As part of our series documenting transportation systems that shaped our views, I follow Chanceé and Fabiana in discussing my early experiences with transportation systems. I’m from Louisiana and I spent most of my childhood in Baton Rouge. My maternal grandparents lived in New Orleans in the house where my mom made her debut, graduated, and where family holiday celebrations were still held. Growing up, Baton Rouge and New Orleans had very different transportation options.
The neighborhood in Baton Rouge where I grew up was a typical “Levittown” style suburb, with single family detached homes on lots with front and back yards. Day to day people got around by car, but our neighborhood has sidewalks that connected to retail, school, and recreation centers. The streets in our neighborhood were low volume, so as kids, we walked or biked wherever we needed to go, such as our friends’ houses, without a problem. It was pretty walkable, with most things we might need within a mile. For the first few years we lived there, a grocery store and a big box store were within an 8-10-minute walk. We would walk or ride our bikes there when we just needed a few things, but would drive if we were making a grocery bill. My first official job (besides babysitting) was within walking distance. I knew that there were city buses, but never saw them in our part of town until recent visits home. My only experience with a bus of any sort were the yellow ones that I would take to school every day until my friends got cars and we carpooled. We were a 1 car household after my brother was given his car and had to do a lot of organizing to chain trips to drop everyone off or pick everyone up. There were times when I had to wait to be picked up, but once I had enough money, I bought my own cell phone and could call for a ride.
In contrast, my maternal grandparents lived in New Orleans, just two blocks off the intersection of St. Charles Avenue and Napoleon. New Orleans has an iconic heritage streetcar system and a network of streets designed for walking and horse and buggy. Until Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had one of the longest continuously running streetcar systems in the country. I grew up riding them with my grandparents on the way to our destinations like the zoo, the Childrens’ museum, and the aquarium. To travel between the Aquarium and zoo, we took a ferry that shuttled people along the Mississippi River. We could easily walk to restaurants, grocery stores, retail, and other amenities. New Orleans drivers are notorious in Louisiana for their, shall we say, ‘bravado’, so we didn’t ever bike in the city. Back then, New Orleans didn’t have the bicycle network it does now. We did drive places, when they were outside of the city or not served by streetcars or other modes. We never took the city bus system in New Orleans, because we had other options to access our destinations.
My early contact with public transit in New Orleans and opposing lack of network in Baton Rouge helped shape my view of transportation and the need for multimodal systems that create that sense of connectivity and thus, freedom of choice and increased quality of life.
Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users.