Wardell Strickland, center, and his family get ready to board a streetcar at the intersection of Canal and White streets in New Orleans on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

About 50 community members went to a Mid-City neighborhood meeting Monday night fired up and ready to air their grievances over changes proposed by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority to speed up the Canal Street streetcar line by eliminating stops and closing intersections.

“This feels like an assault on our community and our neighborhood to no good end,” resident Mary Howell said.

But RTA officials attempted to steer the conversation toward general feedback and suggestions for the streetcar, rather than defending their original proposal.

“We put the cart before the horse a little bit,” said Tim Kennedy, special project director for the RTA’s private operating firm, Transdev. “We should have come out to you first and gotten your comments about your experiences with the Canal streetcar.”

The hotly contested proposal would have tested out a plan to eliminate 30 of the 49 stops along the route and close off 17 neutral-ground crossings to save an average of 12 minutes per trip in ride times between Carrollton Avenue and Harrah’s Casino at the river.

Currently, the streetcar stops every 10th of a mile — every one to three blocks, depending on the area.

The pilot project could have started as early as May. But after receiving pushback from residents, the RTA is taking additional months to get community input. Officials said it will now be at least September before any final decisions are made.

“What we think is a great idea, the public that we serve may think is a terrible idea,” RTA Interim Executive Director Jared Munster told the frustrated residents.

Residents also voiced concerns about safety, worrying about the impact that closing off intersections would have on emergency vehicle access. Several felt the ride time saved by eliminating stops would be negated by longer walk times for passengers, including longer walks at night.

“If I’m a woman walking home late at night and I have to walk two more blocks on these dark streets and bad sidewalks, I’m taking Uber or Lyft,” Howell said. 

The Canal Street route accounts for 17 percent of passengers in the RTA network, with 90 percent of them local riders. RTA officials referred to the route as the “backbone of our system.”

Other residents said trying to speed up the streetcar drastically was not practical and expressed interest in alternative solutions for faster travel, like an express bus.

“The streetcar is meant to be a charming part of New Orleans, not a monorail,” resident Michelle Schlafly said.

Kennedy presented the RTA’s updated timeline on the project, including gathering community comments through May and conducting a full traffic study in June and August. When residents noted that a study done during months when school is out may not accurately reflect traffic during the rest of the year, Kennedy agreed the study should be moved.