Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s Department of Public Works now has a funded mandate.
More than 2 ½ months after it ordered DPW to remove 2.2 miles of protected bike lanes in Algiers, the New Orleans City Council on Thursday (Dec. 1) inserted $300,000 in the department’s budget specifically to make it happen.
All told, the council, on Councilman Freddie King’ IIIs motion, is steering $1 million to the effort to ensure there’s sufficient funding to remove the protected bike lanes from Newton Street and MacArthur Boulevard.
While $300,000 was inserted in DPW’s budget from the city’s 2023 operating budget, the $700,000 balance would be made available through the department’s right-of-way maintenance budget.
The precise cost to remove the hundreds of flex-post bollards, concrete bumpers, new curbs and bike lane paint remains to be seen. The intention is to restore the roadways to their original design.
However, in behind-the-scene discussions at City Hall in recent weeks, DPW officials reportedly have told council members that it would cost $750,000 to remove those bike lanes. DPW officials also reportedly have been hesitant to remove the bike lanes, which the Cantrell Administration installed in Algiers in 2020 and 2021.
Of the 2.2 miles of bike lanes to be removed, about 1/2 miles comprises the Newton Street corridor. When the city began installing the bike lanes there in May 2020, the Cantrell Administration said that it would cost almost $377,000 on that portion of the Algiers bikeway alone.
The cost to install the 1.7 miles of bike lanes on MacArthur Boulevard was not immediately available. The Cantrell Administration used proceeds from the 2016 bond program to pay for the Algiers bike lanes.
The City Council on Sept. 15 voted unanimously to have the DPW remove the protected bike lanes on MacArthur and Newton. The underlying reason: Algiers residents and business owners affected by the protected bike lane designs were not adequately notified of the roadway redesigns during meetings in 2019.
According to Councilman King, a mere 43 Algiers residents attended the two Algiers meetings in 2019 (Algiers’ population numbers more than 53,000).
Yet, a local bicycle advocacy nonprofit group had representatives and a display table present for at least one of these meetings.
The City Council’s Sept. 15 vote gave DPW 60 days to act. That deadline passed in mid-November. Behind the scenes were discussions about the mechanics behind the removal, with DPW at one point saying the mayor’s chief administrative office had to authorize the action – an assertion the CAO reportedly denied.
Throughout, discussions about paying for the removal were held. And true to form, bicycle lane proponents re-engaged in online trolling, including suggesting that City Council members are clowns for not providing funding when voting to remove the bike lanes on Sept. 15.
Yet, these same people were calling on bike lane proponents to contact City Council members and urge them to not approve Councilman King’s funding request.
All told, the city envisions a 75-mile network of protected bike lanes citywide, with 11 miles of that system being in Algiers. Less than half of that network has been built to date.
On Nov. 2, the City Council approved Councilman-at-large J.P. Morrell’s call to have DPW hold at least three bike lane informational meetings in each of the city’s seven council districts. Councilman Morrell has been a harsh critic of the DPW for its shortcomings in informing the public about its bike lane plans.
In Algiers, the Cantrell Administration still seeks to install protected bike lanes on Gen. Meyer Avenue and Woodland Highway, projects that would mean the loss of general motor vehicle travel lanes to benefit bicyclists.
During Thursday’s council meetings, council members discussed their assorted 2023 operating budget amendment requests. Councilman King said he was seeking money for an array of projects that will benefit his constituents.
His amendments include $150,000 for walking trails in two Algiers neighborhood playgrounds, $1.5 million for the New Orleans Recreation Department and $750,000 to clean up the 100-acre Brechtel golf course site.
“And lastly, this was a point of contention earlier, but this was something that the residents of District C, specifically the West Bank in Algiers, was the removal of the bike lanes,” Councilman King told the council.
“So I also asked for $300,000 from the general fund to be used in the removal – again – of 2.2 miles out of 75 mile of bike lanes, which is less than 1 percent, over in Algiers on MacArthur Boulevard and Newton Street,” he said.
The City Council unanimously approved all the amendment requests before approving the city’s $1.5 billion operating budget for 2023.
In his first act after taking office in January, Councilman King introduced a resolution calling on the DPW to conduct a “robust review” of Algiers bike lanes. The City Council unanimously approved the request. Six months later, when the DPW provided no such study, Councilman King introduced an ordinance calling for removing bike lanes on Newton and MacArthur.
Click here to read our overview of Councilman King’s bike lane efforts.