“Reimagining the French Quarter” – An Analysis of Outdoor Seating & Pedestrianization Proposals

In June, the Advocate reported on the pedestrianization concepts being developed by the City. This week, the City’s “Reimagining the French Quarter” press release provided links to the conceptual presentation, website, and recent survey results.

News of these proposals ignited widespread concern in the French Quarter. Residents and business owners expressed alarm that they had not been consulted on major changes that would directly affect their day-to-day quality of life. The absolute next step is for the City to engage with all stakeholders of this remarkable neighborhood. Councilmember Kristin Palmer is planning to host a public meeting in the next two weeks to discuss these pedestrianization proposals with residents. We will provide the details on that meeting as we receive it.

VCPORA has had the opportunity to review these ideas and provide feedback to the City’s Tiger Team. We have provided much of that analysis below. Our lens has been one of intent and impact. No other city has such a rich a blend of architecture, commerce, private homes, and vibrant street life densely packed into a neighborhood of less than one square mile. Few cities, arguably none, host 20 million visitors in an area that is home to an estimated 3,200 residents. In our review of these concepts, we have continuously asked 1) what is the real problem? 2) who does the real problem affect? and 3) who are these solutions designed for?

As previously stated, VCPORA will not endorse any effort that contributes to the commercialization of the neighborhood by prioritizing visitors over residents. We will not support any concept that prohibits or limits a resident’s access to their own home. We can, however, support concepts that will help maintain the diversity and authenticity of this remarkable neighborhood by providing tools for local businesses. We support efforts to reduce the impact of vehicles in the French Quarter and the associated issues of congestion, damage to historic buildings, pedestrian safety, and air quality. We support improvements to our aging infrastructure so that Vieux Carré remains an enjoyable place to live, work, and visit.

We remain committed to working with you, our members, and the City to explore creative improvements to the French Quarter that will prioritize and enhance the livability and enjoyment of this neighborhood by all. Reactions to specific proposals are as follows:

General Comments

Define and implement a stakeholder engagement process. Public input must be gathered before, during, and after any pilot programs to address concerns as they arise, and to assess the effectiveness.

Prioritizing sidewalk and street repairs first is key. Rather than simply patching and replacing where needed, the city has the opportunity to increase the neighborhood’s sustainability through improved stormwater management to reduce future vulnerability to climate change and safeguard this important investment.

Parts of this plan appear to prioritize a commercialized visitor’s experience and has limited consideration of residential, worker, and disabled peoples’ modality.

Any implementation must take into consideration maintaining safe, social distancing practices for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Public street furniture, landscaping, and parklets must follow rigorous design guidelines; not just for aesthetic considerations, which are important, but with durability, ease of maintenance, and public safety in mind. Liability and responsibility for street-scaping elements must not place undue burden on struggling businesses or adjacent residents.

We want to explore concepts that reduce vehicular traffic in the French Quarter, not hyper-focus it on a few limited streets that would only serve to increase congestion and push more vehicles into the adjacent residential neighborhoods of the Marigny and Treme. A comprehensive approach will involve improved and efficient public transit as well as creative parking solutions that reduce the need for cars to enter the neighborhood.

Prior to the temporary or permanent closure of any streets, a traffic study must assess impacts of traffic on all streets of the French Quarter and surrounding areas (Marigny, Treme, CBD).

Concept 1: Slow Quarter “Slow Car”

  • Reduced speeds of 15 mph for interior roads & 20 mph for perimeter roads
  • Gateway pavement treatments at entrance points to include reduced speed signage, pavement markings or elevated pedestrian crossings, bollards or planters to narrow entrance points
  • Alternating curbside parking block by block to calm traffic
  • Reversing travel direction mid-Quarter for 1 block of Dauphine and Burgundy with bike contraflow with reference to local traffic only

Analysis: The Tiger team indicated that the reversal of travel direction on Burgundy and Dauphine is intended to reduce the amount of traffic using these streets as cut-through streets. We noted that these are the typically the least congested streets and are used by residents to traverse the French Quarter as the surrounding ones are often obstructed by pedestrian malls, frequent construction, and a collapsed hotel. How would “local traffic only” be regulated? Further, the introduction of a bike contraflow may introduce confusion over cyclists being legally allowed to ride against traffic (under normal circumstances, cyclists are required to ride with traffic). Reduced speeds could be effective, particularly on N. Rampart St., if they are enforced. Gateway treatments are appropriate, particularly to eliminate oversized vehicles from entering, and special consideration must be given to the design, durability, maintenance, and replacement costs of any bollards and planters.

 

 

Concept 2: Safer Rampart Street Concept

  • Determine where traffic signals are needed to reduce speed, provide for left turning vehicles, and create pedestrian crossings
  • Incorporate high visibility crosswalks, protected bike lane, and safety bollards at various intersections
  • Pedestrian generators – safe connections to Carondelet St. streetcar stop, Basin Str. RTA hub (planned) and Armstrong Park

Analysis: VCPORA has been actively working on improving safety conditions on N. Rampart St. The introduction of a high visibility crosswalks, protected bike lanes, and safety bollards at various intersections would vastly improve pedestrian and cyclist safety on an important thoroughfare connecting the French Quarter to the rest of the City. The intersection of St. Ann merits prioritization as it is the nexus of two bus stops, a streetcar stop, an Evacuspot, and the main entrance to Armstrong Park.

