New Orleans would offer twice as many public bikes and increase bus service under a long-range "transportation strategy" released Thursday by Mayor LaToya Cantrell's administration.
Officials would also fund school safety programs with some of the fines collected from traffic-camera tickets in the city.
The strategy would be implemented over the next five years, officials said, and is designed to ease New Orleanians’ travel regardless of the type of transportation they use.
"The goal is transportation sustainability, and the action plan that we are releasing today is the roadmap to get there," the mayor said in a statement. "We are focused on improving roadway conditions for all users.”
The plan, titled "Moving New Orleans: The Road to Equitable Transportation," draws ideas from a number of blueprints for public transportation, housing and environmental action that Cantrell, her predecessor Mitch Landrieu and advocacy groups created in recent years.
But it is in large part a response to an ordinance passed by the City Council in 2011 that directed the administration to make streets accessible to anyone trying to get around the city, whether on foot, on a bike, driving or using public transit.
Advocates spent years rapping the Landrieu administration for what they said was moving sluggishly to realize the goal of so-called “complete streets," or streets designed to accommodate more than just cars and trucks. When Cantrell took office, she created an Office of Transportation that has sought to make streets accessible to all modes of travel a priority.
That office has worked to finalize and fund a bicycling strategy, due out later this year, and has taken note of areas where bike lanes and racks are most needed.
The new plan calls upon the city’s bike-share program, Blue Bikes, to increase the number of public bikes it offers to residents from 700 to 1,500 in the next three years.
The company that provides those bikes, Social Bicycles, was already planning to expand to 900 bikes at 90 locations within the next year.
The document urges the Regional Transit Authority to create more direct connections from the city’s core to New Orleans East, Algiers and other neighborhoods where housing is relatively inexpensive but buses are scarce.
“Providing more direct connections to certain neighborhoods will give people greater opportunity to live and work in the city,” the plan says.
At least some of the money the city is raking in from Cantrell's recent lowering of the speeds that prompt traffic camera tickets in New Orleans will go toward creating programs or infrastructure to improve children's safety as they travel to and from school. The document mentions more crosswalks, flashing beacons and signage near schools.
The strategy also calls for redesigned intersections that better protect pedestrians, more modern RTA buses and discounted bus fares for low-income residents and children.
All of this will cost money, and the plan says the goals could be realized with money from a new tax or from diverting some existing tourism taxes to support public transit.
Cantrell has called for diverting tourism money for the Sewerage & Water Board and other infrastructure needs under a legislative deal that reportedly is close to being final.
The RTA recently demanded the return of tens of millions of dollars the agency allowed the tourism industry to take since 2001 from the proceeds of a 1% sales tax that was enacted to support transit. A City Council committee has supported the transit agency's position.
Other goals in Cantrell's plan, such as better protection for cyclists in the city, are being funded through grant money and existing dollars.
A strategy specifically for cycling will be released by Cantrell’s office later this year and is expected to result in protected bike lanes on more major streets.
The document says the Cantrell administration also will be working on ideas such as:
- Analyzing crash data, setting up crash-mitigation measures in street design guidelines, and directing funding to areas "that are most threatening to people on the road."
- Making improvements to traffic signals in areas of congestion.
- Exploring a direct transit link to the airport and pushing for regional passenger rail service from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
See the full strategy, below: