Jul 182016
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

A few years ago, local NBC affiliate WDSU reported on an embarrassment familiar to all New Orleanians, namely the fact that street signs seem to be regarded as more of a luxury in this city than an obvious necessity. Particularly absent are those signs actually identifying the names of streets – you know, so you can actually find your way around.

“If you think about some of the basic things you expect a city to have, in terms of the impression of the city, if it doesn’t have a street sign it kind of lets you know they don’t have it all together,” local resident Francis James told reporters. His intersection had no signs at all.

At the time, Public Works Director Col. Mark Jernigan told the Council Public Works Committee that his department was aware of at least 2,000 street signs in need of replacement. Benchmarks were set to (presumably) rectify the problem.

Fast-forward to the present day. Our local ABC affiliate, WGNO, reported this week in response to a viewer tip that the signs at the intersections of Louisiana Avenue at Coliseum, Chestnut, and Camp streets were all spelled wrong.

Instead of “Louisiana,” each sign read “Lousiana.”

Now, we might forgive people who, perhaps due to a combination of accent and poor education, pronounce our state’s name as though it is missing the first “i.” Hell, we even regard it as a species of cultural peculiarity that merits acknowledgement, if not appreciation.

However, misspelling Louisiana is downright incompetent. It’s not the type of mistake that should normally pass several layers of bureaucracy. After all, somebody had to receive that shipment of signs. Somebody had install them. Somebody, probably multiple people, had to completely ignore the error. Where was the oversight?

Thankfully, the response was swift. On Friday, WGNO reported that the offending signs were mysteriously gone, with only the posts remaining. “Progress!” WGNO opined.

Of course, this was not progress. Although misspelling a street named after the state in which New Orleans is situated was undoubtedly a major gaffe, the problem was hardly rectified by removing street signs at four intersections. Despite the misspelling of one street, the signs still served their practical purpose of notifying motorists where they were. It would have been better to wait for replacement signs before pulling the existing ones.

The entire spectacle was a primer on the laissez faire attitude towards basic infrastructure in New Orleans. Somebody did something stupid, and next, the response to the ensuing controversy actually made the problem worse.

In this case, it turns out that the immediate culprit was the Army Corps of Engineers, which has been performing drainage work on Louisiana Avenue. However, the Corps has failed the city before (Katrina, cough cough) and ought to be under a virtual microscope when performing city services. However, the buck was passed by the City, and thus the error was allowed to occur.

Incompetence is, sadly, the common thread that connects the actions of our fair city. In June, we were treated by news that Jernigan had sent a letter to Jeannie Tidy, head of Community Visions Unlimited, complaining that her organization’s activities in painting drab utility boxes with public art free of charge were (shudder!) not properly authorized by his department.

“What you have done in the past and are currently planning to do with regard to painting city property in the public right of way has not been permitted or authorized by the Dept. of Public Works,” Jernigan wrote, seemingly ignorant of the sheer scandal engendered by exposing munificence absent government sanction.

Understandably, public outcry ensued. Jernigan seemed more concerned with clamping down on an unequivocal public good, i.e., free public art, than he did with the more pressing concerns of Public Works. Even Mayor Landrieu himself was forced to distance himself from his own appointee with a public statement in support of Tidy.

There are two lessons we should take from all of this. First of all, our city has terrible leadership. Secondly, our local bureaucrats are more focused on trivial nonsense than things that actually matter.

Driving around New Orleans I am confronted with the stupidity of our public works on a daily basis. The pedestrian signals on Canal rarely work, stop signs and street-name signs are missing everywhere, and worst of all, one-way signs — which are supposed to be at every intersection in multiple locations — are often missing entirely.

Oftentimes I am shocked that visitors to our city survive their trips at all. Driving here is a veritable “Whack-a-mole” game, and Public Works is often the one swinging the mallet.

What is fundamentally clear is that the current administration’s promises to reform local government have fallen well short of expectations. Basic services are still being unmet, creating an accurate impression that New Orleans simply doesn’t “have it all together.” The game of chance that constitutes our roadways will, alas, continue indefinitely.

