Early last month, New Orleans city officials promised that they would comply with a court order to remove a fence on Newcomb Boulevard “without delay.” More than a month later, the fence still stands, there is discussion about a City Council effort to make the street one-way, and the city still says it is working on the removal — “without delay.”
Newcomb Boulevard residents say the fence is necessary to prevent dangerous cut-through traffic from St. Charles Avenue, and it was created in 2006. After years of legal battles since then, former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris ruled in 2012 that the fence was an illegal donation of public property, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his ruling at the end of the year — prompting city officials to say they had ordered the removal of the fence.
“We assumed the city was going to comply,” said Tommy Milliner, attorney for the neighborhood groups suing to have the fence removed. “They said they were going to comply.”
In late January, however, city officials studied the street and determined that it is so narrow that it should be one-way once it is reopened, because it is too narrow for cars to pass each other head-on, emails show. This process will take several months, the city says.
Milliner, however, said the single-car width of the street is hardly unique to Newcomb, and that drivers across the city are familiar with the process of pulling over to let one another pass.
“Practically every two-way street in Uptown New Orleans is one traffic lane,” Milliner said.
The city is also questioning whether all of the fence must be removed, or only the portion blocking the street — essentially leaving the posts in anticipation of Newcomb residents purchasing the street in the future, recent correspondence in the case shows. “The city is attempting to avoid wasting public dollars to remove structures that the street owners will restore if they are successful in purchasing the streets,” writes assistant city attorney Ada Swensek in a Jan. 20 letter to Milliner.
Neighborhood groups, however, have argued that the city should have been compensated for the closure of the street by the fence.
On Tuesday afternoon, city officials summarized their efforts as forward movement on removal of the fence while taking safety precautions.
“The City is working with the Court and the parties involved to remove the fence without delay, and is taking all necessary steps to ensure that the affected streets remain safe for drivers,” according to city attorney Sharonda Williams.