1. BIKE SHARE PILOT PROGRAM ROLLS OUT
A citywide bike-sharing program will bring 700 bikes to 70 racks across parts of the city this fall. But last week — in time for the NBA All-Star weekend and the first weekend of Mardi Gras — people were able to check out bicycles from several stations in the French Quarter and CBD during a "preview" period, which lasts until Feb. 23. "The future is here already," Landrieu said at a kickoff event. "You got a glimpse of what American cities are going to look like."
The fleet of white bikes (with baskets, hand brakes and kickstands) comes from New York-based company Social Bicycles, which allows bikes to be rented and returned to hubs around town. This month's "preview" installs 35 bikes at nine stations downtown (the Old U.S. Mint, Lafayette Square and Cochon are among the stops) and in the Lower Garden District outside the Avenue Pub. City officials approved the plan in November.
Riders download an app (search "Social Bicycles"), register their information and select a pay plan. Preview plan rentals cannot exceed one hour, and basic fees are $8 an hour (with a $3 fee). A $10 pass gets you an hour a day on a bike over the whole preview period.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 4 percent of New Orleanians bike to work. The League of American Bicyclists ranks New Orleans as one of the fastest-growing cities for bike ridership, with a 292 percent growth from 2000 to 2013. Over the last several years, the city added more than 100 miles of bike lanes or infrastructure, from shared lanes to paths such as the Lafitte Greenway.
At-Large Councilman Jason Williams says he first used a bike-sharing program in New York City, where its Citi Bike system — the largest in the U.S. — plans to expand a fleet of 10,000 bikes and 600 stations by the end of the year. "This city is tailor-made for this," Williams said.
2. Quote of the week
"If you do not think the rainy day fund should be used, tell us what you want to cut." — Jay Dardenne, Gov. John Bel Edwards' commissioner of administration, at the start of last week's special session in which legislators met to grapple with a $304 million mid-year hole in the state budget.
State Rep. John Schroder, who opposes using the rainy day fund for recurring expenses, said, "It's downright sinful what we do to families in this state — to bring them down to the Capitol, scare the crap out of them and tell them we're going to cut all the money."
As Gambit went to press, the legislature still was set to vote on cuts and the use of the rainy day fund. The special session ends Wed. Feb. 22.
3. Cassidy to hold Metairie town hall Feb. 22
Congressional Republicans have not had an easy time of it recently at town halls and community meetings in their home districts — some even have stopped the practice — but U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy is set to hold an hourlong town hall at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the East Jefferson Parish Library (4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie).
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz shut down his town hall 40 minutes early after attendees grew angry, later claiming that the event was "more of a paid attempt to bully" him. Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis infuriated a crowd of mostly seniors when he claimed the Affordable Care Act meant "that anyone over the age of 74 has to go before what is effectively a death panel." (As the audience booed and yelled, Bilirakis told the seniors, sarcastically, "All right, children.") California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said constituents demanding a town hall were "enemies of democracy." White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has called the crowds at town halls "very paid" and "Astroturf-like," though there's no proof of any organized paid movement.
A Facebook group set up for the Cassidy event had 1,000 people marked as attending as of last week.
4. Maness to hold pro-Trump rally on Lundi Gras
New Orleans has seen its share of rallies in opposition to President Donald Trump and his policies, but a series of pro-Trump "Spirit of America" rallies in Louisiana is being organized by former U.S. Senate candidate Rob Maness and his group GatorPAC. "While we see a well-funded effort on the left bent on destroying anything that would strengthen our country," Maness said in a statement, "we will come together as a true, organic grassroots movement in support of the President."
The "greater New Orleans metro area" Spirit of America rally will be held not in New Orleans, but in Mandeville at noon Feb. 27 (Lundi Gras) at the Tammany Trace Kids Town Pavilion (21490 Koop Drive, Mandeville). On March 4, similar rallies will be held in Bossier Parish and on the steps of the state Capitol in Baton Rouge.
5. Trump issues disaster declaration for tornados
President Donald Trump issued a federal disaster declaration for Louisiana Feb. 11 in the wake of devastating tornadoes, including an EF-3 tornado that damaged hundreds of buildings in New Orleans East. FEMA approved individual assistance for affected residents for up to $33,000 in financial aid and housing per household; more than 1,300 New Orleans families applied.
