Where they disagree is whether the traffic plan must be finalized before the renovations can proceed, as the school seeks neighborhood support for some setback changes before the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustments this month.
School officials and parents want to see the needed setbacks pass this month so the project can proceed, while everyone continues to work on improving the traffic problems.
“I would hope we could move forward and not delay the building,” said Carlos Zervigon, vice-chair of Audubon Charter’s governing board during a Tuesday night community meeting that crammed nearly 200 people into the school’s cafeteria and occasionally drew heated tempers on both sides. “That only makes the problems worse. It doesn’t solve anything at all.”
Some neighbors, however, feel the pending zoning adjustments represent the only bargaining chip they have to get concrete solutions on traffic. John Lafargue, president of the Upper Audubon Association, said a substantial new traffic plan should have been decided either during the last year of planning for this renovation, or in the years prior as residents have requested it.
“We’ve seen these issues continue over the last five years with no change,” Lafargue says.
The traffic proposals on the table include new pick-up and drop-off procedures within the school grounds, a traffic camera on Broadway Street to slow passing cars, stricter parking rules on streets and corners and a traffic officer to enforce them. Further, school officials have proposed making Garfield one-way from Broadway to Pine, and Hurst one-way from Pine back to Broadway — effectively creating a one-way loop around the school — but that idea in particular drew more opposition from neighbors.
The board of the other adjacent neighborhood group, the Uptown Triangle Neighborhood Association, had previously voted in favor of the school renovation, but against the plan for a permanent one-way loop to be created on the streets surrounding it, said association president Patrick Tucker. A modified version of that proposal — for the one-way loop to be implemented only during pickup and dropoff — seems to have more neighborhood support, Tucker said, and the association board will be meeting again this week to discuss specifics of it.
Apparently off the table is an idea to create an off-street drive within the campus for drop-off, as consultants said it would hold so few cars at once that it would actually increase congestion by people waiting to get in, while destroying much of the school’s green space in the process.
The meeting drew a swath of high-ranking Orleans Parish School officials, including Superintendent Darryl Kilbert, Chief Financial Officer Stan Smith, and board members Lourdes Moran, Thomas Robichaux and Woody Koppel. They promised to commission a professional traffic study to provide hard data and make formal recommendations, and sought to keep meeting with association leaders to hammer out a rough agreement that would allow the renovation to move forward at this month’s Board of Zoning Adjustments meeting without further delay.
Koppel said similar issues have been solved fairly easily at other schools in his district, including “Baby Ben” Franklin on Jefferson Avenue and McMain High School on Claiborne Avenue. Enforcement will be a key component, he said.
“A traffic cop may add a little authority to it,” Koppel said. “If everyone’s reasonable, I think that’ll go a long way toward getting this done.”
To read our live coverage of the meeting, click in the box below.