Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Canoe rentals come to remote waterway in City Park (New Orleans)


by Jack Curry Jr.

        Over ten miles of lagoons, dug by hand in the 1930s, meander through scenic City Park in New Orleans, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S,  Beginning Wednesday, May 20, 2020, about two to three miles of these languid waterways will be open for exploration by canoeists renting boats from LOOP (Louisiana Outdoor Outreach Program) at 1031 Harrison Ave. in the park just west of the Couturie Forest.
     The waterways open to paddlers are in a more remote less busy section of the park designated for passive recreation.   It is not exactly wild: tractor mowers mow the grass regularly.  But without the noisy revenue generating developments that crowd the southern part of the park the area between Harrison Ave. and Zachary Taylor Drive is more like a park, less like an amusement park.
      "We are offering paddling in this part of the park so people can come into the park get a little exercise: get some fresh air," said Heather West, LOOP program director.   Still, dark waters frame picture postcard views of the wooded shore of Scout Island, and the wildlife-rich wetlands along the shore of Couturie Forest--habitats that are home to a wide variety of trees and critters.
          "We saw two little alligators there the other day," West said.  "So don't drag your fingers or toes in the water."  There are about 50 tree species in the 1300 acre park--one of the largest urban parks in the country.  Along the shore, bald cypress tree "knees" break the water's surface.  Ancient and majestic live oaks spread their massive branches draped with Spanish moss in the park's bottomland hardwood forests. Tall pines can be seen.   In late fall a smattering of deciduous trees show red, yellow and orange leaves.

Renting a Canoe from LOOP

       Canoes must be reserved and paid for in advance using a credit card. Call Heather at (504) 655-2770, to reserve.  After reserving you will be directed to a pay site.  Bring the credit card to your launch.  You will leave it there to serve as your deposit.  It will be returned to you when the boat(s) are returned.  The canoes are 16 feet long have two seats.  Maximum three people in one canoe including children.  No walkup rentals. Rental fees include life vests and paddles.  An hour's rental is $25; three hours is $40 and six hours is $55.
        Canoes are rented Wednesday-Sunday, 9 am-3 pm.
         The put-in is at 1031 Harrison Ave. in City Park just west of Couturie Forest.
        Children are permitted but must weigh at least 50 pounds. For each boat rented there is a $5 discount if there is a child in the crew.  There is no store at the put-in. Bring everything you will need for up to six hours on the water: sun block, water, snacks, hat, a poncho in case of a sudden shower.  A garbage bag for litter is also a good idea.  Secure glasses to your face, decide well in advance what you are going to do with your car keys, wallet.  Having them with you in the canoe is not a good idea.  Cell phones have their own special set of issues and are slippery when they are handled with wet, sunscreen soaked fingers.  Dropped in water they sink.   Be careful what you put in shirt pockets-if anything.
        All trips are out and back.  There are no guided trips but each rental comes with a detailed map showing where canoeing is permitted and where it isn't. Portaging canoes to nearby lagoons where canoeing is not permitted is, of course, not permitted.  Sometimes dense floating patches of the invasive water hyacinth plant will block paddlers from exploring all of the lagoon that is open to them.
        Paddlers with their own boats are not allowed on the lagoons in City Park.  Don't assume you cannot get lost in such a small forested space surrounded by a major U.S. city.  It happens all the time.
        A  national franchise operates a boat and bicycle rental (paddle boats, canoes, kayaks and pedal-surreys, bicycles) on Big Lake.  There is at least one kayak rental on Bayou St. John.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

"Missing link" bike/ped path in City Park (New Orleans) funded


A .6 mile bike/ped path has been funded for this stretch of Marconi Ave. along the western border of City Park New Orleans.  The path will provide cyclists and pedestrians a way to avoid the busy traffic on the narrow Marconi Dr. and will connect with a completed path along Marconi Dr. from Harrison Ave. to Robert E. Lee Blvd.

