Building 'Connect the Crescent’
Connecting Communities - Outreach and Installation
Community outreach for 'Connect The Crescent' consisted of several components - community design charrettes, door-to-door canvassing of residences and businesses along the installation corridors, a dedicated website with information and event schedule, an online survey, social media posts across partner organization social channels, and the City of New Orleans releasing roadway updates via Roadwork NOLA.
Bike Easy worked with community partners, including GirlTrek, to reach as many community residents and businesses as possible. Canvassing began in the French Quarter in early April, focusing on the retail shops and restaurants along Decatur Street. Volunteers went door to door to have workers and residents fill out survey questions about transportation habits and needs. Businesses surveyed before installation were followed up with after Connect The Crescent went into effect.
As plans progressed, canvassing and stakeholder outreach continued along each of the installation corridors through the French Quarter, Central Business District, and Central City.
“I found it a lot easier to go all the way across the city, particularly on Baronne. I was much more likely to ride my bike instead of driving as a result.”
During Bike Easy’s prior pop-up installations on Saint Bernard Avenue and Loyola Drive in Kenner, a fully staffed volunteer crew workers could install roughly a half mile of bikeway each day. The scale of Connect The Crescent was an order of magnitude larger than those previous installations, both in scale and complexity. Many more than the couple of dozen volunteers would be needed to put the network on the ground and bring it to life. But with so many organizations participating in Connect The Crescent, a larger pool of volunteers could be drawn upon. The assumption was made that roughly a full mile of protected bikeway could be installed each day of installation. That assumption would be tested.
Bike Easy’s Outreach Coordinator, Virginia Brisley, took on the job of recruiting and managing volunteers. Bike Easy’s membership and relationships with the city and region’s biking and walking advocates would form the core of volunteers. Steering committee member organizations provided invaluable help by amplifying all calls for volunteers. As were volunteer organizations, Tulane and Dillard Universities, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana and Southwest Airlines for providing contingents of volunteers to participate in installation.
To coordinate hundreds of volunteers over a long, complicated construction project, Bike Easy trained a tier of volunteer managers, referred to as Block Captains. Each steering committee organization was asked to provide two members to participate in Block Captain training (in addition to working three installation shifts). Block captains received one of two trainings held before installation began. They were educated on the types of tasks required of the volunteers -- striping, sweeping the pavement, marking lines, putting up traffic signs, moving cones, etc. These roles would prove essential in serving as an additional layer of accountability between regular volunteers and site managers from Bike Easy and the City of New Orleans.
For signing up and managing volunteers, all entry points pointed individuals to an online sign-up sheet via Google Form. This one form was constantly updated throughout the project, beginning with canvassing of neighborhoods through installation and deconstruction. The sign-up form gave individuals different times and roles to choose from. Once signed up, volunteers received a text message from Bike Easy the day before their confirmed shift.
In total, 47 Block Captains were trained and just over 200 volunteers participated in either canvassing or installation of the Connect The Crescent network.
Preparations and Weather Delays
At the same time Bike Easy and partners were recruiting volunteers and training Block Captains, their team, particularly Oliver Anderson, was also procuring and staging the materials that would become several miles of protected bikeways. In this task a few partners proved essential - Kelly Dalehite with Pavement Markings, Rachel Rogers-Frey with Traffic Solutions, Richard McCall with Downtown Development District, and Madeline Commander with Command Construction. Pavement Markings facilitated the procurement of roughly 50,000 feet of striping tape. Traffic Solutions arranged for nearly one thousand flex-posts. Downtown Development District provided a staging area in the CBD to stage literally tons of material. Command Construction donated hundreds of traffic cones which kept installation orderly and safe. Even with the assistance of these partners, moving thousands of pounds of tape, paint, and everything else required a great deal of coordination and labor.
Installation required multi-phased plans for each corridor, accounting for overall workflow, volunteer management, and traffic-control. These were created by Robert Henig Bell and Virginia Brisley with Bike Easy with the assistance of Vivek Shah with Adaptation Strategies. All plans were approved by the City of New Orleans Department of Public Works.
