New Orleans, state and federal officials will be on high alert for Carnival and the NBA All-Star Game, with what they said is a zero tolerance policy for illegal guns and with plans once again to shut down vehicular access to most of Bourbon Street and to have officers patrolling the French Quarter in body armor.
The ramp-up, an annual tradition for the final days of Carnival, has been given an extra boost this year with the addition of the All-Star Game this Sunday, which is expected to add to the crowds on the usually somewhat less frenetic first weekend of parades.
And, as usual, officials were quick to urge common sense and cordiality, as well as making a plea to follow the rules even in the midst of the often barely controlled chaos of the celebration.
“The only way Mardi Gras can possibly work is if we have respect and work with each other,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.
The city will be posting information about restrictions, additional services and other information about Carnival and the All-Star Game at www.nola.gov/mardigras.
Updates on traffic restrictions and other issues are also being provided by text. To sign up for the public safety and traffic alerts, text MardiGras17 to 888-777.
As usual, the New Orleans Police Department, Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services are expected to be at or above 100 percent staffing as the parades start rolling Friday.
The NOPD will be bolstered by assistance from the FBI and about 165 State Police troopers in addition to the 35 already assigned to the French Quarter.
Throughout a briefing Wednesday on preparations for Carnival, officials said that while there have been no specific, credible threats targeting the festivities, law enforcement is prepared for anything, and they urged residents to report any suspicious activity.
Officers also will be on high alert for illegal weapons and for violations of a ban on carrying firearms on parade routes, officials said.
"Do not bring firearms to the French Quarter or parades," NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said. Plainclothes officers will be specifically charged with looking for people with guns.
New Orleans Police Department Supt. Michael Harrison issued a stern warning Wednesday ahead …
In the French Quarter, the scene will look similar to the security put in place recently for New Year’s Eve and the Sugar Bowl, which included officers in tactical gear.
Bourbon Street once again will be closed to vehicular traffic from the 100 block through the 800 block, with cars prevented from crossing it from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. on parade nights. The rest of the Quarter will be under a “soft closure” that will allow only vehicles belonging to residents, workers and certain others in and out, officials said.
City officials are considering a long-term security plan that would prevent vehicles from entering the early blocks of Bourbon Street permanently, in part in response to terrorist attacks abroad carried out by driving trucks into crowds of people.
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Clean-up crews, including workers hired specifically for the Carnival season, are being tasked with getting parade routes “spotless” within three hours after a parade passes, Landrieu said.
Regional Transit Authority bus and streetcar service will be suspended on all parade routes starting two hours before each parade and will resume when the processions have passed. Alternative bus service will be available during the parades.
The city on Wednesday also rolled out a Carnival taste of the bike-sharing program that New York-based Social Bicycles is expected to have in place this fall. Residents and visitors will be able to sign up for the pilot program and pick up one of 35 bikes from nine locations in and around the Central Business District and French Quarter.
The full service is expected to launch with 700 bikes at 70 locations this fall and to grow in future years.
The preview of the bike-share program will run until Feb. 23.
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Officials urged residents and visitors to use bikes and public transportation where possible to avoid the congestion and parking issues that accompany Carnival.
“This is really a small city, and it’s really easier to get around by bike than by car,” Landrieu said.
That may be particularly true with extra workers out enforcing parking regulations, including bans on parking on parade routes and neutral grounds. About 3,000 temporary parking signs have been put up around the city.
“If you pull up to a space that says ‘Don’t park here at any time or under any circumstances,’ don’t park there,” Landrieu said.
Inspectors will also be enforcing various Carnival ordinances, including requirements that ladders not be placed within six feet of the roadway or chained together and bans on roping off areas of the neutral ground. Officials already have been getting calls about people trying to claim territory and have been taking down any fencing they see in the neutral grounds, said City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, one of the sponsors of the rules.
Asked what would happen if paradegoers are caught violating the rules on ladders, Landrieu said, “They’re not going to have their ladders or their spot. That’s a lot of punishment for Mardi Gras.”