           City Park in New Orleans received  funding in 2018 to complete a paved bicycle/ped path looping the perimeter of the north half of the park.  Two sections of the loop have been finished and open for years:  The two miles running north/south between Bayou St. John and Wisner Blvd., and the connecting east/west stretch along Robert E. Lee Blvd.  In 2018 a mile stretch linking the Robert E. Lee with Harrison Ave was opened.
            These paths are paved and separate from vehicular traffic.
           Funded and in the planning stages is a .6 mile paved path along but apart from Marconi Ave. connecting to  Zachary Taylor Drive running east/west along the I-610.  When this is complete cyclists and pedestrians will have a five-mile loop to ride, run or walk away from dangerous traffic surrounding the popular Crescent City Park.
           (A broad sidewalk, .9 miles  will be built along Zachary Taylor Dr. for pedestrian traffic. There is no room for a parallel paved path along Zachary Taylor Dr.  but traffic is mostly light along the lane and should not present a hazard for cyclists using it.)
           The project will cost a little north of $900,000.  No completion date was announced.

Some of this greenery will have to be chopped to make room for a new, wide sidewalk on Zachary Taylor Dr. in City Park New Orleans.

           A paved path threading through the stately live oak grove flanking the busy roadway will be greatly appreciated by cyclists and pedestrians.
           The long-awaited  expansion to the park's sculpture garden has just opened to rave reviews and it appears that the new Children's Museum, across the street, will open on schedule later this summer (2019).
          Remember the City Park streetcar ends at the main entrance to City Park at Lelong Ave.  There is a Blue Bike (bike share) rack at the streetcar terminus and at the Casino Building soon to open as a coffee shop this summer (2019).


Monday, July 23, 2018

Jeff Parish Lake Pontchartrain Bike Path "Slips Up"

          If for you bicycling the nearly 10-mile long bike path along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish is an infrequent pleasure you may not be aware of a slick spot at the Causeway underpass that has suddenly developed.   A small leak in the levee (city side) is keeping a short patch of the levee service road/bike path constantly wet near the bottom of the levee at a sharp turn there.
             Not only would a wet spot in a turn at the bottom of a steep, short decline be a problem all by itself,  this being summer in south Louisiana, a thin carpet of slippery, hard to see algae is growing in the damp patch.   Riders barreling down the levee trying to squeeze every mile an hour they can with the rare opportunity of riding downhill,  have hit that slick patch at 20-25 mph or better and gone down.  One rider I spoke to said this is not speculation: she saw it happen once.
          Where the bike path turns away from the lake and crosses the levee to go under the Causeway is dangerous when dry.  At the bottom of the steep incline are sharp turns.  Gravel collects in those turns and riders risk a spill when trying to make the turn at speed. An unexpected patch of slippery algae on the road/path adds considerably to the risk.
           Most of where we ride in New Orleans is flat as a pancake.  It is hard to pass up a chance to tempt fate by risking a few speedy seconds zooming downhill to have a rare "here, hold my beer while I do this," experience.
          But try.

Wisner Overpass Bikepath Open

Looking northbound from De Saix Ave.

