Plans to shrink Napoleon Avenue neutral ground for bike lanes have Uptown abuzz _lowres

 

When construction of a new drainage canal is finished on the section of Napoleon Avenue from South Claiborne Avenue to near St. Charles Avenue — expected by the end of the year — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to build a walking path down the center of the neutral ground similar to the one along the stretch of Napoleon that runs through Broadmoor.

But, controversially, the plan will require narrowing the neutral ground by 9 feet to make room for new bike lanes in the street in each direction.

The plans, as well as designs for post-construction Louisiana, Jefferson and South Claiborne avenues, were presented by the Corps at an open house on Thursday evening.

Among the details attendees learned:

The Napoleon Avenue neutral ground will have a winding walking path similar to the one built in the section between South Claiborne Avenue and South Broad Street after a similar Corps project. Meanwhile, a new 5-foot-wide bike lane will be added on each side of the street between the parking lane and the two driving lanes, and the neutral ground will be narrowed by about 9 feet to create space for it.

Tree plantings on Louisiana, Napoleon and Jefferson will all follow a “natural” pattern, rather than a more formal arrangement or clustering. On Louisiana and Jefferson, palm trees will be favored, though the exact species of trees to be planted on each avenue is still under discussion.

South Claiborne will have the natural tree pattern as well; it will be combined with meadows designed to help soak up excess rainwater.

While planners had considered installing public art along some of the thoroughfares, no art is included in the current plans. The art project is still a possibility, but it will depend on funding and the wishes of individual neighborhoods.

While the walking path on Napoleon Avenue is something residents have long sought, the narrowing of the neutral ground for the creation of bike lanes proved controversial among those at the meeting.

Faye Lieder said the last meeting on the landscaping in October gave residents no idea that narrowing the neutral ground was under consideration, leaving them “blindsided” and “stunned” when the plans were revealed Thursday.

“Bike lanes may prevent some rear-end collisions but create problems at intersections,” Lieder wrote in an email to Uptown Messenger after the meeting. “Aside from the questionable wisdom of bike lanes, why would the city (just who made this decision anyway?) want to shrink green space on this beautiful oak-lined avenue, already two lanes each way, where families gather on the median to watch Mardi Gras parades?”

Resident Richard Dimitry said at the meeting that the placement of the bike lanes next to the parking lanes would put younger riders in particular in danger of being hit by motorists opening their doors to get out of their vehicles.

“I can’t see that for the kids,” Dimitry said. “It’s not necessary to put them in danger.”

Jim Schnieders, who lives on Jefferson Avenue but said he enjoys bicycling all around Uptown, said a narrower neutral ground on Napoleon Avenue will make crossing the broad, busy road on cross streets more dangerous for drivers. Cars will have less room in the neutral ground to wait for an opening, he said.

“I like to ride my bicycle, but I don’t think we should create a potential safety hazard,” Schnieders said. “It would be safer for bikers if the bike lane was on the neutral ground also.”

Lori Wingate, of the Corps, said placing the bike path in the neutral ground would present its own safety issue. Cars crossing the openings in the neutral ground would not expect bicycles heading toward them, leading to more collisions there, she said.

“It’s much safer to put them in the side of the road, where the cars are,” Wingate said.

City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, whose District B includes Napoleon Avenue, said Monday through a spokesman that her office has been receiving a number of calls about the proposed design. Her view is that the design question is not completely settled, and she hopes to have further discussion on it.

“I hope the process will continue, and we will be able to accommodate as many people as possible in the final design,” Cantrell said.

While Napoleon Avenue dominated much of the conversation at Thursday’s meeting, residents of other corridors also had concerns.

Larry Hameen, who lives between South Liberty Street and Loyola Avenue near Louisiana Avenue, wondered why Louisiana couldn’t have a similar walking path instead of shrubbery. Second-line groups and others would appreciate the walking path, he said, and he worried that a heavily planted neutral ground could quickly become overgrown.

“They say they’re going to maintain it, but I tend not to believe that,” Hameen said.

Construction on Louisiana Avenue won’t be finished until much later than Napoleon — perhaps 2018 — so Wingate said there is more time to continue discussions on its design. Planners are still looking at the possibility of a walking path on some sections of Louisiana, she said, particularly near the river, where it is wider — though the neutral ground is already too narrow for a walking path in some areas.

Carrollton neighborhood activists said they were concerned about the treatment of South Claiborne Avenue. Neighborhood leader H.V. Nagendra said he appreciated the addition of some water management features, but he said more could be done.

“It is still not sufficient, but at least it is a gesture toward what we asked for,” Nagendra said. “But it is a slight improvement from what they showed us before.”

Jenel Hazlett said the construction on Claiborne would have been an “opportunity to do something interesting” with a major entry point to the city, but instead it seemed to get the least attention. The plans show no bike path and few trees — essentially the same as what’s there now.

“I think Claiborne is getting short shrift,” Hazlett said. “Every time you ignore what it could be, you make it less good.”

Wingate said ways to enhance South Claiborne are still being discussed, particularly where it meets South Carrollton Avenue.

Nagendra said special attention should be given to the configuration of the bus and public transportation facilities there.

“There’s certainly something we can do to make the area more pronounced,” Wingate said.