For the past two years, a group of planners has been working to turn around public transportation in New Orleans and the rest of the region. It is now seeking feedback on its New Links report, a plan for our buses and streetcars, reimagined with the idea that the system needs to serve more people more efficiently.
New Links is a project of the Regional Planning Commission, building on long-range strategic plans by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority and Jefferson Transit. Planners gathered public feedback and crunched numbers to come up with a transit design that takes existing resources and organizes them in a more effective way.
During Phase 1 of the project in the summer and fall of 2019, the planners collected more than 1,000 surveys and held 75 public meetings, including open houses, community meetings and pop-up events. The focus was on finding riders’ key priorities in improving the transportation system — while staying within current budgets.
They found out that people like their buses to run on time. And often. They also found that the system did not always get to the people who need it the most or get them where they need to go.
“Transit is not working for most riders out there,” said Alex Posorke, executive director of Ride New Orleans, a transportation advocacy nonprofit that has been holding online forums on the proposed plan. “It takes too long to get your destination. Regional connectivity is nonexistent. What would be a 15-minute car ride ends up being a 60-minute odyssey.”
For the planners, getting workers to their jobs more efficiently was a priority. As it is, said RPC Deputy Director Jason Sappington, transit riders can only access a fraction of the jobs available in the region. “Transit isn’t a very competitive travel mode for most people,” Sappington said.
According to “New Links: Report on the Proposed Network,” residents on average can only reach 43% of the region’s jobs in 60 minutes or less via transit and walking. Residents with cars have an average commute of 23 minutes.
For Phase 2, the New Links team took three different plans to the public, each emphasizing three different priorities.
- Concept A improved coverage and consistency and was designed to preserve the existing network while making it easier to use.
- Concept B focused on ridership and frequency, eliminating some lines to make the system faster for the greater number of riders.
- And Concept C emphasized access and speed, with more express lines to and from key areas.
Concepts B and C received the strongest support, according to the New Links report. People generally sought transit that is more reliable, more frequent and had more regional connections. They were willing to walk a few blocks to gain speed and reliability.
After collecting this feedback, the Regional Planning Commission’s New Links group — which includes partnerships with RTA, JET, the city’s Office of Transportation, Ride New Orleans and the St. Bernard Urban Rapid Transit — came up with a proposal that it is presenting to the pubic for feedback during Phase 3, which had the misfortune of being rolled out as the region was hit with a pandemic and active hurricane season.
The planners are urging residents to view the plan and provide feedback on the plan by taking an online survey, which will be open through December. The plan can then be tweaked before the group takes it to transit officials for approval.
This New Links proposal is designed to not only make service faster and more reliable but to increase service to low-income neighborhoods with a high concentration of residents without cars and to regional commercial centers with a high concentration of jobs. But it sacrifices coverage, meaning that riders are likely to have to walk farther to get to and from their transit stops.
Uptown residents can see those priorities played out in the neighborhood’s transit lines. Residents in the Hollygrove and Central City neighborhoods would likely see increased frequency and coverage, for example.
No changes are planned for the St. Charles streetcar, which has a consistently high ridership of both commuters and tourists, RTA data shows. But other areas of Uptown may see a reduction in service.
Here are a few examples of the changes in store for Uptown transit riders.
10 Tchoupitoulas, 11 Magazine
One of the lines sacrificed in the proposal is the 10 Tchoupitoulas bus, which has a lower ridership than the 11 Magazine bus. In deciding which lines to eliminate, the planners looked at how many residents use it as an essential service and whether there was an overlapping service along the same corridor.
“We found people are willing to walk a couple of blocks further,” Posorke said, “in favor of putting service in the area where they really needed it.”
The 11 Magazine is about five blocks away, but a survey of riders found that many riders were already walking up to Magazine from Tchoupitoulas to catch the 11 bus, Posorke said.
“The 11 Magazine system can get you where you want to go in less time and more reliably, especially with improvements on the 11,” Posorke said. “It gains a little more frequency, running every 15 to 20 minutes.” Plans do not specifically call for more buses on Magazine Street, however.
The 11 bus will start on Tchoupitoulas, at Children’s Hospital, instead of at the Audubon Zoo. At that end, it would connect with the new 96 Leonidas line, which heads through the park, up Leake Street and into the Leonidas and Hollygrove area. At the other end, the Magazine bus will continue to go to Canal Street and loop around.
Riders would be able to get to Tchoupitoulas at Napoleon on 94 Broad bus and to the Walmart store on the 91 Jackson bus.
The 91 Jackson-Esplanade would wind from the Walmart on Tchoupitoulas through the Garden District and Central City before crossing the CBD and French Quarter on Rampart Street. It then takes Esplanade Avenue to City Park before turning to head to Delagado Community College and ending at the Canal Boulevard transit hub.
This line — which Posorke, who takes the 91 regularly, said can be “packed to the gills” with service workers — will be beefed up, with three buses an hour instead of two. Buses would arrive every 20 minutes during the week and every hour on weekends.
As part of an effort to increase equity and to bring transit where it’s needed the most, service to the Hollygrove area — identified as a neighborhood with a high number of carless households — was made broader and more frequent.
Hollygrove is currently served by three lines, mostly stopping on Carrollton Avenue. “It will still be served by three lines,” Posorke said, “but with more frequency and more connectivity within the neighborhood itself.” The routes also extend out to more job centers.
The 96 Leonidas-Gentilly, which begins at Children’s Hospital, will head through Mid-City to Gentilly. It replaces sections of the 32 Leonidas-Treme line.
The 39 Tulane Avenue route is one of the beefed-up routes in the New Links proposal. It would serve Hollygrove and would be more frequent.
Planners also have extended it to job centers such as Elmwood and the Ochsner medical complex on Jefferson Highway.
“Now it’s inconsistent and always crowded,” Posorke said. “We think it’s an enormous improvement. If you can get people out there, a real access to jobs increases.”
The Broad Street bus has the highest ridership in the entire region, so the plan calls for extending the line and making it more frequent. The 94 Broad provides a way for Uptown residents to get to Mid-City, the Fairgrounds and 7th Ward neighborhoods, Gentilly and New Orleans East.
The Broad Street bus, which now starts at a Washington Avenue transfer hub, would traverse Napoleon Avenue down to Tchoupitoulas under the plan, replacing that stretch of the 28 bus. It would also have more frequent connections to the Freret, Magazine and South Claiborne lines.
17 Martin Luther King
The new MLK line would stretch from Hollygrove, travel down Earhart Boulevard, Washington Avenue (and a transit hub at Washington and Broad) and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive before heading downtown to the major transit hub on Canal Street. It replaces major sections of the current 28 MLK bus.
“The 17 line is a combination of MLK and Claiborne bus,” Posorke said. “It serves some of the city’s highest poverty precincts.” Its creation is part of the planners’ effort to gain greater workforce access and basic equity in the public transit system.
16 Claiborne, 15 Freret
The planners promise more reliability on the South Claiborne line, which connects to a line going into Jefferson Parish job centers on the western end. On the other end, it connects with the 17 MLK to head downtown. Most of the riders on the South Claiborne bus are traveling to and from downtown, Posorke said.
The 15 Freret’s route from the universities into downtown and back would remain unchanged, but a second bus may be added to increase frequency.