During this pandemic, we’ve seen our culture-bearers and businesses succumb to the devastating loss of revenue and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. We applaud Mayor LaToya Cantrell and her team’s efforts to reimagine how we get around the French Quarter and our city. In making our streets safer, more accessible, comfortable, and people-friendly, these efforts will enable us to survive today, position ourselves for tomorrow, and thrive well into the future.
Making the French Quarter more walkable, bikeable, and people-friendly by providing more space for outdoor dining and walking is precisely the kind of transformation cities around the world are making to powerful effect. Wider walkways, curbside cafes, slower speeds for cars, and expanded pedestrian safety and access will provide a safe way to help keep our struggling restaurants and vendors afloat.
Providing safe, comfortable outside experiences in the French Quarter should be the priority, rather than repopulating crowded indoor areas carrying health risks. Shops and galleries will have more outdoor display space, and restaurants and bars will be able to quickly increase their seating capacity.
Of course, there are many challenges to solve, such as vehicle traffic patterns for freight deliveries, sanitation, emergency access, and more. We’re glad to see the city putting in the effort to work with stakeholders in the Quarter to figure out the details.
But we shouldn’t limit reforms to the French Quarter. Many of the ideas behind “pedestrianizing” the Quarter could easily be applied to other neighborhoods across New Orleans. The limited trial of “slow streets” along Bayou St. John showed the promise of traffic-calming on a residential street to make more room to safely and comfortably walk and bike. Bringing these options to underserved neighborhoods that lack access to places for healthy physical activity and experience more crashes involving people walking and biking is important.
The movement to create more people-friendly spaces has been building since before COVID-19. Under Mayor Cantrell’s leadership, New Orleans has been busy connecting the city’s neighborhoods with a new low-stress bikeway network outfitted with protected bike lanes, high-visibility crosswalks, walking paths, and rebuilt bus stops.
We need to boldly and creatively meet this moment. We need to do so with all parties at the table. If we do, we’ll wind up with less traffic, less stress, more transportation choices, freedom to move, and more safety. Let’s act now to reimagine our public spaces so we can again enjoy the flavors and take in the sounds of the culture we all cherish.
ROBERT HENIG BELL
campaign manager, Bike Easy & the New Orleans Complete Streets Coalition