Preparing the Ground - Planning and Design


 

In May 2018, Mayor Cantrell’s administration came into office with a goal of increasing safety and access for biking, walking, and public transportation, particularly for disadvantaged communities. Working with advocates such as Bike Easy and the New Orleans Complete Streets Coalition, the mayor and her team wished to start off the administration with a demonstrated commitment to safe and accessible transportation. In September, the city hosted the international placemaking conference Walk/Bike/Places, where Connect The Crescent was showcased as a demonstration of New Orleans moving decisively towards a future safe, accessible, healthy, and affordable transportation options for all residents.

“I‘ve changed my route commuting to and from work (actually going somewhat out of my way) to take advantage of the safer bike lanes.”

 

Charrettes

 

Planning for a downtown transportation network demonstration began in early spring. The beginning of the process entailed inviting neighborhood residents, businesses, and the general public to open discussion and design sessions known as charrettes. These sessions focused on improving the safety of bike routes to and through downtown. The first charrette took place on February 6th at Tulane’s Small Center for Collaborative Design in Central City. The second was hosted by the Cabildo State Museum in the French Quarter on May 16th.  

Each charrette included an explanation of why safe and affordable biking, walking, and transit would benefit community affordability, sustainability, would help ease traffic congestion, and improve health. Participants discussed the obstacles they faced commuting from home to work and mapped improvements to biking routes between surrounding neighborhoods to downtown.

Takeaways focused on mitigating automobile speeding and securing key connection points so drivers were more aware of people biking and walking. Areas of high concern included:

  • From Treme/Mid-City - via the Lafitte Greenway into the French Quarter

  • From Uptown/Central City - Crossings underneath the Pontchartrain Expressway

  • From Algiers - via the Ferry Station to Common and Gravier Streets

  • From Marigny/9th Ward - via Elysian Fields and Decatur Street

Following the first charrette in February, Bike Easy began recruiting local organizations to join in the planning for a large scale protected bikeway demonstration in the downtown area. The organizations included business associations, transportation officials and advocates, biking and walking clubs, and other groups which had previously shown interest in promoting biking, walking, community health and wellness, sustainability, and placemaking. The first steering committee meeting was held on May 10th. 17 organizations eventually signed on in support.

 

Design and Build Questions

 

With September 1st as the deadline to begin installation, the Design Working Group had just over two months from late May to finalize plans for installation. Major concerns were the sourcing of materials, minimizing disturbances to existing traffic patterns, minimizing loss of parking allotments, number of volunteers needed and their effective management.

What materials could endure daily usage and New Orleans’ wet weather while remaining in place for three months? How much would the materials cost? What level of expertise would be necessary to install, maintain, and deconstruct the network? Would there be weather delays? For such a large operation, how sophisticated would traffic-control planning need to be? All these questions were unanswered at the start of summer 2018. The design working group set about answering them. Design working group members included:

  • Louis Haywood - Construction Project Manager, Department of Public Works

  • Dwight Norton - Urban Mobility Coordinator, Office of Resilience & Sustainability

  • Jennifer Ruley - Special Projects Manager, Department of Public Works

  • Robert Henig Bell - Campaign Manager, Bike Easy

  • Oliver Anderson - Campaign Organizer, Bike Easy

  • Matt Rufo - AICP Principal, Asakura Robinson

  • Jose Cotto - Associate Director Place + Design Education, Arts Council of New Orleans

By far, the majority of material costs would go directly to lane striping and barriers. Bike Easy’s campaign staff of Robert Henig Bell and Oliver Anderson lead the effort to determine the best solutions for material types and their procurement. They consulted with groups such as Streetplans, Memfix, and Macon Connects with experience putting on street demonstrations. Flex-posts, the industry standard, made the most sense when considering the 3-month duration needed. Paint or tape: the two options for lane striping was a more complicated decision. Different varieties of each are designed for roadways, each with particular drawbacks. Traffic paint is considerably cheaper than roadway tape, but either washes away quickly or becomes exceedingly difficult to remove. On the other hand, tape is expensive and requires experience with a specific to machine to apply. It’s upside is that once applied tape stays in place for months and can be easily removed as needed.        

For the first half of the summer, plans were drafted to stripe with ‘traffic paint’ due to budgetary limitations. But with guidance from project partner Kelly Dalehite from Pavement Markings, the wisdom of choosing tape became apparent. Pavement Markings was able to provide the rolling machines and could oversee the process. No other means available could be effectively applied by volunteers, remain in place for months, and be removed with limited resources and capacity.

Once the most cost-prohibitive installation materials were decided upon, installation plans moved closer to becoming finalized. As late as mid-July planned designs accounted for over 6 miles of installations, including a center-running two-way protected bikeway on Decatur Street, one-way protected lanes on Rampart Street, an open biking and walking plaza concept for Roosevelt Way, and a lane reduction with protected bikeways and bus islands on Elysian Fields Avenue between North Peters and St. Claude. However, installations were ultimately limited to between 2.5 - 3 mile  due to constraints on time, costs, complexity, and volunteer capacity. The proposed renovations to Decatur St, Elysian Fields Ave, and Roosevelt Way were dropped.