Just when will the protected bike lanes be removed from MacArthur Boulevard and Newton Street in Algiers?
At some point this year, it seems.
City Council members who voted last year to have 2.2 miles of bike lanes removed pressed for answers Wednesday (March 29) during a hearing with the Department of Public Works’ interim director Sarah Porteous.
After voting unanimously in September to pass a law requiring the Cantrell administration’s DPW to remove the bike infrastructure and restore MacArthur and Newton to their original design, the City Council followed up in January to provide money to make it happen.
While many Algiers residents expected the lanes would be removed before the end of 2022, council members believed that the work would be done during the second quarter of this fiscal year. Now, the DPW is noncommittal, saying only that it’ll happen this year.
“This really makes people’s trust and respect for government go away, when they feel they’ve been lied to,” said District C Councilman Freddie King III.
Porteous, whose appointment to lead DPW must get the council’s nod to become permanent, said bond money that was used to install the bike lanes cannot be used to remove them. The City Council provided money in January to remove them.
“But we have hundreds of striping requests that we’re working through,” Porteous said. “So, this is in our queue. I don’t believe I ever said second quarter. I think I said we were looking at it, that we were looking at the sequence in which we were going to remove it safely, and that it certainly was going to happen this year.
“So, if I misspoke, I apologize,” Porteous said. “I never want to be dishonest about that. But this is in our queue for removal.”
King pressed, saying Algiers residents expected that the bike lanes would have been removed at the end of 2022. “I think when people hear it got approved by the council, they’re not thinking a year and a half, or a year and four months later.”
Porteous reiterated that the money was not initially available to remove the bike lanes.
That, in turn, led District A Councilman Joe Giarusso to remind Porteous that the council had held $6 million in escrow for DPW projects, suggesting that the pot of money could have been used to remove the bike lanes.
“I feel like there’s not enough urgency sometimes,” Giarusso said. “That money was not touched. So, to say the money does not exist is just not accurate. Unless something happened to the money that we’re not aware of.”
Porteous responded saying the money existed “on paper.” Giarusso responded, saying “you have a big problem” if DPW spent the $6 million. DPW couldn’t have legally touched the escrowed money without first presenting the council with a plan, he said.
“If the money was not spent, then the money was there. If the money was spent, the DPW broke the law,” Giarusso said.
The council “took the brunt” for voting to remove the bike lanes,” Giarusso said. “We made a law that was passed. And we’re now nine months [sic] since we passed a law and nothing has happened. That’s not right.”
King also spoke of the ordinance the council passed requiring bike lane removal. And the money is available. Algiers residents are resorting to remove the flex post “delineators” themselves, King said. He did not specify where this is happening, but he indicated that he has previously briefed Porteous on this citizen uprising.
“People are getting frustrated,” King said. “They’re taking it upon themselves to cut them down, because in their mind the city as a whole gave a promise. The city is now reneging on that promise. And we’re tired of it. That may not be fair to you, but … that was a bit of a slap in my face. Because there was a lot of heat I took for that. But the people in that area, that’s what they want. So, I’m always going to go with the people that are immediately affected.
“And for that not to be removed yet, it’s unacceptable,” King said.