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.

Friday, September 29, 2017

New Wisner Bridge open to cars but not bicycles and pedestrians

The new bicycle/pedestrian path on the Wisner overpass looking north lake bound.  The bridge bike path is closed until the approaches to it from the north and south can be constructed.  In this picture the bridge path ends abruptly in loose gravel.  To use the path the police barricade had to be pushed aside.
           A brief ribbon cutting ceremony held under cloudless blue skies opened the new Wisner Avenue overpass in New Orleans to car traffic about noon, September 29, 2017.  Gracefully arching over a busy I-610, the concrete structure supports four traffic lanes, 12-feet wide--two in each direction--and a bicycle/pedestrian path.  City officials praised the bridge, at the eastern edge of City Park overlooking Bayou St. John and how the 12-foot wide bicycle pedestrian path brings the city's diverse neighborhoods closer--both physically and emotionally. 
            One official pronounced that having cars, bicyclists and pedestrians together on one structure is an example of "multimode transportation"-- a glimpse into the bright transportation future in store for the Crescent City.
             But at the same time as all the speechmaking, police barricades at the north and south entrances of the bridge path blocked use by the very cyclists and pedestrians the path, with its squat, gray concrete wall separating the bike lane from the traffic lanes, is intended to benefit.  In fact, would-be users of the much ballyhooed path are likely to see it off-limits to them well into next year at least.
             The problem is that while the path on the bridge is finished, approaches attaching the bridge path to any other path, street or intersection that might make it useful to non-motorized traffic needing a way to cross I-610 are yet to be constructed.  A bridge path to nowhere, at least for the time being.
             The north or lake bound entrance to the path is just a few yards from a park road.  A short distance from that road the Wisner bicycle path along Bayou St. John begins. But a stretch of rough gravel separates the road and the bayou path from the bridge path.
              The south or river bound entrance to the bridge dead ends into the deep grass along Wisner Boulevard.  Here integrating the bridge path and any feeder paths that may be built with existing streets built only for motorized traffic faces a number of problems.           
            (The day after the bridge was open to traffic but not the bicycle/ped path a "Road Closed" sign on a barricade was not much of a deterrent for pedestrians, runners, walkers and cyclists who wanted the sample what the new path is like.  Cyclists were also seen on the bridge path but those heading south usually turned around at the dead end before tackling the thick grass at the south end of the bridge path.  Other cyclists just rode in the car traffic lanes when crossing the bridge.)
             What happens next and when it happens depends on who you talk to. The most likely next step is construction of a short path from the south end of the bridge path to the intersection of DeSaix Avenue and Wisner Boulevard.  This could start in November of 2017 and be finished in the late winter or spring of 2018.
            Between DeSaix Avenue to Esplanade Avenue perhaps where the sidewalk between Bayou St. John and Wisner Boulevard is now, a path may be striped or built from scratch.
           The biggest benefit the opening of the bridge but not the bike path will have for cyclists and pedestrians is perhaps unintended.  Zachary Taylor Drive near the Pan American Stadium and heavily used by cyclists to pass north and south through City Park was closed by a construction yard while the former bridge was demolished and the new bridge was built. Now that the $19.5 million bridge is open, riders can again loop under the bridge and readily connect with the start of the Wisner Avenue bike path.  This route is shown in the 2016 New Orleans Bike Map and Guide to Safe Cycling published by BikeEasy and bicycle advocacy non-profit.  The map is free and available at bicycle shops and other outlets.
             With the bike/ped path on the new Wisner overpass bridge closed the bridge is not bicycle and pedestrian friendly and should be avoided by cyclists.  Cycling is permitted on the bridge's traffic lanes but this is risky.  The lanes are only 12-feet wide and a cyclist will take up 2-3 feet of that.  Following drivers will have to veer into the adjoining lane to avoid a crash.  Climbing the upstroke of the bridge a cyclist may only be traveling 15 miles per hour where the speed limit is 40 miles per hour frustrating drivers in a hurry.  There are no shoulders on the bridge or on Wisner Avenue  south of the bridge.  (There is a bike path, remember?)   The safer route to connect Lakeview with Mid-City is to take the route recommended by BikeEasy through the park.
             Speakers at the ribbon cutting asked for patience as the bridge project is completed but as the vehicle part of the bridge is finished and open and the bicycle path is not, it is only non-motorized users of the bridge who must wait for their turn.

View of the south entrance of the bicycle/pedestrian path on the new Wisner overpass bridge, Saturday morning September 30, 2017.  The traffic lanes of the bridge opened Friday, September 29 but the bicycle path did not and is closed to the public until access paths to the bridge can be built.  Those using the bridge to run, walk and bicycle have to move police barricade to gain access to the bridge path.



Saturday, September 9, 2017

Paddlefest (LA) set for October 20-22, 2017

Paddlefest 2017
by Patricia Fontova.

 Paddlefest 2017, the Bayou Haystackers Paddling Club's annual event, is scheduled for October 20-22 at Fontainebleau State Park's Group Camp 3 in Mandeville. This is a great time to meet club members and other paddlers, go on a paddle or two, learn a few things, find out more about the club, and generally "pass a good time".

The venue is a beautiful setting about a half mile east of the main entrance to Fontainebleau State Park that includes a pond perfect for canoe and kayak lessons.

This year some of the activities include paddle trips on Cane Bayou and Bayou Lacombe, intro canoe and kayak lessons, descriptions and suggestions for what to include in your first aid kit, a bike ride on the Tammany Trace, a comparison of tents - what you need for canoe camping vs car camping, and more!

