Whispers of gentrification still swirl around New Orleans, which experienced a significant population shift after Katrina. At least 75 percent of the 100,000 Hurricane Katrina survivors who returned to New Orleans found higher rents, higher property taxes, and other by-products of gentrification. Mixed-use housing replaced public housing complexes. Translation -there were fewer affordable units.
Gentrification in New Orleans is no longer the subject of quiet backroom discussions. It’s a fact. New Orleans is the fifth on a list of the top 20 most gentrified cities in America.
The National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) released a report entitled Gentrification and Disinvestment 2020. It analyzed data from the American Community Survey (ACS). The ASC collected this data from 2008-2012 and 2013-2017. They examined neighborhood change and gentrification. Read a copy of the full report here.
“An analysis of New Orleans specific data reveals highly concentrated gentrification in economically vulnerable neighborhoods, placing many families at risk of displacement. By these measures, New Orleans is now the 5th-most intensely gentrifying US city, and the threat of displacement is only increasing,” according to the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.
Evidence of gentrification in the 504 is apparent. Formerly Black communities are now more ethnically diverse. Lots of people came to help rebuild the city. Many were white students or professionals who saw once-in-a-lifetime bonanza of cheap houses and land. The likes of which did not exist anywhere else.
Where else could a house be purchased from the state—which bought abandoned homes way below market rates—for $30,000?
Newcomers to New Orleans brought their cultural influences, some good and some bad. New cafes, pop-up businesses, community art, community gardens, co-op groceries added value to neighborhoods east of Canal Street.
However, the city’s Department of Transportation’s plan to create 600 miles of a connected network of low-stress bikeways and walkways reaching every corner of Orleans Parish is not. Creating safe pathways for bicyclists to ride on New Orleans streets is a good thing. But the impact of the over-the-top bike master plan has prioritized bikers’ needs over auto drivers.
Citizens who own cars can no longer park on the streets in front of their homes. Somehow, the fact that New Orleans streets, specifically that east of Canal Street, were designed for horses and buggies and are narrow one-way streets seems not to have mattered to the bike safety planners.
Understandably, safety measures for bicyclists were necessary to prevent tragedies like the deaths of three bicyclists in ten days in 2019.
In response to calls for protection for bicyclists, the New Orleans City Council passed bicycle safety ordinances, and Mayor Cantrell’s Department of Transportation launched the Moving New Orleans Bikes master plan. Moving New Orleans Bikes.
“At least some funding for the bike master plan, roughly $2.6 million, was provided by People for Bikes, a Colorado-based coalition of bicycling suppliers and retailers. The city matched that amount with money it has allocated for infrastructure projects and expects to provide even more funding as the plan is implemented,” David Lee Simmons, a Cantrell spokesman,” told Jessica Williams, Advocate reporter, in 2019.
“While we know that these changes can be disruptive in the short run, we are anticipating major benefits to people who live, work or visit the corridors in this network,” said Simmons.
Disruptive is an understatement. Not only are the protected bike lanes ugly, but they have caused traffic congestion and a lack of parking in residential communities. Additionally, in some parts of the city with protected bike lanes, very you see few bicyclists using the routes.
This “connected network” of bike lanes represents a tax-payer-funded service for a small minority of the city’s population who ride bicycles to the detriment of the majority.
Equally disturbing are the rules motor vehicles must follow relative to bicycles. For example, motor vehicles shall yield the right of way to bicycles. In emergencies, a motor vehicle can use the bike lane “in accordance with the normal standards of prudent conduct to protect the driver and others from harm.” Also, “Where bicycles and vehicles share the street: a car must stay at least 3 feet away from the bike when passing.”
Before Katrina, bicycling was merely a past-time that few residents enjoyed. However, bicycling newcomers formed coalitions. They raised funds, and began lobbying the city to create specialized pathways for bikers.
What’s interesting is that certain areas in the city seem to be exempt from protected bicycle lanes. Maybe St. Charles Avenue, Bourbon Street, and Canal Street will have protected bike lanes one day, but currently, there are none. How about on Poydras Street? Uptown? The Garden District?
Cars or Bikes?
The bikeway network in Orleans Parish currently boasts more than 100 miles of on- and off-street bikeways. More residents own cars than bicycles. Why is it that beautiful, narrow thoroughfares like Esplanade Avenue have been narrowed even more to accommodate a bike path?
However, Esplanade Avenue residents have it better than others. They have a parking lane in front of their houses. On North Galvez Street, from Elysian Fields to Franklin Avenue, residents can’t park in front of their homes. They have to park across the street in front of the homes of other residents.
For all the talk of bicyclists needing a “fair share” of the streets, where is the fair share of neighborhood streets for residents who live in those communities?