Nearly five miles of protected bikeways were scheduled to be installed over five days between Saturday, September 1st and Tuesday, September 11th. Additionally, five alternative rain-delay days were scheduled within that time frame. However, hurricane season intervened with a heavy rain forecast for twelve straight days to open the month. Since striping tape requires dry ground for 24 hours before and after application, installation had to be delayed and rearranged entirely.
After waiting a week for dry weather, installation began on Baronne Street on September 8th. The ground was not yet dry, but a team from Pavement Markings and dozens of volunteers were ready to work. Striping or placing of flex-post delineators could not yet take place, but clearing, measuring, and marking for the fixed components on the entire 9 block stretch was underway.
Five days passed before installation resumed on Baronne Street. During that time, the road was marked with where the forthcoming lanes would be placed. Residents were unsure of what was happening and how the coming changes would affect traffic. City and Bike Easy staff met with concerned residents and business owners to allay concerns. Regular updates went out regularly through all channels - ConnecttheCrescent.com, RoadWork NOLA, and press advisories.
The delay also lead to the Decatur Street connection between the Marigny and Algiers Ferry being removed from installation plans. It’s center-running design made the Decatur Connector the most complex design in the network. Mule-drawn carriages, tour buses, pedicabs, city buses, thousands of people biking, walking, and driving raised concerns about volunteer safety. The delay added pressure to these existing concerns, spurring the difficult decision to forego its installation. The Central City Protected Bikeway installation was also postponed to October.
Before each installation day, communication was the most vital ingredient for success. Location and time changes needed to be provided to the City Department of Works at least two days in advance to ensure approvals and notices communicated to the public via Roadwork NOLA. Volunteers were texted the day before installation with reminders of where to show up and what to bring. Block captains were called. The weather forecast was shared almost by the hour.
Positioning materials for installation proved to be a monumental task. Volunteer shifts began at 7am, which meant Bike Easy staff began material staging began at 6am. Oliver Anderson and Keith Holt oversaw this process and kept a large box truck loaded with thousands of pounds of tape, paint, and tools organized and maintained. With each day’s progress, a new site had to be selected as headquarters where volunteers and staff assembled and materials were offloaded. Once materials were offloaded at installation HQ each morning, cones and supplies were then dropped off within each leg of the corridor for traffic control. As block captains and volunteers arrived, they would move to assigned subsections with Bike Easy providing further instruction.
Bike Easy followed a set sequence for installing protected bikeways for Connect The Crescent. Unlike their previous pop-up bikeways, this time the materials were designed to last months rather than days. Striping required training on an application machine. So did adhering flex-posts to pavement. For this reason, experienced professional partners like Kelly Dalehite from Pavement Markings largely performed these tasks themselves and trained just a small coterie of block captains and Bike Easy staff to fill in the gaps. Most volunteers cleared debris from the lanes, coordinated supplies at site HQ, painted bike stencils, and installed signage.
Several different varieties of barriers or delineators were included in Connect The Crescent. Bike Fixation provided 900 feet of wave delineators which were installed on Canal Street and Howard Avenue. Planters provided by Sybertech were place on Howard Avenue, Baronne Street, and at Basin and St.Louis Street. Dero donated several ped-rail components which were installed at Tchoupitoulas and Canal Street.
Wayfinding signs were the final elements to be installed. The signs let all commuters downtown, particularly people biking, how to connect to other corridors within the network. They were placed directly on and adjacent to the routes. All were affixed to pre-existing signage and posts in the right of way.
A priority for Bike Easy, the City, and project partners was to give residents opportunities to become familiar with the connected routes once the network was open for public use. This began with the City of New Orleans and FitNOLA’s Open Streets day on September 15th, which was also opening day for the Baronne Street Two-Way Bikeway.
The most successful promotional activity for the Connect The Crescent network was a series of bike light giveaways put on by Bike Easy at different times and places throughout the network. Hundreds of lights were given away, with residents filling out surveys while the lights were installed on their bikes. Safety improved and valuable information gained.
Bike Easy and City of New Orleans organized six tours of the network, including the City Hall and Blue Bikes ‘Try’N’Ride’ event. Using New Orleans bike share service, City Hall staff including Mayor Cantrell and members of her staff went on a bike ride of the Connect The Crescent network to see for themselves the benefits of low-stress routes in and around downtown.
