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September 15, 2005

New Orleans Cyclist responds to River Trail Directors Letter

The other day I posted an e-mail I received from the Executive Director of Mississippi River Trails, Terry Eastin, about trails in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

This morning I was suprised to find a lengthy, interesting, comment to this entry waiting for my approval for posting.

I immediately decided that it was worthy of a wider audience, and here present Larry Lagarde's thoughtful discussion about re-developement of bike trails in the path of Katrina.

If anyone else in the affected region reads this please feel free to give us your 2 cents worth in the comments:

It's truly gratifying to learn that the MRT is looking to assist with the redevelopment of bike trails and trail systems in the New Orleans region.

As a distance cyclist and a New Orleanian, I'd like to suggest four potential projects that would turn New Orleans into a top bicycle travel destination:

1. Completing the bike trail along the Mississippi River levee.
2. Turning the old Hammond Highway from LaPlace to Pontchoutoula and Covington into a bike trail.
3. Creating a rail trail along Airline Highway from the Airport to the French Quarter.
4. Completing an inner city loop trail through neighborhoods that were destroyed by the flooding.

Years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers completed extensive studies in preparation for the creation of a bike path along the flood control levees that contain the Mississippi River from New Orleans north to Destrehan Plantation. The Corps determined that such a path would allow cyclists to ride over 50 miles along a car free route with excellent views of the river. Portions of the path have been completed; yet, two major segments await funding (a 4 mile stretch that would circumnavigate Avondale Shipyards and the portion of levee running along the west bank of St. Charles Parish). If this project was completed, cyclists could ride in a continuous loop, crossing the river on the south end by ferry and on the north end by using a bike lane on the Luling Destrehan bridge.

Before the interstate highways came to New Orleans, there was a narrow, single lane road that followed the lakefront of Lake Pontchartrain west out of the city from WestEnd (scene of the massive yacht club fire shown in television coverage of Hurricane Katrina) to the town of Hammond. This highway was notoriously dangerous and prone to flooding. With the construction of Airline Highway (Hwy 90) and US Hwy 51, the Old Hammond Highway was abandoned. Over the decades, it's bridges have collapsed and the highway has been overgrown but it exists still. The portion that ran along the north end of Jefferson Parish (along the lakefront) has been repaved several times and is used as a bike trail now; however, the storm surge has probably torn it up. If this trail was rebuilt around Lake Pontchartrain, it could connect with the existing Tammany Trace (Louisiana's only rail trail and a fine one at that).

Years ago, the Kansas City Southern Railroad had tracks that ran parallel to Airline Highway from the Louis Armstrong Intl Airport to Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans. The railroad tore up the tracks years ago; yet the corridor has never been developed. Currently, Airline Highway is considered an eyesore by many and an embarrassment by some ( so much so that the name was changed to Airline Drive; wow; what a difference that made... ). Paving the corridor with a bike trail and planting landscaping would turn this section of town into a recreational asset. As Airline is frequently used by cabbies as a shortcut to the airport, it would also serve as a pleasant welcome to the city.

The inner city of New Orleans was one of the areas most affected by the flooding resulting from Hurricane Katrina. Many of the homes in this area will be bulldozed as they were old and in poor repair to begin with. Rather than go back with the same street grid and narrow property lines, it would be better for the city to annex properties to consolidate property lines as this would create large lots that would be close and convenient to the revitalized downtown area. If a bike trail looped through this area and was replanted with trees, this would provide a lush urban retreat through the heart of the city. Admittedly, this is the most ambitious plan; however, it would also be the most beneficial for the largest group of users.

Larry Lagarde
RideTHISbike.com ( About a Folding Bike ), and Great Bicycle Rides and City Trails Worldwide ( His BikeBlog ).

This is an impressive bit of thinking concerning the future of cycling in the New Orleans region.

I particularly like the last idea.

I intend to alert Mr. Eastin to this essay, and maybe others will also see it, and a discussion can begin about what to do, and how best to get it done.


September 15, 2005 in KATRINA: Cycling toward Recovery | Permalink


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