More information and registration for the event are available online at bayouhaystackers.com/paddlefest

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bike path along Lake Pontchartrain in Metairie (LA) open during levee construction


       UPDATE:  Since the post below was written, the road over the levee from Hammond Highway in Bucktown to the lake side of the levee has been paved.  It appears that the only gravel stretches on the path are the two graveled accesses over the levee where the bike path runs under the Causeway.  However construction continues and gates blocking the path to permit construction equipment to be moved could be closed without warning.

       The ten-mile long levee in Metairie (LA) along Lake Pontchartrain is being lifted (raised).  The construction has had only a minor effect on access to the paved path used by cyclists, runners and walkers between the levee and the lake.  The path, actually the maintenance road for the levee, is open from its eastern terminus at Bucktown to the western end at the edge of Kenner as it was before construction began.
          But because all crossings over the levee are now coarse, chunky loose gravel (except for the crossings at the Bonnabel Ave. and Williams Blvd. which are still asphalt) bikers with bikes equipped with skinny tires might want to walk over these stretches.  This is no small sacrifice especially if walking wearing bike shoes with Look-style cleats protruding from the soles.
           Other than the gravel crossing aggravation, the ten mile path is still a nice ride.   The berm between the lake and the levee--a flat, treeless, grassy plain through which the trail runs--looks to be less than 100 yards wide.   (At the Kenner end, the path takes a sharp left turn running along a high concrete levee wall at the back of a subdivision for two miles.  This is normally open to recreational use but the day I rode the path to the end in Kenner a gate closed off this section.)
            There are subdivisions almost the entire way from Bucktown (just across the parish line from New Orleans) to Kenner but they are screened from view by the levee, with only the leafy tops of tall trees and the roofs of the taller houses showing to path users.  To be savored during the ride is the lack of traffic noise, or any noise except for the rush of wind in your ears and the hum of your tires as you spin along feeling surprisingly apart from one of the most congested cluster of people in the state just a few yards away.
As the Lake Pontchartrain bike path crosses over the levee to go under the Causeway, on the levee the path is gravel.  The appears the be the only current stretch of gravel on the 10-mile path but the levees are still under construction and there are several gates along the path that may or may not be open permitting use of the path depending on the construction that day.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Swamp Rat: The Story of Dixie's Nutria Invasion


           Everyone living in Louisiana knows the damage nutria; a non-native rat-like rodent (but not a rat) is doing to the marshes protecting state's coast from storms and hurricanes rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico..  Nutria eat the grasses that hold the marshes together.  Without the grass the marshes wash away leaving only open water; with nothing to dissipate the fury of dangerous storms.
           Nutria have prodigious appetites.  And they are prodigious breeders.  These two traits make nutria well deserving of the tag; the rat that ate Louisiana.
          This is a bad thing, a very bad thing, Theodore G. Manno points out repeatedly in is new book "Swamp Rat: The Story of Dixie's Nutria Invasion," University of Mississippi Press/Jackson, 2017.   The furry rodent from South America with the voracious appetite for native swamp grasses, is largely responsible for a massive loss of land along the Gulf of Mexico-land that protects the populated parts of the Bayou State, many claim.  And all attempts to stop them have failed.
             At least that is the gloomy overview.  But there is so much more to the story of the nutria and how a 15-pound furry rodent with yellow front teeth, surviving only on plant matter became a major concern for the future of Louisiana, and to a lesser extent, the Gulf South.
              Manno fills in the fascinating backstory of how nutria made their way to Louisiana (and at one time 39 other states in the U.S.)  They were invited.
             The trapping, skinning and export of pelts has always been big business in Louisiana.  While nutria were still in South America, their native habitat a huge fad for beaver hats swept Europe beginning in the 1600s.  After almost all beaver in Europe were harvested to make the hats, the supply of beaver began to come from the colonies in North America.  But in the 1830s demand for beaver hats suddenly dropped in favor of hats made from silk.  At the same time over-trapping in North America caused the beaver market to crash.  Nutria began to be imported from South America to shore up the valuable fur market but nutria hats never caught on.  (See Seinfeld episode # 142 for an interesting take on the "rat hat.")
           But the market for fur pelts for clothing, gloves and wraps to sell to the luxury market was still strong.  Nutria fur is nice fur and remained in demand for coats and other fur goods.  But it ws not the favorite of furriers.  Muskrat, of which there were many in Louisiana, became the popular pelt of choice in the early 20th century.  Louisiana was a muskrat Mecca.  All of Canada could produce only 60% of the muskrat pelts that Louisiana did.  Muskrat fur pelts peaked in 1945.  Five years later the fur market in Louisiana was a bust.
          The nutria harvest increased to replace the dwindling muskrat population but the fur harvest just limped along for a decade or two as the fad for wearing fur (unless you were born wearing it) died.
         But not the nutria.  The harvest of nutria by trappers had kept the nutria populations from expanding, despite their prodigious breeding ability.  And while the non-native species had very few natural predators, alligators would eat them.  But by the 1960s alligators had been hunted for their skins to the point there was a fear they might be trapped to extinction.  So with the nutria's two major predators, man and alligators, out of the picture, nutria populations exploded.
          Manno shows how the fortunes of the nutria intertwined with that of other major Louisiana economic foundations such as sugar cane.  He writes with great detail about how and when the nutria came to North America.  (Nutria can be found or have been found in 40 states in the U.S., though are now mostly in 16 states, Europe, the Middle East, South Korea, southern China, India and Japan.)
           A chapter of the book goes into detail about one of the most famous nutria legends:  That all the nutria chewing up the state now are from several nutria pens on Avery Island, LA that were destroyed by a hurricane in the 1930s releasing the hearty herbivores into the wild.  To discover what this nutria expert thinks of this venerable Louisiana tale, buy the book to find out.