‘A complete waste of time’
Twice this week while most of us toiled away at our jobs, a bicycling enthusiast member of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration ventured across the Crescent City Connection to meet Algiers residents and, apparently, to promote his boss’s bike-centric roadway designs.
From what we hear from our neighbors who were able to attend these meetings, the Cantrell administration isn’t willing to bend to Algerines’ want of less intrusive and unsightly bike lanes. The meetings appeared to be perfunctory community outreach, residents were left thinking.
There’s one certain takeaway: The city’s Moving New Orleans – Bikes program, codified in ordinance and aggressively promoted and defended by bicycling advocates, is solidifying Algiers residents’ demands to be heard. They’ll be heard when they cast votes in the mayoral and city council races later this year.
On Monday (Aug. 23) and Wednesday (Aug. 25), David Lee Simmons, whose job title is safety and mobility specialist with RoadWork NOLA, spent maybe six hours in Algiers, as guest of Mayor Cantrell’s neighborhood liaison Allison Cormier. Residents had to reserve meeting slots in 15-minute increments, which is standard practice for these community meetings.
On Monday, Simmons broke away to observe the afternoon carpool process at St. Andrew the Apostle School. Perhaps it was our video showing the gummed-up traffic on MacArthur Boulevard that the protected bike lanes caused on the first day of school that led him to see for himself. Clearly, carpool time at any school presents its challenges, and St. Andrew’s pick-ups historically has been no exception. The loss of a vehicle travel lane on MacArthur in favor of a protected bike lane has at times exacerbated the challenges.
What did conclusions did Simmons return to City Hall with regarding the MacArthur carpool? We’re not clear. He told one resident that “there seems to be no problems now,” according to one of our neighbors who met with him Wednesday.
After years of alternately working in news and communications businesses, Simmons’ employment in the Cantrell administration began at some point after he left his job as an entertainment content provider at the now-defunct Nola.com | The Times-Picayune in September 2015.
He was with Cantrell administration members and City Councilwoman Kristin Palmer who in March 2019 traveled to Seville, Spain, to observe bike lanes. PeopleForBikes, a bicycle group that promotes bicycling nationwide and has pushed several million dollars into New Orleans to help promote its bike lane program, reportedly paid for the Seville junket.
Algiers residents who met with Simmons and Cormier share these observations:
- Pressed about how little the bike lanes are used in Algiers, Simmons said those in his neighborhood near the Fairgrounds are used. The city expects that ridership will increase as a result of the bike lanes, he said.
- Simmons and Cormier defended the administration’s public outreach process when it was planning the bike lanes in 2019. However, they both fell back on “a lack of resources” to commit for proper community outreach.
- Simmons asserted, without evidence, that the bike lanes make neighborhoods safer.
- He downplayed the May 25 Algiers Neighborhood Presidents Council meeting, attended by more than 200 residents. Given Algiers’ overall population, “does that mean that we should halt a project for such a small percentage of the population?” he told a resident.
- A resident pressed Simmons and Cormier on why the city opted to install protected bike lanes on MacArthur Boulevard, when the Department of Public Works’ own website says these designs do not work well on streets with lots of intersections and driveways – an accurate description of MacArthur. Simmons and Cormier could only ask the resident for the source of this information (They can find it HERE!). “But they still didn’t seem to care,” the resident opined.
- A resident pressed for details on upcoming projects in Algiers. Simmons told her of a Fall 2021 deadline to install various bike lanes on Holiday Drive, Westbend Parkway and Mardi Gras Boulevard connecting to Florence Drive. No construction schedule was provided.
- Asked if bollards are planned for St. Charles Avenue, Simmons said there’s a proposal to install them there.
- Why not install these bike lanes on neutral grounds? Too many intersections, Simmons replied.
In the end, the residents who participated in these meetings were left jaded, convinced that Mayor Cantrell won’t budge because she has no real competition as she sees re-election. In fact, she’s campaigning on her infrastructure investments that include the bike lanes.
“So that was a complete waste of time,” one resident wrote. “Not productive at all. This city is intent on moving forward how they see fit. Very frustrating.”