Comparison of Baton Rouge and New Orleans Streetscapes

A Tale of Two Networks: Growing up in the suburbs, visiting the city

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.

Comparison of Baton Rouge and New Orleans Streetscapes(Right- Baton Rouge Suburban Neighborhood, Left- St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans) Images via Google Streetview

 

 

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. 

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Livable, Walkable, Poopable?

On November 17th, the National Capital Chapter of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professional‘s (APBP) hosted a Night on Biking, Walking, Streets and Cities. As one of the speakers, APBP asked each of us to give a fun and lively presentation related to walking, biking, streets, urban design, or city building. To ensure a fun evening, we were asked not to give a presentation on a topic that we know well or is part of our professional brand. For me, that ruled out transportation and equity, biking and equity, public engagement and equity, and, well, equity.

The presentations ranged from how to destress on trails to using ice cream shops as indicator for placemaking. For my presentation, I “borrowed” my dear friend Tommy Well’s campaign slogan ‘Building a Livable and Walkable DC’. However, I added ‘Poopable’. The main focus of my presentation was the challenge of finding places for my dog to poop in my walkable neighborhood.

Below is a video of my presentation. The last 40 seconds are missing, but the important points were included.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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What is Inclusion?

In 2016, I have given talks of various lengths about transportation/urban planning and equity. Over my career, I have found that when people hear the words diversity and inclusion they default to race and income, often confounding the two. For example, I hear people mention low-income, minority communities. However, as we work on different project and I grow as a professional, I have learned that diversity and inclusion does include race and income as well as other factors. In transportation, I believe that a system that is diverse and inclusive gives everyone independence, options, and assurance that they can get to point A to B safely, timely, and reliably.

On Friday November 4, 2016, I had the privilege of being the keynote at the Annual Harrisonburg & Rockingham Bike-Walk Summit. This year’s theme was “Stronger Together: Building an Inclusive Biking and Walking Community”. As the keynote, I framed the conversation and provided food for thought. The afternoon sessions where small group discussions of how to take my talking points and apply it in the Harrisonburg & Rockingham County context.

Here are some points that I shared with them to consider when building an inclusive biking and walking community.

  1. Be inclusive of persons with disabilities: Often when talking about biking and walking, persons with disabilities are excluded. There are opportunities to include persons with disabilities in active transportation. For example, the organization that I co-founded, Black Women Bike, has visually impaired women that ride with us. We use a tandem bike and a pilot, which is a sighted person.
  2. Engage non-traditional partners: One way to accomplish this is engaging non-traditional partners in transportation planning. For the District’s multimodal plan, moveDC, we engaged advocates that serve low income, homeless, veteran advocates, youth, immigrants, disability/mobility, and LGBTQ populations.
  3. Use images that reflect the community: Photos and images are an easy way to make people feel included. Often on marketing materials the person biking or walking is a fit, young adult. If there is diversity, it is what I call the United Colors of Benneton diversity, which is one person of each race, but they are young models. Photos should reflect the diversity of the community including race/ethnicity, age, abilities, size, shape, professions, and neighborhoods. One way to get photos is to set up a group on a photo sharing website to crowdsource from the community.
  4. Don’t fight, invite: In my work with Nspiregreen and Black Women Bike, I’ve heard all the arguments against “cyclists”. I’ve learned not to fight. Instead, I invite them on a bike ride. Every time I’ve done this it has disarmed people. What I’ve realized is that some people perceive biking as something that is for young, physically fit people. The root feeling is exclusion. After describing how they can bike despite age and physical ability, people are curious and start asking more questions.
  5. Take meetings to the streets: The best way to engage people is to go to the streets. This could include farmer’s markets, bus stops, transit stations, events, festivals, and the literal street corner.

After hearing the report out from the interaction sessions at the summit, I was able to respond and leave everyone with final thoughts. The take home message from the day is that diversity and inclusion has to be intentional, authentic, and built into the planning process versus trying to retrofit after the fact. Diversity describes who is in the room during the planning process.  Inclusion is when people feel heard, they were part of the process, and the outcomes meet the needs of their community.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 





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