On December 1st, the ‘Bike For Life’ event sponsored by AARP combined a bike tour, lessons for adults to refresh their bike-riding skills, a talk on healthy eating by Chef ‘G’ from Dryades Public Market, and the raffle giveaway of 10 bike cruisers.
Maintenance & Deconstruction
Connect The Crescent renovated roadways were open from September through December 2018. Throughout the network, the materials which comprised the protected bikeway installations -- striping, delineators, and signage -- remained in place without much upkeep required. Flex-posts were secured with an adhesive capable of withstanding nearly any rain events, as well as automobiles driving over them. Adhesive striping did come up in areas where the roadway was especially uneven, otherwise in poor condition, or where the striping was improperly applied. Moisture on the roadway when the adhesive was initially applied was a common cause of the striping coming up quickly thereafter, days, or even weeks later.
One of the lessons learned through this process is the necessity of robust maintenance for any roadway demonstration. Compared to Bike Easy’s previous demonstrations on Saint Bernard and Loyola Avenues, Connect The Crescent was both larger in size and longer in duration. During shorter and smaller demonstrations, a combination of staff and local residents could keep watch and make necessary fixes. For a project of this scope, a dedicated team of volunteers working on a scheduled basis proved to be necessary, but unfortunately, a was not adequately planned for or executed.
Though the vast majority of installations held up well, problems did arise in certain areas throughout the network. On Howard Avenue, striping mishaps during installation and free-standing ‘Wave’ delineators being repeatedly knocked over lead to additional flex-posts having to be installed to ensure access to an employee parking lot.
On Dryades Street heading towards Central City, the protected lane was frequently overtaken with parked cars of customers of a local business.
On Simon Bolivar Ave and MLK, Jr. Blvd, these thoroughfares are in very poor condition. On MLK, Jr. Blvd especially, whole sections of the roadway are filled with broken down gravel, sand, and other debris. Despite intensive efforts to sweep and blow these areas clean, the striping wasn’t able to adhere and remain in place. After even modest rainfall, standing water on Simon Bolivar Ave caused striping to lose its seal, become displaced, and often end up strewn throughout the vehicular traffic lanes.
At the foot of the Lafitte Greenway, at Basin at St. Louis Streets, miscommunication between City of New Orleans staff facilitating approvals for Connect The Crescent and the First District NOPD station lead to confusion over designated parking for NOPD vehicles (already an issue for the First District). This lead to officers removing flex-posts adjacent to the station along Basin St, well ahead of the Connect The Crescent’s originally scheduled conclusion.
On Baronne Street, the striping maintained well for the most part, with the exception being the 200 block in front of the ALoft Hotel. An early rainfall caused much of the striping to come loose and despite numerous attempts to restripe, the problem was chronic. Signage was also an issue due to incorrect installation, leaving signs having slipped below the line of sight of drivers to know to watch for bikers. Another frequent maintenance issue on Baronne Street was residents and businesses depositing trash cans into the bike lanes, though it was observed that this became less and less of an issue as the demonstration progressed.
Beginning with the earliest public communications for Connect The Crescent, the demonstration was to begin in September 2018 and operate for 3 months. As December approached, Bike Easy coordinated with the City of New Orleans and Pavement Markings to arrange for an orderly and efficient removal of all temporary installations.
Partnering with an experienced construction operation such as Pavement Markings once again proved immensely helpful in ensuring a smooth process. Whereas up to 50 volunteers per day were utilized to install a protected bikeway corridor, only a handful were needed to remove the installations. This was due to two factors: the use of tape for bike lane striping and access to a forklift for removal of flex-post delineators. Tape being tape, it is easily peeled off the ground. A few dedicated volunteers could remove miles within a few hours.
Removing all flex-posts throughout the Connect The Crescent footprint required a forklift. To remove a single post manually required significant force, leverage, time, and the possibility of injury. With a forklift, the entire 800+ flex-posts could be removed in a single day. Many thanks go to Kelly Dalehite and Pavement Markings for arranging a team to remove flex-posts and collect and dispose of the (literally) tons of used striping tape pulled from the pavement by volunteers. This was all done over two days, with all Connect The Crescent materials uninstalled by December 20th, 2018.