Councilwoman Guidry: Accessibility on St. Charles Avenue streetcars “is going to happen'”

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City Councilwoman Susan Guidry reiterates her promise to continue activist Jonah Bascle's fight to make the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line accessible to the disabled at the Jan. 8 City Council meeting. (via

City Councilwoman Susan Guidry reiterates her promise to continue activist Jonah Bascle’s fight to make the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line accessible to the disabled at the Jan. 8 City Council meeting. (via

When City Councilwoman Susan Guidry visited comedian and activist Jonah Bascle in the hospital last month shortly before his death at age 28, she vowed to carry his fight forward to make public transportation in New Orleans accessible to the disabled — specifically, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line.

Last week, with Bascle’s friends and supporters gathered in the City Council chambers, Guidry reiterated that she intends to make good on that promise sooner rather than later.

Bascle, who died last month following complications relating to muscular dystrophy, was recognized and honored by Guidry and other council members at the beginning of the Jan. 8 City Council meeting. Bascle brought awareness to the city’s lack of transportation accessibility for people with disabilities by serving on the Mayor’s Advisory Council for Citizens with Disabilities, and ran as a candidate for mayor in 2010, and briefly considered a run for City Council against Guidry last year.

Guidry visited Bascle in the hospital in November to present him a proclamation from the City Council as well as certificates from Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Congressman Cedric Richmond.

“It was an experience I will not forget, and I was very honored to be a part of that before we lost him,” Guidry said. “When I last spoke with Jonah, I promised him I would keep working toward our shared goal of making the streetcar accessible on St. Charles Avenue — even if he wasn’t threatening to run against me. As a matter of fact, I’m in recent talks with the RTA about that.”

Bascle’s mother, Sue Bascle, brother, Jesse Bascle, and step-father, Jimmy Ford were at the council meeting. They were accompanied by family friends, Cassie Catalanotto, Jimmy Fahrenholtz, Page McCranie, and Larry Bagneris.

Fahrenholtz, member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for Citizens with Disabilities, spoke about Bascle’s passion for transportation issues, especially the inability of people with disabilities to ride the streetcars on the St. Charles Avenue line. Bascle noticed that every advertisement inviting people to come to New Orleans included images of the Saint Charles Avenue streetcar, Fahrenholtz said.

“That streetcar was always prominent in those ads,” Fahrenholtz said. “Jonah couldn’t ride them.”

Fahrenholtz said that Bascle spoke with the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, but was told that nothing could be done.

“We went to the RTA and asked what could be done and basically had the door slammed in our faces,” Fahrenholtz said. “We were told that there was absolutely nothing that can be done because it was a national historic registered site. The streetcar was historic.”

A frequently suggested compromise has been to move some of the red streetcars from the Canal Street line, which are handicap accessible, to St. Charles Avenue. But Fahrenholtz said that federal regulations would actually allow the green streetcars on St. Charles to be adapted, contrary to what has local leaders have always said.

“We will come back to the transportation meeting in just a short period of time and show where we have been lied to about conforming to the needs for our people,” Fahrenholtz said.

Fahrenholtz urged the council to find a solution.

“When the Saints were in trouble, we found hundreds of dollars for the Superdome. Every time we want the Super Bowl or the Final Four, we find millions of dollars to give to people to come here and ride the streetcar,” Fahrenhotlz said. “It is time we find the money to help our citizens live full lives in this city, to ride that streetcar.”

Guidry said Councilman Jared Brossett, chair of the transportation committee, has agreed to add the issue to the agenda “in the very near future.” She also mentioned that she has taken up the issue with the Chief Executive Officer of RTA herself.

“I have spoken with Justin Augustine with RTA and told him that he needs to come here with documentation to show RTA’s position and support that they are making progress, and that this is going to happen in the foreseeable future, which is something that he has told me,” Guidry said.

Brossett said that he has been working on taxicab accessibility — another issue Bascle championed — and “we think we found the solution.” Council-member-at-large and Vice President, Jason Williams, also promised that Bascle’s transportation issues would not go unanswered.

“He was fearless about this in his very young life. I consider him to be a public servant same way we are,” Williams said. He added, “That fight based on what I have seen here today and what I know is going to happen is not going to be over until his goal is accomplished.”