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.

[Correction: 12:18 p.m. Wednesday: The original reporting by WGNO incorrectly indicated that the Louisiana Avenue signs were created and then removed by the city Department of Public Works. In fact, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible for the Louisiana Avenue sign, city officials say. This column has been corrected to reflect that.]

  20 Responses to “Owen Courreges: What a “Lousiana Avenue” street sign really tells New Orleans”

  1. Before the MLK bus route was lengthened to include the former Napoleon route, many (all?) bus stop signs were spelled Napolean. I laughed every time I spotted one.

    I hope I never see Lousiana etched in stone—aka, blue tiles in the sidewalk. I would be the first to scream! Not having to find my way by reading signs in my own neighborhood, I regret not being the first to notice the misspelling of my street, Louisiana Ave.

    Are working people entrusted with serving the public really so uneducated in this day and age?

    • The only thing we can be certain of is that the lack of civil servant spelling prowess has nothing to do with their race, and can assuredly be blamed on teachers, police, or some other external factor.

      • Who brought race into the issue?

        • Who brought a taboo against the mere mention of race into the issue?

          • Taboo? It’s simply not germane. I could point out that the spelling issue has nothing to do with gender, but it would only make as little sense as your comment.

          • My original sarcasm prefigured the reflexive expression of your sentiment as if I had struck your knee with a small rubber hammer.

      • Lack of spelling prowess will never be blamed on this retired NOPS teacher. There is no such thing as an “external factor” when an individual over the age of 12 chooses to learn what is necessary for successful adult productivity. Been there–JFK and WLC ruled the educational opportunities for our youth!

  2. While everything you say is true, this administration is so obviously inept, unprofessional and non-transparent, it seems like piling on.

    • Heh, I suppose that’s true at this point. But it still does need to be driven home. Landrieu does actually still have a decent base of support in this city, for whatever reason.

  3. Thank You Owen! This was a very entertaining read!

  4. Hey Owen and Uptown Messenger,

    Isn’t it a little disingenuous to only correct the premise of your article as a footnote, and not correct it in the main article? The headline and article is based principally on something misreported on WDSU. I know it’s a hit piece, but still, maybe you could find another straw to grasp.


    • We had some further discussions with the city about the nature of the error in the WDSU articles (they’ve since corrected theirs as well), and Owen updated the text of this more thoroughly since then. I think the headline is still appropriate to the piece.

    • San Lorenzo,

      We agree. It’s been updated accordingly. I don’t think the changes negate the main point of my piece since showing complete deference to the Army Corps of Engineers in providing a local service doesn’t strike me as a smart move, and regardless, it all reflects badly on the city and we should expect better.

      • It’s all good. There’s no telling how long these signs had been up before they were caught, and of course it’s not even a city project; it’s a Sewerage and Water Board project, so there’s 2 degrees of separation (http://www.swbnosela.com/HomePage/Default.aspx)
        . Anyway; it’s not like anyone really got a chance to inspect the signs and bless them. We should expect better (from Army Corps inspector consultants?), but to say it is “complete deference” is a little extreme. It’s an honest mistake by a party several steps removed from the city, it was caught more quickly by a resident than by a city employee (obviously the city overseer probably doesn’t live on Napoleon), and the Army Corps inspector might have been asleep at the wheel. But ultimately it’s a project that is still under construction, and nobody would have accepted misspelled street name signs I’m sure.

  5. If this is happening Uptown then my neighborhood has little hope. I live in Lower Algiers and we don’t have street name signs *or* stop signs. Someone drew a street name sign by hand and put it out by the river road (Patterson), which is, as you imply, demoralizing. What’s worse is the city doesn’t maintain the grass or drainage ditches on the sides of the street so the overgrowth is so high that cars nearly crash every day because they can’t see what’s coming. We don’t even have sewer service or paved roads (no kidding, this is IN Orleans Parish).

  6. 610 westbound, exit 2B has signage for “New Orleans St,” whatever that is.

    In Kenner we’ve had a street named “John Hopkins” for years, don’t) know if it’s ever been corrected.

  7. Well Said!

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