For more months than I care to count, and for surely as many more to come, I have been watching and experiencing firsthand the utter madness that is the ongoing construction along Napoleon Avenue. All for the sake of what we all cross our fingers will be improved drainage. Hold your breath, boss! Residing where I do half a block off of the thoroughfare in the middle of the stretch just two short blocks to Freret Street, the impact has been a daily reminder to take nothing for granted and be ready for anything. Some weeks I can cross Napoleon at my street, most I can’t. Some days I do a U-turn at Loyola, others it’s like a whimsical journey into the unknown peppered with hungry potholes and vaporous boundaries. But with all these catch as catch U-turns, that’s when it hit me: why isn’t the Freret intersection a rotary anyway?
“Time is a flat circle,” espoused New Orleans’ eternal crush Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle in True Detective, penned by Nic Pizzolatto. The quote continues “Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.” And so let it be while navigating public streets I say! Who doesn’t enjoy Lee Circle? Rephrase: who doesn’t enjoy driving Lee Circle? And that crazy elevated traffic circle where Airline Highway meets Causeway too. Can you imagine what terrible, awful, no good vehicular carbuncles these two throughways would be like if they were stoplights proper? True, Lee Circle has some smallish stoplight action, but mostly in my estimation to integrate the streetcar, yes? And why isn’t more of our region designed like this? Is traffic design a sort of rocket science I’m unaware of? Should we blindly disassemble and reassemble as things were because, well, it was like that when we got there?
Freret has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Street traffic has just amplified. And that’s what we have by today’s measure in the now. Freret isn’t maxed out, nor is it even remotely finished developing. In its ordinary use Napoleon provides a four-lane artery that more often resembles a speedway than residential corridor. And mostly because everyone floors it to catch the light at Freret. American drivers can be so impatient which bleeds into the unsafe. I’m a driver too, but I also bike and walk a lot, and often with my brood, so if the average Napoleon Avenue driver never returns, I’m honestly super OK with that. But I know they will. Because they are you and me. So let’s change our behavior. Rather, just as the street construction has detoured our habits, let’s let a good design do the rest.
A roundabout at Freret and Napoleon would require drivers to slow or stop into a one-way turn with no gunning it for green, and it would keep the traffic queue steadily moving. Plus if designed without actual stoplights, it wouldn’t rely on electricity which for a city that often loses power during storm season, that’s a helpful feature, wouldn’t you say? Lastly, public art or statue: let the focal point in the center of the circle be something celebratory and relevant. Perhaps something embodying Dorothy Mae Taylor as she was mentioned recently as being overlooked in the light of potential street renamings. Any addition wouldn’t change the intersection so much as improve it.
According to Wikipedia, half of the world’s rotaries are located solely in France. What gives, man? New Orleans has more French heritage than any other American city, so why’d we leave a good design like this to languish? I understand the automobile is relatively new in the history of our city, and maybe that’s why we are left with mostly, only stoplights. We’ve let car culture dictate how our streets are designed, instead of the other way around. At the end of the day, New Orleans boasts an unparalleled walkability that other like cities surely desire, so let’s enhance that. Powers that be in City Hall: please read this, germinate on it, take credit for it and even name it after your great grandpappy, I don’t care. This crazy construction is far from over and finishing it off with an idea like this is surely within the realms of implementation and doable. Me, I want a safer city with traffic that makes more sense than not. What about you?
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.