Saturday, July 02, 2016

Rockin' it on the ground

From Mitch Landrieu's 2016 State of the City address:
And getting people to and from these jobs is also really important.

That’s why we’ve also announced a major expansion of public transit, with more overnight RTA service, more buses on the busiest routes, and a new airport line. Plus, this fall a new streetcar along Rampart Street and St Claude Avenue will be done.

And we already have the new Loyola Avenue streetcar line.

We’ve gone from 5 miles of bike lanes to more than 100.

And finally two new ferries are on the way, along with a brand new ferry terminal on what will be a redesigned riverfront.

So we’re rocking it in the air, water, and on the ground.
One of this mayor's hallmarks is his tendency to put affected off-the-cuff sounding phrasing like, "we're rocking it," into his prepared remarks. Later in the speech he says, "Hold on to your seat," and "You feeling me?" I was relieved to find those weren't also in the pre-released text. But I still imagine he keeps a stack of little note cards full of semi-y'atty bon mots in his coat pocket at all times just in case. But okay, let's play. Are we really "rockin' it on the ground?" Eh.. it's mixed.

The sort of good news has to do with RTA.  So far it looks like they might have been shamed into not repeating a past mistake
New Orleans public transit managers hinted Friday (July 1) that they would shy away from the controversial practice of shortening bus routes to boost ridership on streetcars when the new tracks along Rampart Street open for business later this year.

The Regional Transit Authority and its operations manager, Transdev, has unveiled proposed changes to several routes as it prepares to fuse the new 1.6-mile line from Canal Street to Elysian Fields Avenue into New Orleans' growing public transit system.

Some riders and transit advocates, still sore about what happened to the Freret Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard bus routes when the Loyola Streetcar line opened in 2013, had feared the Transdev would ask to cut short popular bus routes on St. Claude Avenue to force passengers to transfer to the new streetcar line to reach the Central Business District. Instead, Friday's proposal suggests the company wants to preserve those routes, albeit with some changes.

That's encouraging but we'll wait and see what they come up with. There's a schedule of upcoming public meetings hosted by RTA if you'd like to participate.

Meanwhile, here's the discouraging news. Previously we've noted our skepticism of the mayor's bike share (in name only) project. As envisioned, it seems more like a gentrification-friendly for-profit contracting opportunity than an equitable public transit initiative. The fact they they're specifically focusing on serving tourists doesn't make us feel any better about it.
The almost ubiquitous tension that New Orleans struggles with between tourists and townies reared up again when resident Eric Vicini told the committee any program should be devoted to helping commuters.

"If the target is tourists, then the proposal must be rejected," he said.

That led Kopplin and Lebow to counter that the premise of an equitable and viable bike-share program needed both: Tourists who supply the greatest source of revenue to then subsidize the program's reach into the city's poorer neighborhoods.

"Equitable distribution of bike share is a fundamental priority of ours and a commitment that we tried to embed in the RFP proposal itself," Kopplin said, but "one of the advantages of our market for a bike share program is, in fact, that we would have a built-in base of tourists."
A consequence of the "running government like a business" mentality is the reflexive tendency to design policies based on their potential to generate revenue rather than on their mission to fill a community need. A whole generation of professional administrators like Kopplin came up peddling the idea that those priorities can or should be combined. But that's a fundamentally false notion. Ultimately it only serves to confuse the government's purpose. Is it responsible to its constituents who elect it or to its business partners it contracts with?  When it comes to basic services like public transit, the former has to take precedence.

It's not enough to simply cite miles of bike lane or number of riders on a streetcar line and conclude that those decontextualized numbers mean you are "rockin' it on the ground."  Activity in and of itself can be a good thing or a bad thing. Without asking who benefits from the rockin' we'll never know if there was ever any point to it.

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