Sep 302013
 

Owen Courreges

A few weeks ago I ventured forth into the world and viewed a glorious sight – the road markings on St. Charles Avenue have been redone!   

Then I felt sad, realizing just how horribly low my expectations of city government must be for this to be perceived as such a triumph.

Since I moved back to New Orleans in 2004, I’d noticed that the striping dividing the multiple-lane traffic on St. Charles past Louisiana Avenue was completely gone, with barely a trace remaining.  Traveling down St. Charles was a comical battle between immediate locals, who knew there were two traffic lanes in either direction from Louisiana to the freeway, and non-locals (especially tourists) who had absolutely no idea what was going on.  These people bobbed and weaved around like herded cats, or simply straddled the middle like some guy hedging his bets between two cashiers at the supermarket.

Entertaining? Yes.  Dangerous as heck?  Oh, absolutely.  I can’t tell you how many times some errant motorist would start to drift over, not expecting that there was a motorist beside them, likely because they hadn’t realized there was even a traffic lane beside them.

Thus, the restriping of St. Charles was indeed a welcomed development.  It was also ridiculously overdue, emblematic of the lack of proper prioritization in our city.

My mind wanders back two years to 2011, when the NOPD gleefully received a grant from the state for $350,000 to purchase a mobile DWI testing unit dubbed the “Batmobile.”  As Jeffrey Bostick noted on his “Library Chronicles” blog recently, it’s hardly clear that the NOPD even has the ability to staff this monstrosity.  My question is, how many miles of roadway could we have striped for $350,000?

Proper road markings are absolutely essential to traffic safety.  Even chronically careless or impaired drivers will drive a good deal better with proper road markings and signage.   Their afflicted brains will be less confused.  Money invested in maintaining basic road markings is about the most cost-effective roadway improvement we could possibly make.

And better road markings can do even more.  Thermoplastic markings have a longer lifespan.  Adding glass beading to road markings makes them reflective and more visible at night.  Raised plastic reflectors can be installed to increase visibility and alert drivers if they are straddling the lane.  It is even possible to mill out slots in the roadway and fill them with plastic so that the lines will be permanent.

At the very least we need to be applying traditional markings with oil or water-based paint (which admittedly must be reapplied very frequently) both between lanes and at the outside edge to mark the edge of the parking lane.  Notably, the latter was not done on St. Charles, even though it would have been a prophylactic against accidents with parked vehicles.

There are lots of basic services we fall behind on.  Our roadways are crumbling, our sidewalks are in tatters, and streetlights, signs and signals are frequently damaged or missing.   It’s small wonder that those things have fallen to the wayside when we can’t even keep up road markings on major streets.  If the most simple task is left undone, you shouldn’t hold your breath on something somewhat more complex.

Nevertheless, our city still indulges every frivolous distraction imaginable.  We’re perfectly willing discuss expensive propositions such as streetcar expansions, razing expressways, new parks, and new public buildings – all when we aren’t even painting road stripes anymore with any kind of consistency.

I understand that the byzantine methods by which public funds are distributed makes it difficult to say whether we could really substitute one priority for another.  Federal and state governments always seem to been chomping at the bit to fund high-profile, sexy projects but are willing to leave cities to their own devices when it comes to basic responsibilities such as road maintenance, even if that means that the ultimate allocation of taxpayer dollars verges on absurd.

This explains why the state was willing to give us the “Batmobile” but probably wouldn’t approve a grant to restriping the local streets that need it most.  The problem seems intractable.  But don’t fret dear readers – I have a plan.

My proposal is that we fabricate evidence that Mississippi is building a mobile platform to drive out hippies, codenamed “Death Star.”  We then explain that we need a large grant to build our own Death Star, for otherwise we will be inundated with every remaining unkempt bohemian in Mississippi, thus turning New Orleans into poor man’s San Francisco (they already fear this at the state level).  If they object, we can have prepared interjections like:  “Sir, this is a photograph of Maynard G. Krebs – Good Lord, look at him!” and “If New Orleans falls, Baton Rouge is NEXT! And here’s that picture of Krebs again!” Having fooled them with this stellar reasoning, we can then use the resulting influx of money to repair our basic infrastructure.

Alternatively (and less fancifully), we could continue working towards political solutions for better allocation of existing funds, and perhaps stop seeking out high-profile projects ourselves until we’re at least providing a basic level of basic maintenance for what we already have.  It’s called leading by example.

It all starts with the discourse.  The next time you think it would be whiz-bang great if the city built some new toy, think about your unmarked roads and wonder if this is really a good point of departure for a productive discussion.  You might be a bit of a killjoy, but the joy of spending money foolishly is something New Orleans cannot afford.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

  • david

    “Repainted” don’t you mean “painted” because I never know these traffic markings existed.