Cassie Catalanotto, a family friend, spoke about Bascle’s strong spirit and encouraged the council to complete what Bascle set out to do.

“He never complained about having muscular dystrophy and he never complained about being confined to a wheelchair,” Catalanotto said. She continued, “He knew that there are things that you can change and things that you cannot, so let’s change one of the things that we can, and add wheelchair accessibility to the St. Charles line.”

34 thoughts on “Councilwoman Guidry: Accessibility on St. Charles Avenue streetcars “is going to happen'”

  1. Not to sound callous (yup I will), but we spend MORE on this issue than so so many more important things. And the way we mandate these costs to private business is insanity. In my business in the FQ, I was required to spend $25,000 to renovate 2 multi-stall bathrooms resulting in 2 one person bathrooms in the name of ADA. If I didn’t renovate – no occupancy permit. In 17 years I have had exactly ZERO handicapped patrons. I know it’s incredibly politically incorrect to say this (better to have a cartoon of Allah on your wall) but the ADA is a huge boondoggle.

    • Of course you will sound callous to most people… bc most people only think w their hearts & not their brains. ADA is a total mess & basically discriminates against the small business man & minority business man like me trying to make it & navigate all these regulations. The cost gets passed on to the consumer & leads to more chains & less boutique mom & pops. I salute your honesty. Who knows what this streetcar thing will cost us & how they will butcher those beautiful streetcars?

      • Trouble is you actually have to make money in order to “pass it on to the consumer”. I can’t raise prices above my competitors because of the cost of ADA. That’s the biggest problem. $25,000 out of my pocket so some politician can feel better. And by the way I am a very liberal Democrat but sometimes we (democrats) are just as dumb as we accuse the other side of being!

      • Check the IRS, there is a tax credit (not a deduction) for a small business to make their place accessible and it can be rolled over from year to year.
        check sections 44 and 190 of the IRS code

    • This is a real issue that politicians are afraid to confront. The money that has been spent on unused corner cuts could have paved more than a few streets.

    • I guess important is a matter of perspective, are you on the outside looking in or the inside looking out.
      maybe your aditude has more to do with why you don’t think people with disabilities are using your facility, or maybe you don’t have anything I or others have wanted.
      can we get in, get thru the place, get treated with a modicum of respect, who knows, maybe I or others have been there and you haven’t noticed. also there are a number of hidden disabilities that require privacy and a large restroom but is not visible to the average viewer.

  2. This is silly because even if you could get on and off the streetcar with a wheelchair you still can’t utilize the sidewalks in most of the city. My husband was in a wheelchair briefly and it’s next to impossible to get around. You have to take your wheelchair to the streets and risk your life trying to avoid cars. Sadly, this is not the city to live in or visit if you’re confined to a wheelchair.

    • gee I am a disabled vet and use a wheelchair and travel all over New Orleans and ride the red cars all the time. it costs less than $3 to use a wheelchair lift on a bus/streetcar but over $35 per one way trip on paratransit. and paratransit is horrible now. it saves money to make buses and streetcars accessible.

      I guess the importance of this is weather your on the streetcar looking out or on the curb looking at it go by.

  3. Some days to go even one mile on the canal street car takes up to 30-40 minutes because of the time involved putting wheelchair people on. A full time handicapped bus would work much better. And yes,,many of the young people in wheelchairs that you see on canal str were involved in drug deals gone bad…rta has small buses that can be called to pick them..some just don’t want to take the time.but to delay 30-40 people to getting to work on time when someone is only going 4 blocks…well ms Guidry should try riding the buses or streetcars regularly before she gets so politically correct. Its like the smoking law…the last 2 weeks over a hundred citizens have been held up, robbed or killed…and the CC is spending full meetings on less important things. She should try to fix the broken FQ sidewalks for the handicapped…and then worry about streetcars. Her car–if it is a city car-is not handicapped equipped…

    • wait a minute, everyone .else is saying that no one will ride.

      there is a long story about the canal cars and Mr Von Dullen who designed them. he swore no one ,would use them so he put the cheapest/slowest system in because, well no one would use them. and then RTA is the only transit system in the USA that violates ADA by requiring wheelchairs to be secured on a streetcar that has a top speed of what 25mph. you can ride an Acela high speed train at 150mph with out securing a wheelchair but RTA requires it at 10mph! the RTA goes out of their way to turn a simple lift use into a broadway production. it is unnecessary to say the least.

