Last week the City of New Orleans’ Mayor’s Office hosted the third and final round of public meetings related to the long awaited linear park known as the Lafitte Greenway that will occupy a now-defunct Norfolk Southern rail corridor linking cyclists and pedestrians to and from Treme and Mid-City.
Aside from the decision by the Mayor to allow Winn-Dixie to cut a parking lot access roadway across the bicycle and pedestrian paths of the Greenway, the City and the firm tasked with designing the Greenway (Design Workshop) have been conscientious about community involvement. In the first and second round of meetings, opportunity was given to concerned citizens to ask questions and voice their opinions on the overall plans and purpose of the Greenway; many of which are reflected in the overall design.
As a result, the last round of meetings primarily served as an opportunity for neighborhood residents, citizens-at-large, and representatives from various community organizations such as The Urban Conservancy, Bike Easy, and Friends of Lafitte Corridor to rubber stamp the design’s first phase of construction as well as to discuss the long-term concerns of operation and maintenance, funding for additional phases, and development within the Corridor in and around the Greenway.
Included in the first phase are the fundamental infrastructural elements of the Greenway: the asphalt bike path, standard sidewalk, and crushed gravel “carondelet” walk along with the necessary site demolition, basic landscaping, and grading. However, to meet the initial budget of 6.5 million dollars, Design Workshop excluded the planting of trees, lighting, signage, security, bike racks, benches, sports equipment or any other type of community facility from their base cost estimate.
Despite the relatively small amount of funds available to begin the project and concern about how to account for some shortcomings of the first phase, the attendees of last Tuesday’s meeting at Sojourner Truth Community Center seemed pleased with Design Workshop’s final plan and phase breakdown and were eager to see work begin. When asked at the end of the presentation to show “where they stand” on a line taped across the floor, one end indicating 100% for moving forward with the project and the other end indicating 100% against moving forward, everyone who participated in the survey “stood for” moving forward whereas not a single person “stood against”.
The good news for those who showed “where they stand” is that the proverbial bicycle is rolling. The plans for the Greenway were submitted to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LADEQ) for review and permitting just over a month ago. Generally, the LADEQ can be expected to take anywhere from four to six months to issue a permit for a construction project. Once approved by the DEQ, the plans will then be submitted to the New Orleans City Planning Commission and Council for review and approval. From there, bids for the project will be solicited and, according to Design Workshop, construction on the first phase of the Greenway is scheduled to begin in October of 2013.
In the meantime, it will be up to community members to address the long term concerns about Greenway management and Corridor development that were brought up during the meeting. Issues that arose ran the gamut from, “Who will be responsible for basic maintenance of the Greenway?” to, “How will changes in zoning affect current neighborhood residents and business owners?” to, “How can I or my organization get involved with this or that aspect of the Greenway?” All are valid questions that will require answers. But, each falls under the overarching question begged by Design Workshop’s presentation, “Who is going to manage the fundraising and on-going development of the Greenway’s facilities once construction of the first phase is complete?”