City Council makes public bike lane meetings mandatory

The New Orleans City Council on Thursday (Nov. 2) unanimously approved an ordinance that requires Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration to hold numerous meetings citywide to inform the public of bike lane plans. Click here to read the ordinance as drafted.

Proposed by At-Large Councilman JP Morrell and District C Councilman Freddie King III, the ordinance means the Department of Public Works must hold at least three public meetings in each of the city’s seven council districts, at least 50 days before bike lane installation begins. It does not undo the bike network plans the Cantrell administration set in motion in recent years.

Rather, it amends the city’s 2011 Complete Streets ordinance, which among other things requires that consideration be given to bicyclists and pedestrians when the city redesigns or rebuilds roadways.

The ordinance was to be considered during the City Council’s Oct. 20 meeting but was deferred amid Councilman Morrell’s ongoing meetings with Department of Public Works staff. On Thursday, he thanked Department of Public Works for its help.

“They have worked very diligently with me to put this ordinance in a posture that they think is achievable and worthwhile,” Councilman Morrell said Thursday. “Essentially what we’re trying to do, ladies and gentlemen, is that as we continue to move forward with the Complete Streets program, as we continue to push other modes of transportation that have equity, we want to make ensure there’s a process that everyone can participate in and that everyone has notice of.

“What we found working together is that it is appropriate that we encapsulate in an ordinance what the requirements are so that everyone knows going into it that once that process has begun and once that notice is given and everyone is given a fair chance to speak, that if individuals do not choose to speak during that period, at least there are receipts that an attempt was made,” Councilman Morrell said.

Councilman Morrell announced the proposal on Sept. 15, moments before the council unanimously approved Councilman King’s request to have bike lanes removed from MacArthur Boulevard and Newton Street in Algiers. The ordinance was to be considered during the City Council’s Oct. 23 meeting but deferred to the Nov. 2 meeting.

Councilman Morrell in effect said then that the Department of Public Works failed in public outreach before settling on its plan to create a 75-mile network of protected bike lanes citywide.

“It’s a failure of the City of New Orleans to manage advocacy,” Morrell said during the Sept. 15 meeting. “In my opinion is, DPW outsourced advocacy to biking advocates. And I’m not saying that, to be clear, as a negative to bicycling advocates. They are passionate about the issue, and they’re doing their very best. And it’s a yeoman’s task to educate people on the plight of bikers. That being said, that is not their job. 

“It is DPW’s job to foster and have these meetings. The resources this city has to reach residents is far larger than advocacy groups (have). I see some people here from NOLA Ready. They can text you on the toilet to tell you the mayor has a meeting.

“That is the level of outreach,” Morrell said. “They have the resources of the City of New Orleans to reach you via email, neighborhood engagement, god forbid go on Nextdoor, whatever. They can reach you. And they didn’t.

“And that’s because DPW didn’t want to do it.”

During the Sept. 15 City Council meeting, Councilman King said the city held two bike lane meetings in Algiers in 2019. A total of 43 Algiers residents attended them.

Earlier in September, Councilman King hosted a public meeting on Algiers bike lanes at Alice Harte Charter School. Of the 239 people who attended, 214 of them opposed the protected bike lane designs. The balance of attendees – 25 people – favored the design, and of them, 15 lived in Algiers.

In approving Councilman King’s ordinance on Sept. 15, the City Council gave the Cantrell administration 60 days to remove the protected bike lanes on MacArthur and Newton. As of this writing, the administration has done nothing to return the roadways to their state before the protected bike lanes were installed.