Cantrell took office just before the 2013 Mardi Gras parade season began, and was quickly inundated with concerns from District B residents about various aspects of them. Barely two weeks after the final parade of 2013 had rolled down St. Charles Avenue, Cantrell pledged to begin studying what permanent changes could improve the event for the future, and she began fielding ideas from residents along the route soon afterward.
On Saturday, Cantrell met with many of those same leaders again to discuss a first draft of her findings. After hearing their ideas, Cantrell said she will revise her suggestions a final time and present a set of recommendations to the City Council in early October. While those ideas are being discussed, she said she will also convene a series of meetings with the city’s enforcement agencies to see what can be done to make sure all the laws will be followed.
“We’re going to see where our ideas go,” Cantrell said. “I think they can go far. We’re going to explore them all.”
One of the thorniest Mardi Gras issues is the placement of ladders, which can often form an impenetrable wall along the parade route. They are currently required to be as far back from the curb as they are tall, and Cantrell’s initial suggestion was to make that distance uniform, at 10 feet, so that officers and perhaps even posted signs could easily point to a “line” that ladders should not cross.
This suggestion proved to be the most controversial Saturday. Several residents said that 10 feet is too far, especially on the sidewalk side, where it would largely rule ladders out. Perhaps a shorter distance could be adopted on the sidewalk side, they said, especially since floats run closer to the neutral ground anyway, leaving more space from the sidewalk.
Others said that limiting the height of ladders might also help. Six feet should be high enough, they said, and that way the distance back from the curb could also be limited to six feet.
Cantrell promised to give those ideas further thought before making a final recommendation.
Among the other ideas presented Saturday:
- Grills would be added to the list of fixed items prohibited from intersections.
- Whether to allow grills and tents to remain on the neutral ground was another major question. One resident suggested limiting them to the back half of the neutral ground, so that the portion closest to the street remains clear. Others have repeatedly suggested running streetcars between parades, to reduce the amount of camping and furniture placed on the tracks.
- Weight limits would be placed on throws, especially to prevent riders from throwing heavy objects such as whole bags of beads that can injure spectators.
- Many residents complain about privately-rented portable toilets being placed illegally on sidewalks, in the backs of trucks, and in other locations. Cantrell is proposing a fine on the toilet-rental companies for illegally-placed toilets, so that they would do more to keep their customers within the law. At the same time, the city should provide more public toilets, with an online map so people can find them, Cantrell said.
- Residents suggested involving local food trucks more, an idea Cantrell said she would try to incorporate. A special area of the route could be designated for them, or they could get some preference in the vendor lottery, residents said.
- Both sides of Napoleon and St. Charles should be “no parking” zones during parades, Cantrell said. Some residents suggested restricting traffic, but emergency officials want the traffic to flow, she said. Eliminating parked vehicles, however, would create more room for drivers, pedestrians and emergency workers.
- Cantrell would also give the Mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Council a similar role to the Mardi Gras Indian task force. It would meet to consider parade-related issues and offer opinions on new parades as well.
- Cantrell proposes limiting the number of parade permits to 30 (a reduction from the current 34), but grandfathering all organizations that paraded the previous year and giving them seniority over new applications.
- Cantrell would also prohibit floats from being used more than twice in a single parade season on the Eastbank.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below: