Photo by Chris Granger, The Times-Picayune

Story by Naomi King, Tulane Prevention Research Center

Navigating New Orleans sidewalks and streets can be treacherous for residents like Steve Donahue, whose primary transportation is a motorized wheelchair.

"The whole City of New Orleans is not accessible," said Donahue, a Gentilly resident who advocates for improved services for people with disabilities. Local roads often lack sidewalks or ramps, leading him to either ride alongside cars or make his own path through overgrown bushes, Donahue said.

Designing local roads for all types of travelers is close to becoming required by law. The New Orleans City Council will vote Dec. 15 on a proposed complete streets policy that would establish a process for the city to accommodate walkers, bikers, public transit riders, and other transportation modes when constructing and repairing roads. The meeting will start at 10 a.m. in the council chambers on the first floor of City Hall, 1300 Perdido St.

New Orleans would be the first city in the state to have a complete streets policy for locally owned streets, said City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who represents the French Quarter, the Marigny, Bywater, Algiers and the west bank. Louisiana was the second state in the nation to adopt a similar policy for state owned roads.

On Nov. 22, the council's Transportation Committee heard details on the proposed law, presented by Dan Jatres, pedestrian and bicycle program manager at the Regional Planning Commission, and Jamie Wine, executive director of Bike Easy.

A complete street is designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road, and many New Orleans streets are already functioning this way, Wine said.

"The complete streets program would really make it official and institutionalize a structure for the administration to follow in order for this to be a regular routine," Wine said.

The costs to implement the law depend on how a road is constructed. Generally, though, it's more expensive to go back and reconstruct a road than to build it with all users in mind at its inception, he said.

Palmer also expressed a desire to improve transportation as a way to reduce residents' travel costs and health expenses.

The proposed law is the starting point for the city's transportation system to become sustainable and a way for the city to attract new businesses and federal dollars for roads, said John Renne, an urban planning professor at the University of New Orleans and chairman of the city's Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee. That committee initiated the effort to create a local complete streets policy.

"This entire ordinance comes at a very important juncture in this city" as the government prepares for numerous transportation projects, Palmer said. "There's going to be a large amount of roadwork occurring over the next five years."

To see the Dec. 15 agenda, visit the council’s website at www.nolacitycouncil.com.

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