There’s a proposal out there, from somewhere within the Corps of Engineers, to trim the Napoleon Avenue neutral ground (“the median” to you foreigners) by nine feet, which would allow for the construction of a bike path. This would be done as part of the finishing touch to the drainage work that is currently under way. The plan would also include two walkways along the slimmed neutral ground and more trees.
Ahh, walkways, trees and bikes—it all sounds so idyllic. I just offer one comment: “Please, no.”
Critics of the plan have argued that the neutral ground is a popular gathering spot for parade watching, more so because Napoleon Avenue is early in the krewes’ routes. On the nights of the big- draw parades the green space is jammed. Reducing the space increases the jam.
Those are good points, but the issue is greater than that, even if someone doesn’t like parades. New Orleans is blessed, in more ways than can be imagined, by having such green spaces between Napoleon and St. Charles Avenues. The neutral grounds are in effect linear parks adding a pastoral contrast to the quaint neighborhoods. (On St. Charles, the rumbling green trolleys add motion to the setting already complemented by joggers.)
New Orleans could have done it differently. Instead of tree-lined neutral grounds it could have poured asphalt and built freeways providing rapid access between Uptown and Downtown. Instead, the city took an approach that was more picturesque and tasteful with a real urban sensitivity.
There have been many times when locals have approached the carnival season jittery over some recent horrible event. In other towns people would have stayed indoors, but the neutral grounds provided a friendly setting for people to come outside and party together. Carnival’s greatest benefit should not be measured by beads thrown, but by the neighborhood street celebrations it creates. We would have far less confidence in ourselves as a city were we not able, on several nights a year, to gather at a common ground. The medians on Napoleion and St. Charles Avenues and (for Endymion) Canal Street allow for that.
Another, more acceptable, proposal being offered is to sacrifice a traffic lane on Napoleon to make it a bike lane. That has already been done on some other streets including portions of Esplanade and Carrollton Avenues. Doing that might slow the traffic a little more but, I maintain, if you’re driving Uptown you should not be in a hurry anyway.
Slow down and enjoy the view. The more you do the more you will resist anyone wanting to take it away.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.