A bold defense of potholes
Everyone takes potshots at potholes. They’re such an easy target. I’m the only pro-pothole candidate. Someone has to stand up and defend the potholes. Stop the hate!
It’s a joke of course. If there’s one point everyone agrees upon, it’s that our roads are in sad shape. New Orleanians deserve better. Any politician will tell you that and promise to fix it.
The purpose of my joke is to highlight something politicians don’t want to talk about. The fact is that our society is too centered on the automobile, with deleterious consequences for our health, the design of our city, and the planet as a whole.
Potholes aren’t the only challenge to getting around our city. Take a look at our sidewalks. In most neighborhoods, it is impossible to get around the block on the sidewalk because the sidewalks are broken, buckled, crumbling, or just plain missing. Able-bodied folks may be able to take a detour around these hazards, but they are impassable if you are in a wheelchair or pushing a baby carriage. This is even more outrageous than the pothole problem.
We must do better by our pedestrians, our bike riders, and our transit riders. We have to improve our transportation infrastructure. Public transit in particular, as well as walking and biking, must be easier, safer, more pleasant, and simply more viable as ways to get around our city.
We must develop a transportation policy for the region that is ecologically sustainable, community oriented, accessible for a wide diversity of uses, affordable to all residents, efficient and prompt, safe for riders (as well as non-riders), and democratically controlled.
There are many ways to get around, and we need to encourage all clean forms of transportation. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We all have to get there.
The most important fixes
Public transit in New Orleans is broken. It’s never been great, and there have been some recent improvements, but on the whole the level of service is unacceptable. Transit riders can expect to spend over half an hour (often much longer) in order to access 88% of the jobs in our city. More than a quarter of buses run late, and the situation is worse in Algiers and New Orleans East. Equity is an issue, with African Americans generally enjoying far less access to transit despite relying on it more heavily.
The New Links redesign will address some of these issues, and it’s a step in the right direction. This redesign was recently approved by the board of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA), appointed by the Mayor of New Orleans and the President of Jefferson Parish. The next City Council must continue that effort, make sure RTA actually implements New Links, and support further improvements. We have a long way to go.
- A bus with many riders deserves priority in the streets. We can accomplish this through strategic use of bus-only lanes and special traffic lights. On the sidewalk, we must also give priority to transit riders by installing decent shelter against the blazing sun and pounding rain.
- We need more local funding dedicated to transit. Currently RTA has to share hotel tax income with the Convention Center; the Council must address this and secure the full amount for RTA. The Council must work with advocacy groups like Ride New Orleans to advance the public conversation on transit funding and propose a new millage or similar means of funding in the near future.
- The legacy of racism is evident in transit lines that stop at parish borders. This is unacceptable and holds the entire region back. The City Council must continue to break down barriers by establishing positive relationships with our neighboring parishes. We need more regional routes and better integration of services. Schedules need to be co-ordinated, so that transit connections between parishes are seamless. One fare should get you there! (And, hey, there should be bike racks on regional buses.)
- Speaking of fares, across the nation, the concept of free public transit is gaining momentum. More and more systems are running experiments to improve service, cut down on pollution, and help low-income people. Look at Boston: in the mayor’s race going on there right now, every single candidate is proposing some form of free transit. They know they need to boost ridership to meet their climate emission goals. If they can do it in Boston, we can surely pilot such a program here. A free Youth Pass would be a good way to start.
- Gentrification is forcing people out of the city’s core, but that’s where transit works best. A walkable neighborhood with great transit services becomes a very attractive place to live, so affordable housing is another crucial part of the puzzle.
We can’t forget BikePed
I’ve been a bicycle commuter for over two decades. I know that bikes are a great way to get around the city. It’s flat, relatively compact, and it almost never snows! Riding a bike is a great way for a person to cut down their “carbon footprint,” and bikes are much cheaper than electric vehicles or solar panels.
Bikes are not for everyone, but for some bikes are the only viable option. So we need to make bicycle riding as safe and accessible as possible.
We’ve made great improvements over the past decade, but I’m painfully aware that we still must do better by our bike riders and our pedestrians. Minimum bike parking should be mandated in planning codes to ensure options for bike riders. Our bike lanes need to be safer. Our sidewalks need to be smoother.
That’s why I’m so proud of the Lafitte Greenway, a transportation corridor connecting multiple neighborhoods where pedestrians and bike riders can enjoy a little respite from the motorized streets. I was heavily involved in the broad-based effort to bring that project to fruition; it’s a testament to the power of what our community can accomplish when we get organized. It’s our city’s first greenway, but it should not be the last. The City Council must support further developments of this nature. They are the way of the future.
We all have to get there.