            When the new Wisner Avenue Bridge over I-610 and the CN railroad tracks opened last fall only four narrow traffic lanes-- two in each direction--opened.  The bike path, separated from the traffic lanes by a thick concrete wall, remained closed.  It looked like the path designers forgot to connect it with any other path or sidewalk.  To the south the bridge path just stopped, dumping cyclists and pedestrians in the grass.  The north end was close to a service road but the 10-12 foot gap was not paved.
            Now, ten months later, the path on the bridge is open and connected to the existing Wisner Ave. path at the north end and the Festival Park service loop in City Park at the south end. Soon work will be complete on the path connecting De Saix Ave. and Esplanade Ave.  This will complete a River to the Lake Route (Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain) route comprised of a mix of bike routes separate from traffic, Wisner Avenue Path) painted bike lanes on streets (Nashville Ave.) and suburban streets with light traffic signed as bike lanes, Moss Ave.
           So just how do cyclists and pedestrians navigate the newly open overpass now?  Heading south on the Wisner path along Bayou St. John, cross Harrison Ave.  Veer to the right to cross the bridge using the path and keep going south.  Both northbound and southbound bike/ped traffic uses the 12-foot bike line.
          If approaching the overpass from the south-- Carrollton Ave., or Moss St. or City Park-- you will not be able to use the stretch of new path connecting De Saix Ave. and Esplanade Ave. because the intersection at Esplanade intersection is not yet finished.  (Maybe in a month or so.)  You will have to detour through City Park.  Keeping Wisner Blvd. in sight, take the path along the eastern side of Big Lake about a 1/4 of a mile and exit at the first opportunity to the north and cross Freidricks Ave.  Right away turn right on to the Festival loop and ride about 100 feet to the spur leading to the right to Wisner Blvd where it intersects with De Saix.  Go up the little incline and wait for the light to change in your favor.  The traffic signals apparently not all installed yet. (none of them can be seen while standing at the end of the spur so be cautious when crossing Wisner to get on the Wisner overpass bike path.
          You will have to be very careful when crossing the intersections.  Both cyclists and drivers will have to figure out who has the right of way, who stops when and where.  This may not be immediately apparent to first time users.
           This brings up a safety issue.  Remember that cyclists coasting on the down strokes of the bridge can easily reach 25 miles per hour coasting.  While on the overpass be very aware of all other users both in front or behind you.  Also remember many users are going to be unaware of your presence because their hearing is blocked because they are wearing headphones.
            Freidricks Ave. (where that snotty little private school is in City Park) connects with Wisner Blvd. but does not cross to connect with the bike path.  A ramp has not be cut into the curb allowing easy access.  That "S" turn on Wisner Ave. is a very dangerous place to be on a bicycle anyway.  Bumpy.  Narrow.  Short sightlines.  Curbs and no shoulders.  Heavy traffic.  This is not a place to have to fiddle with having to get off a bicycle to jump a curb to get out of a busy street.

Wisner overpass bike path looking southbound


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A brief review of outdoor, plans, projects and policies begun or finished in 2017

         Before 2018 disappears completely below the horizon of time, let's take a look at the many plans, projects and policies attracting attention of the year just past.  When reviewed altogether 2017 was a bountiful year for lovers of the outdoors in the New Orleans area.

Wisner Avenue Bridge and bicycle side path over I-610  ( The Wisner Overpass)

          The long-awaited opening of the Wisner Avenue Bridge and its much ballyhooed 12-foot wide bicycle side path in the fall of 2017 came and went with only the traffic lanes opening.  The 12-foot wide bike/ped side path, separated from bridge's narrow car traffic lanes by a thick, concrete wall, did not connect to any path at either its northbound or southbound entrances rendering it a path to nowhere.  The day the traffic lanes of the overpass opened, police barricades closed the bike/ped path.
          Construction has begun on  an off-street, paved path along Bayou St. John, replacing a sidewalk there that will connect the bike/ped overpass with the Esplanade Ave./ Wisner Avenue traffic circle.  Access to the two paved loops in City Park; Big Lake and Festival grounds will be via a spur at De Saix Ave.
          When completed sometime in late winter or early spring (2018) the path will provide an off-street bicycle path from the junction of City Park Ave. and the beginning of Wisner Ave. to Robert E. Lee Blvd. just a few blocks south of Lake Pontchartrain.
            For decades cyclists have made the transit from uptown New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain using the narrow roads with normally light traffic that wind through City Park.  However an increase in visitor traffic and construction of the new Children's Museum and expansion of the Sculpture Garden in the park have increased the traffic on park roads shared with cyclists.  The opening of the path at the edge of City Park will be a welcome coincidence.
           Cyclists who do not want to ride in City Park in the street have two loop trails to ride; the .7 mile long Big Lake Trail and the slightly longer trail around the festival grounds.  They do connect with each other and when construction is complete on the connecting trails to the bridge, the festival trail will connect to the Wisner Trail at the intersection of Wisner Blvd. and De Saix.