    • HolyNOLA,

      That’s true… But Paratransit is lousy. You have to schedule a pick up well in advance (I’m not sure the exact amount of time, but suffice to say it’s monstrously inconvenient).

      That said, I think perhaps money would be better invested in providing quality Paratransit than trying to retrofit antique streetcars and provide sufficient room at stops for lift devices. I think the logistics of doing this are probably more problematic than most people realize.

  4. Many disabled people can and do use the St. Charles Streetcar. Even if we limit the “disabled” to those with mobility issues, many of those are regular riders. I see lots of people with canes and crutches, and a few years back there was a one legged regular rider. I think we are talking about the wheel chair crowd, and it really is a sparse crowd.

  5. This is not about the handicapped. It’s about Susan Guidry. Here are some other ideas, Why don’t we blow larger holes in the fronts of every building in the French Quarter while we are at it so anybody can access with anything they want to. . Who gives a*** about “historic” right Susan? It all looks about the same anyway. Plus it all looks so old , we need softer seats for the aged, rip out that wood. Oh and seat belts and airbags for kids. I’ve got some other Guidry approved future ideas. Why stop at New Orleans? Lets take all the steps off the Lincoln Memorial. It’s clearly just designed for people who can use stairs. Ramps and escalators, that’s the ticket. Some people who can’t use those stairs might want to go up right in the center. And speaking of..that place is suspiciously white don’t you think? Just what is that supposed to mean?! We should definitely stripe it red, white yellow and black , that way we can make sure its not offensive. Except that might offend people with taste, oh man this seems hard. How oh how can we please everybody and make everything work for everybody?! I’m not sure of the answer but I think that the key is to make everything in every city beige.
    The city has multiple secondary measures in place and as has already been said YOU CAN run the red cars. Just leave history alone.

    • PS Lincoln Memorial is alread accessible, has a nice elevator but is well hidden and does not affect the appearance of the memorial, has been there since the mid 70s.
      I can forward some photos from my last visit right in front of the statue of Lincoln

  6. contrary to what the RTA says.
    the St Charles streetcars are exempt from having to be made accessible but there is nothing in the law that prevents them from being made accessible. as for historic, well they have bus rear view mirrors, sealed beam headlights, and LED lights and fire extingushers and many other things that did not come out of the Perley Thomas factory. as long as the “historic fabric” is not destroyed then the cars certainly can be made accessible and there are designs that show them how.

  7. I understand some of you don’t like someone telling you it’s necessary to spend money on making improvements to your property, but if you had ever seen Jonah having to ride his wheelchair/scooter in the middle of torn up uptown streets because sidewalks weren’t possible and he needed the most direct route home so he could go to the bathroom as most businesses in his neighbourhood were not accessible and did not have restrooms he could get into, you’d change your mind.

    As others mentioned, there are tax credits availabe and there are also grants and other incentives. For years Jonah himself spent much of what little money he had going out and buying ramps for businesses who said they couldn’t afford one.

    Doing business in a community is a privilege and not a right. By opting to open a business in said community you are agreeing to abide by the expectations and rules of that community and in the United States, one of those expectations backed up by rules and laws is that your business (and in the case of RTA our city’s transportation system) be handicap accessible.

    Since ADA has been around since the mid 60’s, unless you’re really old, you did not open a business, buy a business, or renovate a building prior to handicap accessibility requirements coming into effect. That means you knew this was an expectation before you started, just like having smoke detectors and maintaining liability insurance.

    Grow up and do the right thing and quit whining that the world’s not fair to business owners. It’s not fair to those who have to struggle through with a handicap, but most of them do so without whining about it. The expectation that business owners fulfill their societal responsibilities and run their business in accordance with the laws of our country and some basic courtesy and compassion is both common sense and fair.

