able to remove any paving for this pop-up, the plants here use this same strategy to keep themselves hydrated.
The Gentilly Crossings installations will be up for two months and taken down the end of September. While the improvements are only temporary, these projects highlight the potential of our built environment. No improvement is a fix-all but ensuring that pedestrians and bikers feel safe to use the roads in their own neighborhood is a necessary step in creating a built environment that allows for safe and healthy living. During installation, folks from the neighborhood stopped during their early morning walk or afternoon bike ride to show their support and many wondered why the installation wasn’t permanent!
These projects are a great way to show how we can retrofit our existing roads to create connections and safe passage for all modes of transportation. Stay tuned for even bigger projects to come!
Thanks to Ninth Ward Nursery, Banting’s Nursery, and Longue Vue Gardens who provided the plants and trees for the mock rain garden. Thanks to The Green Project and Helm Paints for the recycled paint and tinting for the crosswalk murals. And thanks to Saegan Swanson, Urban Conservancy, Tulane Small Center Summer Fellows and Marianne Desmarais, Vivek Shaw, Sergio Padilla, Liz Hoekstra, Jack Greenwood, Caitlin Waugh, Gendusa’s Bakery, and all the volunteers who made this project come to life!