The New Orleans City Council's Transportation Committee held its monthly meeting Nov. 22, though committee chair and District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer was flying solo in council chambers. (Not present: committee members Susan Guidry and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and alternate Stacy Head.)
First on the agenda was the pending Complete Streets ordinance. The Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC) was founded in March 2011. The policy would make city agencies comply with a set of rules to ensure all future public works street projects are designed for all types of users. Streets would include room for bikes, sidewalks with wheelchair accessibility, and other pedestrian-friendly additions.
STAC member Jamie Wine said the legislation will improve "how all users use and get along that right of way — families, elderly, people in wheelchairs and bicycles, motorists, trucks. ... A Complete Street looks like a street built for everybody."
Last year, the state adopted a Complete Streets policy that applies to state- and federally funded road projects — but the local policy would apply to all local road projects and supplement state and federal projects. The local ordinance also calls for staff and training — currently grant-funded positions that later would become city budgeted positions. More than 300 jurisdictions and 25 states have adopted Complete Streets policies.
"It makes sense for the city, way of life and economic vitality," Wine said.
University of New Orleans transportation studies director John Renne noted the resolution could be used for leverage to attract federal funds for health and road projects. Palmer said the policy comes at a busy time for public works projects — FEMA-backed road improvements, the planned Lafitte Greenway park, streetcar expansions, and other street initiatives.
Also on the committee's agenda: A presentation from Regional Transit Authority (RTA) staff on the agency's budget, accountability measures, and some of its latest technology updates. Among them: multi-positioned cameras on buses that can be centrally monitored by supervisors, real-time updates on routes' progress, and a program called SmartDrive, a video system that reports public transportation drivers' movements to RTA to reduce accidents. Riders soon will be able to receive text message updates on their routes and track them on their phone in real time.
Since 2009, RTA has seen a 33 percent increase in ridership and a 31 percent increase in its paratransit services, like the Lil' Easy line and services for people with disabilities. Paratransit also absorbs 25 percent of RTA's budget; Gov. Bobby Jindal's cut of private transportation providers from subsidies "put a tremendous burden" on RTA's budget, says Justin Augustine, vice president of Veolia Transportation, which runs RTA.
In the public comments that followed, questioners prodded Augustine and his staff about services in eastern New Orleans (waiting on funds), improving shelters (RTA has the money to make some improvements to more than 100) and improving St. Charles Avenue streetcars for people with disabilities. Augustine said a committee is looking into the feasibility of making the historic line wheelchair-accessible.
"We want to put this question to rest," he said. — Alex Woodward