    • Thats the point , we are talking about something that is “really old” in your words. It has specific historic and protected significance EXACTLY as it is. The “business” that is the street cars was opened pre 1960 and as you know (I assume) The green Streetcars themselves are a protected Historic Landmark. Since you like to cloud the issue and compare it to all things public, let’s do that. Lets take arguably the most specific historic structure in the USA. It also has french roots. The Statue of Liberty, it represents, freedom and our ability to incorporate everyone no matter country of origin, sex, wealth or poverty, handicap. It stands for the equality of EVERYONE. BUT ironically for you, the only way to her crowned head is a tiny spiral staircase. There is absolutely NO WAY for wheelchair bound people to get up there without being carried. Given your logic, we should cut open the Statue of Liberty , widen her and install elevators. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? Some things are just historic and protected. Each ORIGINAL antique streetcar is protected. They are ACTUALLY old (to use your definitions). Since there are multiple other options for transport available this amounts to an unfortunate inconvenience. Run a red car, take a bus, get a ride. Not everything can always be changed to suit everyone. Since you are about spending a great deal of money to create the needed mechanical infrastructure that already is redundant, lets use resources to put beat cops all over the city and along the street car lines. Let’s do something that’s needed TODAY by all. Let’s stop the crime wave and put beat cops all through the city and at some of the streetcar stops…something EVERYONE can immediately benefit from.

    • Drew,

      >>Doing business in a community is a privilege and not a right.<<

      No, "doing business" is most definitely a right. I shouldn't feel "privileged" that somebody allows me to "do business." Now, businesses can and should be subject to reasonable regulations, but the idea that the "community" can refuse to allow anybody to do business for any reason is absurd.

      • Owen, –agreed most whole heartedly. I didn’t want to confuse my main point when responding to that glaring assertion. Thanks for raising that separately. People constantly just throw out “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” as a pleasant but meaningless catchphrase. Like it’s a slogan based on nice thoughts with no basis in law. I would love to see you op ed on the current (modern) public’s knowledge of perceived privileges vs. actual rights.

        • discrimination is illegal and disability is included in the Civil Rights Act. so do you believe you can go back to the “good old days” when we decided who could and could not go a place because of how they looked???

          • Whoa! Nice try Bob. No one’s taking your bait. Don’t try and change the topic so that you can seem as though you fall on the righteous side of all. Stay on topic. No one said discrimination is legal or even implied it. My comment is that I agreed that doing business is a RIGHT not a privilege. Don’t like that bit of truth? Well too bad. I don’t have a business in the Quarter and I’m not really sure whom you are trying to confuse, so far it’s just yourself. As to your last bit, “no one goes to the Quarter and they don’t want to make it “accessible”. Not really sure what alternate New Orleans universe you inhabit but you should just keep taking your own advice and “rarely ever go”.

  8. My comment was and still is aimed not so much at RTA, as there are options available that maintain the green cars (IF RTA actually bothers to do them which they have not in the past), but at the private business owners who have written above that they should be exempted from making their own businesses accessible.

    • This article is about the Historic Streetcar and permanently changing a major aspect of its looks and structure. I must say that many of your statements are confusing. The Streetcar as well as the Quarter are National Historic Landmarks and so do not fit into a modern cookie cutter build out law. Many of the other buildings in other areas are also similarly nationally recognized as unique and in turn protected in kind. Due to this status they are exempt from many modern requirements by law. I’m sorry if that doesn’t jibe with your idea with what is “right”. It’s what the very specific idea of “historically protected” means.

  9. I personally know 3 people who use wheelchairs that were killed in the street because there were no curb cuts.
    elderly with carts and skateboarders and others also find curb cuts usefull

  10. that $35 is what it costs YOU in support for paratransit, users pay far less.

    and when was the last time you saw a taxi that could transport a user who has to remain in thier wheelchair ??

  11. sure I rode it once, crawled onto the car and drug my wheelchair into the car,, took so long that there were two or three cars backed up behind us, and a supervisor followed us around because as he said “are you going to cause trouble” so stereotyped just because I wanted to see what I was missing.
    (law says they have to let me on, if I can do it without assistance and I refused all offers of assistance)

  12. the Green cars can be made accessible without being visible or changing the hisotric fabric of the car, it has been done in other places.
    the Green cars are only exempt because it is written into the law, (as are the cable cars) however no expansion of service nor can the Red cars be used on the St Charles line (nor can the green cars be used on the other lines) without negating that exemption

    would be nice if the loyola line could be connected to the St Charles cars at Jackson circle but not likely to happen. or connect the Canal carline and St Charles line but again not likely.

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