On Feb. 15, the city closed a temporary shelter that housed more than 170 residents after the Feb. 7 tornado. People can apply for assistance via www.disasterassistance.gov and (800) 621-3362. A disaster recovery center at the East New Orleans Public Library (5641 Read Blvd.) is open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
6. Let's talk about sex (education)
Louisiana sex education advocates made the case for comprehensive sex ed reform in New Orleans to members of the New Orleans City Council Feb. 15. While the city and state are making strides in treating people living with HIV/AIDS, Louisiana has among the highest rates of HIV, gonorrhea and syphilis in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the state's Department of Health. New diagnoses are largely among people under 24 years old.
Before the state Legislature likely takes another stab at sex ed reform, which has failed in most sessions, the City Council's Community Development Committee heard from educators working with the Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI), the Louisiana Youth For Excellence Program through the Governor's Office Initiative on Comprehensive Sex Education, and the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES), which aims to reach 16,000 students over five years. The program uses "medically accurate, non-stigmatizing" education that's also "trauma-informed" to reflect how stress and experience inform decision-making.
IWES and LPHI will release a report soon that surveyed 600 parents about their thoughts on sex ed.
7. "The box" — and other Carnival getting-around tips
Want to get in or out of "the box"? The city announced Uber's travel plans for the areas from Napoleon Avenue to Canal Street bounded by Tchoupitoulas Street and St. Charles Avenue, which require users to hail a ride from outside the box to get out of it. (In other words, walk a few blocks out of the box before you request a ride). If you want to get into the box, you'll have to send a request in the app. New Orleans cabs will operate as usual.
During parade days, the St. Charles streetcar will run its normal route but will be replaced with buses from Canal to Napoleon two hours before a parade start time.
If you're taking your car downtown or to a parade, watch for signs indicating where you can and can't park. The city will issue $75 tickets for parking violations and could tow violators if they're in the way of a parade or cleanup crews. Between 6 p.m. Feb. 24 and 6 a.m. March 1, parking or driving in the French Quarter between Iberville, Rampart, Dumaine and Decatur streets is prohibited (unless you have a permit). The city also will tow cars on all cross streets near Bourbon Street (700-800 blocks of Iberville, St. Ann Street and the 700 block of Royal Street).
If you get towed, the auto impounds will be working extended hours (7 a.m.-3 a.m. Feb. 24-Feb. 26, 7 a.m.-1 a.m. Feb. 27 and 5 a.m.-1 a.m. Feb. 28).
8. Under fire from colleagues, Brown resigns
State Sen. Troy Brown, under fire from colleagues and constituents over two misdemeanor convictions on domestic violence charges, abruptly resigned his office Feb. 16 — four days before the full Senate was set to vote on his expulsion.
"It is readily apparent to me that a fair and impartial hearing before my peers will never transpire," Brown said, adding that the Senate "tore down the very fabric of our government" by holding expulsion hearings based on misdemeanor charges.
In the last 15 months, Brown, D-Napoleonville, pleaded no contest to charges involving physical abuse of his wife and another woman described as a "side friend" during separate incidents. Until last Thursday, Brown had vowed to stay in office, despite an expulsion resolution drafted by state Sens. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell. State Sen. Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, offered a softer measure that would see Brown suspended for six weeks. Brown's attorney, Jill Craft, went to the 19th Judicial District Court seeking to block the Senate from disciplining him, to no avail.
"I think my actions warrant a punishment, but the punishment should be commensurate to what occurred," Brown said.
He concluded the conference by thanking Colomb (who was at his side) and thanking his wife as well. "We are fine," he said of his wife. "We are fine."
9. Stokes, Riser join treasurer's race
State Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, and state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, both announced last week that they will run for Louisiana state treasurer in the Oct. 14 special election. The post was vacated after then-Treasurer John Neely Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate last year.
The only other major declared candidate thus far is state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, though others are expected to join the race. There's plenty of time; qualifying runs July 12-14.
10. "Adopt-A-Cop" for Carnival
The New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation (NOPJF) is asking the public to show appreciation for the men and women in law enforcement who work long hours to keep parade-goers safe. The NOPJF's annual "Adopt-A-Cop" program solicits donations, starting at just $10, to provide meals, snacks and beverages to cops working the city's parade routes. Businesses are encouraged to donate more by becoming sponsors. Other area law enforcement agencies that work with NOPD during Mardi Gras also benefit from the program. Donations can be made online at www.nopjf.org/adopt-a-cop.