Monday, August 17, 2015

We failed

New Orleans was always going to be rebuilt after the Katrina flood. The 70 billion dollars plus worth of federal funds and insurance payouts guaranteed that.  The challenge to local policy makers was to ensure that the city was rebuilt equitably. The task was to make sure that everyone who was affected by the disaster was relieved and to see that the future benefits of a rebuilt New Orleans accrued to everyone and not just to the wealthy and opportunistic.

We failed miserably to meet this challenge. The new city is more exclusive, more expensive, and a more difficult place to be if you are poor.  The bulk of the discretionary investment in rebuilding has focused on creating nice new things for rich people and tourists to enjoy.  One of many facets of life in New Orleans through which we can observe our failure is public transit.  Just take a look at this new report from the advocacy group Ride New Orleans.
The report largely focuses on the expansion of streetcar service — including the Loyola Avenue line and the line under construction on North Rampart Street and St. Claude Avenue, which some have argued serve mainly tourist areas — and the decline of bus service, which the report argues could be more flexibly used to serve the needs of residents.

Streetcars now offer about 3 percent more trips each week on the five completed lines than they did before Katrina, while buses are making only about 35 percent of the trips they made in 2005.

As a result, streetcars offer more frequent service, with one coming on an average of about every 17 minutes during peak hours, compared with buses, which require an average wait of about 38 minutes, according to the report.

While buses on two routes run every 15 minutes, the other lines have longer waits, and some routes have as much as a 60-minute wait time.
This surprises pretty much no one who has been paying attention over the past decade as RTA has repeatedly emphasized its role in "economic development" (i.e. propping up real estate values).
Justin Augustine, the agency’s general manager, said the project will take about two years to complete once the work gets started. As with the Loyola Avenue spur, which opened in January 2013, city officials hope the investment will pay off by generating economic development in a part of the city where revitalization efforts have proceeded in fits and starts.

“When we first introduced the concept, we wanted to revitalize and renew parts of the city, and we knew that along that corridor, you’d be touching five historic neighborhoods,” Augustine said, referring to the French Quarter, Iberville, the Treme, the Marigny and the Upper 9th Ward. “We’re hoping with all of our projects that we spur economic development.”
And this means, by necessity and by design, the transit agency has worked, in cooperation with developers, to deemphasize.. you know.. transit.
Pres Kabacoff, a real estate developer from the Bywater neighborhood, said he thinks the streetcar will help spur business. Kabacoff even argued that slowing down vehicle traffic might be a good thing, since having cars whip by "is not conducive for good retail development."

He added, "To the extent that people have a difficult time in traffic getting down the street it may cause them to want to live in the area and use an effective streetcar."
An "effective streetcar" slows down traffic and helps sell downtown luxury condos.  It does this at the expense of reliable bus service that helps people get where they're going on time but those people aren't who we rebuilt this city for anyway.

For more on the sorry state of New Orleans transit after the flood and on into the forseeable future, please check the schedule at this year's fast-approaching Rising Tide X.
Panel Discussion: Transportation: How'd ya Get Where Yat?

Megan Braden-Perry (Public Transit Tuesdays) moderates this conversation about how New Orleans makes infrastructure an obstacle course.


Dan Favre of Bike Easy,

Rachel Heiligman of Ride NOLA,

Jeff Januszek of Fix My Streets

Amanda Soprano from #NOLATwitter.

Rising Tide X is August 29, 2015 at Xavier University. Check out the rest of the website for details about the extensive program. You can go for free this year but please register here. If you'd like to help defray the cost of production or order swag, there's a separate GoFundMe page here.   

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