 

Concept 3: Civic Spine with Pedestrian Mall Expansion

  • Creating a pedestrian “Spine” connecting Jackson Square to Armstrong Park; Orleans Ave suggested, but option exists for St. Ann or St. Peter
  • Allowing limited local car traffic on Orleans, Royal, Dauphine, and Burgundy, but no upriver/downriver crossing (900 block of Orleans, between Burgundy & Dauphine depicted as completely vehicle free)
  • Removal of off-street parking along spine and along each crossing half block (Burgundy& Dauphine, St. Ann to St. Peter)
  • Integration of pedestrian features

Analysis: This concept is inappropriate and will receive significant opposition from stakeholders, particularly from residents. The success of pedestrian malls around the country and internationally relies on having amenities that attract foot traffic, particularly storefronts of shops and eateries. Orleans Ave. is residentially zoned for three blocks, with only one business on each end, from N. Rampart to Bourbon St.

Current rules of existing pedestrian malls are not enforced, leading to a competition of sound between venues and street performers, drawing large crowds, and resulting public safety concerns. Thought the Health Department is currently working on an enforceable sound ordinance, the current provisions in City Code cannot be effectively regulated. Our open container culture means trash, and a lot of it. The streets and storm drains are literally clogged with disposable and novelty go-cups contributing to street flooding, rodents, and other sanitation hazards. Directing Bourbon Street activity into adjacent residential areas without any plan to mitigate these factors is a recipe for disruption.

Prohibiting curbside parking removes approximately 55 residential parking spaces, and restricting vehicular access permanently negates many active driveways, which represent a significant investment for their owners, likely leading to legal challenges. Vehicular access to homes cannot be eliminated; the indicated spine comprises over 140 address points. Though residents do not expect to park in front of their homes, for parking is already scarce, access is necessary to accommodate those who are mobility challenged, for unloading heavy items and deliveries, and for the continual maintenance of centuries old buildings.

Creating a pedestrian mall here, or St. Ann or St. Peter, simply does not make sense and raises the question of who this is designed for. It places a visitor’s experience over residential accessibility and quality of life. This concept virtually severs the French Quarter into two halves, despite it being a unified, 300-year-old neighborhood. Disrupting the traffic grid will simply concentrate congestion on both sides and surrounding neighborhoods.

 

Concept 4: French Market Pedestrian Concept 

  • Close French Market Place to vehicles to allow vendors to spread out at 6’ distancing
  • Provide more café seating and public seating
  • Barracks St. to be prioritized as loading zone
  • Ursuline and Gov. Nicholls from N. Peters to Decatur (small, half blocks) closed to traffic

Analysis: This is a good use of underutilized space that promotes additional opportunities for local vendors and adjacent businesses. Well designed and maintained street-scaping elements, including stormwater management features, would improve overall aesthetic quality and enjoyment. We would consider relocating loading zone into a portion of the French Market Place right of way to avoid Barracks Street congestion.

 

Concept 5: Frenchmen Street Pedestrian Mall Concept

  • Pedestrian mall from 7pm – 4am
  • Performer unloading zones provided at crossing corners
  • Addition of parklets, subject of design and permitting requirements
  • Limiting trash pick-up windows and introducing street sweeping parking free zones

Analysis: Limited feedback was given aside from asking Tiger team to engage with Frenchman Street property owners, adjacent residents, and Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association.

 

Concept 6: Upriver/River “Safe and Social” Concept

  • Vehicular traffic closed in upriver quadrant at 5:00pm on Iberville and Conti (from Dauphine to Decatur) and Bourbon, Royal, and Chartres (from Canal to St. Louis)
  • Bienville “could” remain open for emergency access
  • Inclusion of pedestrian streetscapes in entire area including parklets, street furniture, etc.

Analysis: The 5:00 p.m. closure is too early as thousands of office employees leave the area at this time and the closure of egress streets will contribute to significant congestion. These street closures restrict or eliminate access to 18 parking garages, 10 hotel entrances, various loading zones, a police station, and dozens of restaurants. The parking garages represent millions of dollars of revenue (therefore taxes) and are used by service industry employees, residents, cultural industry workers, and visitors. The removal of hotel passenger zones would force visitors to walk blocks with heavy luggage, compromising their personal safety and overall experience. Street barricades require constant maintenance and operation, challenging our already overburdened public safety manpower. Emergency vehicles could lose precious seconds in responding to disasters as streets were cleared of furniture to allow them to pass. These closures can have the effect of rerouting and concentrating congestion into other areas of the French Quarter, compounding issues of vehicular traffic rather than eliminating them. Given these limitations, implementing parklets into curbside parking would likely eliminate or reduce many of these adverse impacts while providing more opportunities for additional outdoor dining and beautification projects.

 

Concert 7: Decatur/N. Peters Concept:

  • Temporary and permanent expansion of sidewalks for outdoor cafes and shaded seating areas
  • High visibility crosswalk and pedestrian islands
  • Decatur upriver lane, from Dumaine to Wilkinson, closed to personal vehicles but open for bikes, buses, mules and emergency vehicles

Notes: In General, Decatur street offers many opportunities, given its width and prominence. A concentration of eateries and attractions could provide numerous areas for extended curbside dining. A two-way protected bike lane is ideal and should be considered for the entire length of Decatur in the French Quarter, as frequent design changes will be confusing for both people biking and people driving. Refuge islands for people walking and signalized midblock crosswalks will increase visibility of all users. The closure of upriver lanes will funnel all vehicles down Dumaine, creating more congestion within a predominantly residential section. Enforcement of bus idling in front of Jackson Square is vitally important. Along the middle Decatur, the loading zones for Jackson Square facing businesses must be considered.