- Transit advocates call for boost to city’s ‘complete streets’ program

Thursday, Jul 26, 2018

By Beau Evans .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | The Times-Picayune

Transit advocates urged New Orleans City Council members on Thursday (July 26) to sharpen their focus on making the city’s streets safer and better designed for all ways to travel, not just cars.

Speaking at a City Council meeting Thursday morning, Dan Favre, the executive director of the nonprofit Bike Easy, said New Orleans has upped the number of bicycle lanes from 46.6 miles in 2011 to 119.3 miles last year. That boost in bike lanes has helped open up transportation options other than by car, Favre and other advocates said.

But an ordinance passed in 2011 to coordinate street improvements with expanding transit options remains “an unfulfilled promise,” Favre said. The ordinance created a “complete streets” program that calls for incorporating non-car transit modes and safety features into the planning, design and construction phases of street projects. The program would also gather data to track the impact of features like bike lanes, crosswalks, better sidewalks and new drainage projects.

According to Favre, the program lacks a “robust evaluation and reporting mechanism,” updated street design standards and enough community engagement on street projects. Street improvements with pedestrian and bicycle amenities have tended to skip over the city’s high-poverty areas, advocates said.

“The need for an updated policy and fully developed complete-streets program at City Hall is really clear,” Favre said.

Advocates for a more bicycle-friendly New Orleans say low-income areas have been overlooked.

Favre noted New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration has taken first steps to shore up the program. He highlighted recommendations made in Cantrell’s transition report, released in May, that proposed creating a new transportation office at City Hall aimed at “coordinating all relevant departments and agencies that impact transportation and mobility,” according to the report. That office was created in June.

As for the City Council, several members on Tuesday expressed support for strengthening the complete-streets program, including District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who pushed passage of the 2011 ordinance during a previous council term.

“It’s very important as we move forward,” Palmer said, “especially at a time when we are seeing unprecedented amounts of money coming in for infrastructure repairs on our streets, that we pay attention to make sure that we create a system that is equitable and touches everybody in our city.”

At-large Councilman Jason Williams said he supports collecting more data, and he noted bicycle travel is essential since many people in New Orleans do not own cars.

“This is not just leisure riding,” Williams said. “This is for everyone, kids and adults.”

District B Councilman Jay Banks likewise supported strengthening the program, but added a “caveat” that groups like Bike Easy ought to beef up safety education for bicyclists themselves.

“Bike safety is not just incumbent upon drivers,” Banks said. “Bike riders also have a real responsibility for safety.”

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