  • Darrell Kocha

    Road maintenance doesn’t win votes or, perhaps more importantly, financial support from companies whose bottom line looks to expand from the next whiz bang project. The ultimate problem is the disengaged electorate who get distracted by side shows.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Darrell,

      It’s not just the disengaged electorate — the people who are engaged and politically active also indulge this kind of thing while ignoring basic infrastructure. There would be fewer sideshows if informed people would focus on the essentials instead of treating New Orleans like a game of Sim City.

  • rmccormack

    Broadway was recently repaved and the crosswalks repainted. From the appearance of those newly painted crosswalks, the City would have been better off not painting – the crosswalks looks like they were done by a blindfolded painting crew that was given three minutes to do each crosswalk.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Ugh. I haven’t seen them yet. In any case, the law makes no distinction between marked and unmarked crosswalks. Cars are supposed to stop at the white line and the space in the intersection where the sidewalk connects constitutes the sidewalk. It does help to have them marked, though, because some ignorant motorists aren’t aware of this and consider crossing pedestrians at unmarked crosswalks to be jaywalkers.

  • Roland Deschain

    Or how about we talk about downtown-bound St. Charles at Louisiana prior to the stoplight.

    Is it one lane, two lanes?

    Some drivers act like there is one lane and stay to the left. Others use the right lane only for turning right on to Louisiana and then some other drivers (myself included) believe that it is two full lanes.

    However, after the bank opened on the corner you can see ‘no parking during parade’ signs lined in front of the bank but I’m pretty sure those are valid parking spots. These signs don’t say you can’t park there, only you can’t park there during parades.

    Are those signs there merely to discourage parking, while it’s still legal to park there?

    Sometimes a car will park there, snarling traffic back past Superior Grill. It’s awful.

    My guess is that it was a zoning issue with the bank and that they ‘needed’ those spots for approval. Nevertheless, common sense tells you that there should be no parking from he corner of Louisiana back to the discount gas station.

    • Fat Harry

      I’m pretty sure St. Charles is one lane until you are through the intersection at Louisiana.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Ronald,

      You’re exactly correct; it’s very ambiguous. I personally got into an accident near the intersection (my fault) for just this reason. I believe that technically it is still one lane, because (as you note) there is actually marked parking adjacent to the bank and the street doesn’t actually widen until after Louisiana, but there should be lane markers and signage to make it clear.

      Ideally, when they finally do repave that section of St. Charles and put new road markings in, they will take out the parking for that block and add a dedicated right turn lane, and also make it clear when that lane begins.

      • Guest

        Disagreed. Saint Charles is single-lane (for a good bunch of reasons) before Downtown-bound traffic reaches Louisiana, and should be marked as such. This would not be a wise place for a dedicated Right Turn lane, either, inasmuch as crossing pedestrians and the (I believe) No Right on Red preempt such a configuration. Drivers treating it as such now “are the problem” as they say. The parking spots mentioned are valid and ought to remain so, in my opinion.

  • Do you know why the roads aren’t repainted?

    It’s called NO MONEY. That’s why.

    Advocate: Last year, for example, Jefferson generated $310.7 million in sales taxes, excluding taxes generated from the sale of food and drugs, automobiles and hotel and motel rooms in the parish. Orleans Parish brought in just $162.9 million, but that includes every category, meaning the gap between the two parishes is even greater. http://bit.ly/1eCPYPg

    • Owen Courrèges

      AhContrairie,

      I think we could at least afford to repaint road markings if funds were spent more effectively even with our current budget, but the point is well-taken that Orleans is poor at generating tax revenue. Our anti-business practices, especially those related to land-use restrictions, have crippled our tax base. Alas, many if not most New Orleanians are pathetically selfish and short-sighted in this regard.

      • Owen,

        When you talk about restrictions on land use, what do you mean? Can you give several examples?
        The reason why I ask is because the list below comparing the two parishes is easily verified. Hence, what could restrictions on land use could affect the list below?

        THINGS and EVENTS JEFFERSON PARISH DOES NOT HAVE
        It does not have the Saints games,
        It does not have Hornets/Pelicans games,
        It does not have Mardi Gras Balls and Super Parade Krewes,
        It does not have the Super Dome,
        It does not have the Arena,
        It does not have the Convention Center,
        It does not have the French Quarter,
        It does not have the French Market,
        It does not have Bourbon St,
        It does not have the Port of NO,
        It does not have Jazz Fests,
        It does not have French Quarter Fests,
        It does not have the Fair Grounds,
        It does not have the CBD high rises, hotels, and DDD,
        It does not have Super Bowls,
        It does not have Final Fours,
        It does not have BCSs Bowl games,
        It does not have Sugar Bowls games,
        it does not have Second Lines Parades every week
        It does not have Tulane University,
        It does not have Loyola University,
        It does not have UNO University,
        It does not have Delgado College,
        It does not have any Cruise Ships,
        It does not have a land based casino (Harrah’s),
        It does not have Mardi Gras World,
        It does not have Street Cars,
        It does not have Audubon Park,
        It does not have Aquarium,
        It does not have Insectarium,
        It does not have a WWII museum,
        It does not have Magazine St shops,
        It does not have River Walk views and Spanish Plaza
        etc.