New Orleans Bike Share program "Blue Bike" launches

              A program to provide 70 bicycle racks stocked with 700 bicycles that can be rented, ridden one-way and left at a bike rack at the destination, is now underway in New Orleans.  December of 2017 and January of 2018 saw most of the bike stations built and stocked with bikes ready to use.  The stations are largely in the Central Business District, French Quarter, Treme, Marigny, Treme and downriver of Jackson Ave. uptown.  There are seven stations on Esplanade Ave. and two in City Park.
          Tagged "Blue Bike" by sponsors; New Orleans City Hall, Social Bicycles (the company making the bicycles used) and lead sponsor Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, is expected to fill in that gap transportation planners call "that last mile"  when major public transportation such as buses or streetcars drop transit riders off about a mile from their destination.
          All transactions to reserve and pay for the rental (fees vary depending on income) take place using an app on a smartphone or laptop.  Everything is "self-serve."
          Bad weather in the New Orleans area--record freezing temperatures--have probably dampened enthusiasm for bicycling riding just a "Blue Bike" was ramping up.  But as the weather warms and the program catches on it is expected to make money.  The program will not costs the City of New Orleans--financing comes from Social Bicycles and Blue Cross as well as from bike rentals.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Wisner Bike Path extension begins

      Construction on the Wisner Bike/Pedestrian path extension running south along Wisner Blvd. and Bayou St. John from the Wisner Overpass to Esplanade Ave. began in November.  This picture is of the path just east of Big Lake in City Park in New Orleans, LA.
       The concrete path will be constructed in two phases.  The first phase is from Esplanade Ave. north to De Saix Ave. under construction now.  The second phase is a short stretch linking De Saix Ave. with the south end of the bike/pedestrian path on the recently completed Wisner Overpass.  The overpass arcs over a railroad track and I-610.  There has been a highway overpass in that location since the 1930s.
        The two phases are expected to be completed in late winter or early spring of 2018 providing a separate bike/ped paved path from Robert E. Lee Blvd. south to City Park Ave.   Tthe new path will be another step in establishing a continuous bicycle/pedestrian path from the Mississippi River Uptown New Orleans to Lake Pontchartrain at Spanish Fort.
          Cyclist have been riding from Uptown to Lake Pontchartrain for decades using existing streets through neighborhoods and the roads in City Park to detour around the previous Wisner Overpass which was narrow and had no bicycle lanes.
           The route now is a mix of separate paved bike lanes, striped bike lanes and directional signs.
          When construction finishes on the relocation of the Children's Museum to City Park, traffic on the narrow park roads will increase, making the Wisner Path--crossing two busy intersections  controlled by traffic signals--look like the safer route.

Marconi Bike/Ped Path

          This fall, a one-mile bike/ped path was built from Harrison Ave. north to Robert E. Lee Blvd. along Marconi Blvd. in City Park.   The 10-foot wide concrete path connects with an older path in the park along Robert E. Lee Blvd. from Marconi Ave. to Wisner Blvd.
         Marconi Blvd. becomes dangerous for cycling south of Harrison Ave. as the narrow four-lane with no shoulders is the only access to several soccer fields and the City Park tennis courts.  To detour around this hazardous stretch turn into the park using the painted bike lane along Harrison Ave.

One mile bicycle and pedestrian path along Marconi Blvd. at new fishing pier in City Park.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bike/ped paths to Wisner overpass coming in 2018

          Bicyclists and pedestrians will be able to use the bike/ped lane on the recently completed Wisner overpass when bike paths connecting the bridge path to existing paths north and south of the span are built, Cheryn Robles, community outreach manager at the City of New Orleans Department of Public Works said recently in an email.
            A ribbon cutting ceremony attended by a number of officials representing New Orleans and the Louisiana Department of Transportation opened the traffic lanes of the 1,800-foot-long bridge with a ribbon cutting ceremony in late September.  The lane for bicycle/pedestrian traffic was blocked by police barricades. 
            The path connecting the south end of the overpass path will be built in two phases.  Construction of phase I, from the end of the overpass to the intersection of DeSaix Avenue and Wisner Boulevard, will begin in November.  Phase II, connecting that intersection with Esplanade Avenue near the entrance to City Park with an eight-foot-wide paved path on the west side of Bayou St. John, will follow.  There is a sidewalk there now.
            Robles said the paths will be finished by spring of 2018.  The path will also connect with an existing spur from the paved Festival Grounds service loop/bike/ped path in City Park to Wisner Boulevard.
          The north entrance to the overpass path is a short distance from the southern terminus of the Wisner Bike Path which runs along the westbank of Bayou St. John to Robert E. Lee Boulevard and stops.
          Robles said each segment is part of a lake to river path that will connect Lake Pontchartrain with the Mississippi River uptown.