The streetcar line on Canal Street may soon extend a couple of blocks farther and meet up with the bus routes that stop at the southern end of Canal Boulevard, a step the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority hopes will make transfers easier and improve safety.
The project would amount to only a small extension of the line, adding less than two blocks to the distance the streetcars travel. But those two blocks include a busy section of City Park Avenue that can be treacherous for pedestrians moving between the streetcar and bus lines.
“It’s an incredibly dangerous intersection,” said Rachel Heiligman, executive director of the public transit advocacy group Ride New Orleans. “There’s no signal. There’s no real crosswalk that’s easily accessible. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
The roughly $10 million project had always been envisioned as part of the Canal streetcar line, which began rolling again in 2004 after being out of service for 40 years.
Under those plans, the final stop on the line would have included restrooms and other facilities to serve as a transit center for both the streetcars and buses.
But the proposal ran into opposition from City Hall and neighborhood residents and was shelved for years.
The new design still calls for the creation of a transit hub, referred to as the Cemeteries Transit Center. But the plan now includes only shelters, shade and lighting.
“One of the things we were very committed to doing was having a location that was safer and provided shelter,” said Patrice Bell Mercadel, a spokeswoman for Transdev, the company that manages the RTA’s transit operations.
The plans also include a new traffic signal to replace the stop sign at the intersection of City Park Avenue and Canal Boulevard.
The RTA announced the public release of an environmental assessment of the project, which must be approved because it uses federal funds, on Monday. A public meeting on the project and the environmental assessment is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 9 in the Jesuit High School Auditorium, 4133 Banks St. Once the federal government signs off, the project can go forward.
Along with easing safety concerns, the project could increase connectivity within the transit system, allowing riders from four RTA bus lines, two Jefferson Transit bus lines and the streetcar line to make transfers at a central location. That could make life a litter easier for interparish commuters, who would no longer have to deal with crossing the dangerous intersection, Heiligman said.
“This will create a unified and consolidated transfer point for riders while also addressing the incredibly dangerous situation of riders having to cross City Park Avenue on foot,” she said.
When the project was last discussed in 2009, it faced heavy opposition from some nearby residents. Members of the Lakeview Civic Improvement Association said the proposed station was out of scale with the neighborhood and that having streetcars cross City Park Avenue would make the intersection even more dangerous.
The RTA has helped ease some of those concerns by downsizing the project, said Brian Anderson, the association’s president.
He said the civic group now supports the idea, even if many residents still think it would be safer to put a transfer hub somewhere else, such as Carrollton Avenue.
Anderson said he is personally of two minds about the project.
“I think at the end of the day, we’d be fooling ourselves to believe it’s not going to make traffic more difficult,” he said. “But I’m glad one way or another that (the pedestrian crossing) is going to be resolved so no one gets hurt or killed.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.