The Landrieu administration's proposal to bar vehicles from most of Bourbon Street faced nearly unanimous backlash from about 150 residents and business owners at a public meeting Tuesday night.
The proposal, part of the city’s $40 million plan to enhance security citywide, is still being fleshed out, and both city officials and consultants acknowledged they have run into significant hurdles as they’ve tried to develop a way to close Bourbon that would allow deliveries to stores, minimize the impact on residents and not create more traffic headaches in the French Quarter.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other city officials have said closing the often densely packed Bourbon Street is a precaution needed in the wake of terrorist attacks on crowded streets such as one in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed and more than 430 were injured when a truck drove into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day last year.
However, the residents and businesses, most of them from the French Quarter and most of whom had not had a chance to weigh in on the proposal before Tuesday night, panned the effort and said more should have been done to consult them earlier in the process.
Throughout the two-hour meeting, residents frequently broke in with questions or criticisms, arguing that the plan would exacerbate traffic problems and seriously hurt businesses' ability to get the deliveries they need, while having little to reduce street crime in the Quarter.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration announced Tuesday it is dropping a controversial part …
Officials appeared to take at least some of those concerns to heart, saying they planned to reach out to more residents and businesses who would be affected. After the meeting ended, AECOM Operations Manager Derek Chisholm, whose firm is conducting the traffic study connected to the project, said the message had come through.
“The direction seems to be minimizing the amount of disruption and change,” he said.
During the meeting, Chisholm laid out a range of options that are under consideration, ranging from closing only various sections of the first eight blocks of Bourbon Street to expanding the closure to side streets or to “the greater area.”
“Lots of folks want partial closure,” which would be similar to the current situation, Chisholm said. But that would require either barriers that could be raised or lowered to control the traffic getting through or else a heavy law enforcement presence, both of which would cost significant amounts of money, he said.
Chisholm said his firm was focusing on the area between Iberville Street and St. Ann Street, since the number of driveways along Bourbon farther downriver would create problems for extending the closure in that direction.
“None of these (alternatives) is already rising to the top. None of these is our favorite; none of these is the Department of Public Works favorite. We’re looking for some assistance in getting there,” he said.
Closing the side streets presents a particular challenge because it would require shutting down more traffic and potentially coming up with a way to allow vehicles some access to residences and businesses, which could require people to back down streets or make tight U-turns.
“We have four terrible ideas for you about how to close a side street,” Chisholm said. “If you have a better one, we have a job waiting for you at AECOM or the city.”
The proposed closing of Bourbon for security reasons is distinct from a separate plan, unveiled Friday, to completely reconstruct the first eight blocks of Bourbon before the end of the year to fix both the roadway and the nearly century-old pipes beneath it. About $4 million for that project is slated to come from the security plan’s funding, with another $2 million from the Sewerage & Water Board.
The first eight blocks of Bourbon Street will be torn up and completely rebuilt in a major r…
The argument about closing Bourbon to prevent terrorism didn’t carry much weight with the crowd.
“You’re creating problems. You’re making up problems,” Cassandra Sharpe said. “The city is not keeping our city clean. The Quarter is filthy. The police — their hands are tied. People here are bothered (by panhandlers) as they go up and down the street.”
AECOM surveyed 60 businesses on Bourbon Street before Tuesday's meeting, but it did not consult any residents or any establishments elsewhere in the Quarter. That led many to cry foul, arguing that the survey could not be taken seriously.
In the end, officials said they would reach out to more residents before the traffic study is completed. Originally that was slated for May, though Public Works Director Mark Jernigan said that might be changed based on the feedback at the meeting.
A variety of challenges would have to be handled to make the street closure work. AECOM’s survey indicated that more than half of the businesses on Bourbon get deliveries every day. One owner said the closure would put his employees who change out ATMs at risk of armed robberies.
A representative of Royal Carriages said the closure could keep animal-drawn carriages from crossing Bourbon, causing major problems.
And some people in nearby neighborhoods including Treme, Marigny and the Central Business District fear that any street closures in the French Quarter would just push more traffic onto their streets.
Jernigan said there are no plans to eliminate the pedestrian mall on Royal Street, which provides a stage for many of the Quarter’s street performers, but he noted that “any closure we do on Bourbon will have a ripple effect.”
Meg Lousteau, executive director of Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, said, “The implications are far beyond Bourbon, because we’re talking about taking out a huge chunk of the streets.”