        • Owen Courrèges

          AhContraire,

          I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Yes, we have the universities and tourist amenities, but the question with regard to sales tax revenue is the overall amount of commerce, which is negatively affected by regulation, especially tight land use controls. The overall wealth of the population is also an issue (because the poor obviously can’t afford to buy as much). My point is that New Orleans has not been favorable towards commerce, particularly with respect to zoning, and we’re suffering for it. The money largely left to Jefferson Parish, where regulations are more lax (but still not lax enough, IMO).

          • So where would you put a shopping mall? But more importantly who would go to it? If you say the Orleans Parish population is poor, the poor would not have a great impact. Yet, would those in Jefferson Parish go to a mall in Orleans Parish considering the current Lakeside and Esplanade Malls?

            My point is that with the big list of tourist attractions, universities, bars, hotels, there is astonishingly and shockingly very little economic impact. IMO, NOLA has to rethink it’s entire strategy of festivals, bars and drinking and can start at the top with the French Quarter and Bourbon St as the sales tax numbers it produces apparently has no significant impact on at least re-striping the streets.

            I agree with the state on DWI and I would like to totally change the FQ and just as important, Bourbon St.

            Moreover, Cruise Ship passengers pay a LOT of money to take a cruise and it’s the HIGH END of dinning and vacation. Yet, whey the dock at the French Quarter and Bourbon St, that’s the GUTTER for sure. Hence, these Cruise Ship passenger are completely turned off by the French Quarter and Bourbon Street and the French Market trinkets. They spent THOUSAND and more on the Cruise Ship, why would they want to see a gutter?

            Hence, If you say re-striping the streets is a step in the right direction, then wouldn’t cleaning up the FQ and Bourbon St also be a step in the right direction?

          • Owen Courrèges

            If you’re saying that we need more retail facilities, I completely agree. We’ve made a city that’s generally difficult for commerce, and that depresses our sales tax revenue. However, I don’t think sanitizing the Quarter or Bourbon Street in any way feeds into that; even the cruise ship crowd comes here largely for our “anything goes” culture. We can have high-end amenities without obliterating others.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the reminder: I just reported the 1500 block of S. Jeff Davis (between MLK and Eve) which has lacked proper striping for some time. Pity the tourists, and woe betide the cyclists!

  • William

    A more significant victory would be if the city would finally repair the more than 150 broken streetlights (approximately 50%) along St. Charles Ave. At night some stretches of the street are pitch dark–that’s a real hazard to road safety!

  • Owen Courrèges

    Fat Harry,

    Agreed, but without signs or road markings it’s not all that clear. I’m pretty sure that regulations regarding traffic management that require a sign and road markings when the road goes from one lane to multiple lanes.

  • Roland Deschain

    -Fat Harry–It probably is one lane but it really shouldn’t be. Traffic during morning/afternoon commute becomes much worse when someone is parked in the right lane.

    Owen–I have no faith that when (if?) it is repaved and marked, they will create a second official lane. To believe the contrary is madness.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Ronald,

      You’re probably right, if only because they’ll probably want to put in a bike lane. It’s a shame, because it really would help ease congestion and those parking spots are rarely used.

  • Owen Courrèges

    William,

    I think road striping is even more important than street lighting (and less expensive) but that’s also a good point. The lack of functional street lighting is a public safety issue.

  • Owen Courrèges

    TimGNO,

    You’re incorrect; there’s no “no right on red” at Louisiana and St. Charles, and having traffic backed up is a real problem at that intersection, not just for motorists, but pedestrians as well. The parking there is ill-used and not really necessary given the amount of parking that the bank has. I think you’re wrong on this.

  • Deux amours

    I’ve never understood why people would have negative thoughts when they see something they like. There is a huge list of projects that need work, but if cannot be denied that there is a tremendous amount of work being done. You’ll have many more chances to complain as each project is completed.

    • Owen Courrèges

      Deux,

      I agree there’s a lot of work being done, but there’s a huge backlog and for some reason we’re considering more grandiose projects when there’s no basic upkeep of much of our infrastructure, nor is any planned (most surface streets, even marginal ones, are not slated for repaving). It’s depressing to be initially elated over something that should have been done years ago, realizing just how low your expectations have become.

      • Deux amours

        I can’t help with your depression when you see success. Do avoid the Saenger, you might shoot yourself.