III. NEWCOMB BOULEVARD SHOULD NOT BE SOLD OR CLOSED
Before the Newcomb Boulevard could be sold and converted to a private street, the Planning Commission and City Council would have to find that the street is not needed for public purposes, which they should not do for the following reasons:
A. The Street is Needed for Public Purposes
According to the Urban Systems study, before the closure, the average daily 24 hour traffic count on Newcomb Boulevard was 464 vehicles northbound and 294 southbound. The average daily 24 hour traffic count in the 1990 City study was 921 vehicles when the universities were in session, and 526 when they were not in session. These numbers demonstrate that the street is needed for public purposes.
B. The Closure has made an Already Bad Traffic Situation Worse
According to City Traffic Engineer Allen Yrle, the intersection of St. Charles and Broadway is one of the most congested intersections on St. Charles Avenue and traffic often backs up in all four directions. Those conditions are exacerbated by the current illegal closure of Newcomb at Freret, which has removed an outlet from St. Charles. Thus, the closure and the resulting traffic congestion should not be made permanent. Rather, the street should be reopened.
C. A Sale Would Exacerbate an Already Bad Parking Situation
Parking demand is high in the University neighborhood, and the loss of parking spaces on Newcomb will make this bad situation even worse. The demand for parking has increased since USI did its study in 2004. When Tulane closed McAllister Drive in 2009, 80 parking spaces were lost. Tulane charges as much as $ 650 a year for parking permits and oversells the permits, which encourages its faculty and students to park in the neighborhood. The new Tulane stadium will also generate significant parking demand. The current situation discourages parking on Newcomb Blvd. by limiting access from Freret St., but does not prevent parking. Selling the street would prevent parking and remove all of the currently available public parking spaces on Newcomb Blvd. from the neighborhood inventory. There is clearly a public need for the parking spaces on Newcomb Boulevard, and it would be unfair to area residents to sell the street, which would only further shift the demand for parking to other streets.
D. DPW Denied Previous Requests to Close Newcomb Blvd.
Previous requests from NBA to close the street were rebuffed by DPW as unnecessary and inappropriate. When a closure was requested in 1990, the City Traffic engineers, after a traffic study, refused to recommend closure. Since 1990, the Universities have expanded, and there is more demand for alternative routes and parking demand.
E. Conditions on Newcomb are No Worse Than On Other Streets
The 2004 USI study found that cut through traffic was “normal and not excessive.” Having lost their "cut through traffic" argument, Newcomb residents shifted their argument to claim that there was unsafe speeding on the street. Though the 2004 study did find some speeding, there has been no finding that any speeding on Newcomb is any different from speeding on other area streets. Newcomb has not pointed to a single accident in support of its claim of speeding.
F. Less Draconian Measures Have Not Been Tried
In its 2004 study, USI did not recommend closure of the street as a remedy for complaints of speeding and “cut through” traffic, but instead proposed further study, after which speed bumps and other traffic calming measures could be considered. However, the additional study was never conducted and Newcomb residents refused to consider any alternatives.
G. The Current Fence and Turnaround Pose a Threat to Public Safety
The current fence poses a threat to public safety.The turnaround built near the fence to allow vehicles to turn around and drive back out the St. Charles entrance is clearly deficient, as garbage trucks and other large vehicles have so much difficulty using it that large vehicles have been seen backing down the full length of Newcomb and into St. Charles Ave.
H. Closure is Contrary to Traffic Engineering and Urban Planning Principles
City Traffic Engineers have never found that Newcomb Boulevard has traffic issues which require the street to be closed. Here are some excerpts from the sworn deposition testimony of City traffic engineers:
i. “To close a City street is an extreme measure” ; “I don’t think I ever saw anything [meriting closure] in my tenure as Chief Traffic Engineer” ; “I would have disagreed with it [the closing]”; a fence “would not be something that I would consider as an alternative to speeding” ; I would disagree with closure “unless there was some extremely difficult or high conflict situation . . . high accident situation” Depo Elmer Darwin, former City Traffic Engineer, p 41, 42, 41, 35, 41.
ii. “The integrity of the street grid is important to maintain” Depo Robert Mendoza, former head of DPW, p 90, 89, 67-8.
iii. “we [City Traffic Engineers Darwin and Yrle] have the same viewpoint on things like street closures, and we don’t believe that they should be done at the whim of residents. There should be valid traffic reasons why it should be done.” Depo Allen Yrle, individually, p 16.
I. The Existing Closure and Proposed Sale Violate the Master Plan
According to the Master Plan, New Orleans is “famously a city of neighborhoods,” (Master Plan, Vol.2, p 5.5), and “[s]trategies for neighborhood livability must be comprehensive and integrated.” Master Plan, Vol. 2, p 5.5. Policies and programs should “enhance the physical . . . character and diversity of existing residential neighborhoods.” Master Plan, Vol. 2, p 5.6.
. . . The “public realm” – sidewalks, streets, and public spaces – contribute to the function, safety, and attractiveness of neighborhoods. . . . many New Orleans neighborhoods are outfitted with sidewalks, pedestrian-scale lighting and street trees . . .
Master Plan, Vol. 2, p 5.16.
The entire population of the City of New Orleans has contributed to the upkeep of the public spaces of Newcomb Blvd. for almost a century. Thanks to those contributions, Newcomb Boulevard is one of the smoothest and well-paved streets in the city, with broad and level sidewalks. Many citizens use the street to connect between St. Charles Ave. and Freret St., as a pedestrian route from the St. Charles Streetcar or to Audubon Park,** or to get to and from Tulane and Loyola Universities. The sale of Newcomb Boulevard would be contrary to the Master Plan’s recommendation to “advance projects that enhance connectivity,* reduce barriers, and improve attractiveness of neighborhoods . . . while addressing transportation mobility.” Master Plan, Vol. 3, p 11.23. The sale of Newcomb Blvd would gerrymander the University neighborhood, forcing pedestrians and bicyclists (as well as the motorists already displaced by the illegal fence) to find new routes, segregating Newcomb residents from their neighbors in a suburban style cul de sac, and do nothing to relieve the congestion on St. Charles Avenue and Broadway. The closure of this well-used street is clearly contrary to the Master Plan.
* “With adequate connectivity, traffic flows are evenly dispersed through a network and streets receive the types of traffic that they are designed to handle. If connectivity is restricted to fewer intersections, automobile traffic faces bottlenecks at certain intersections and is concentrated on fewer streets, resulting in congestion and/or larger more complicated intersections and wider streets. Poor connectivity can also encourage out-of-direction travel, which is particularly inconvenient for bicyclists and pedestrians. Emergency incidents, temporary street closures, and evacuation exacerbate congestion in a network that lacks sufficient connectivity.” Master Plan, Volume 3, Chapter 11.3
** Because of Newcomb Blvd.’s proximity to Audubon Park and its broad tree-lined sidewalks, it provides a “safe and comfortable walking route” to Audubon Park, and supports the Master Plan’s policy of promoting “walk-to” parks. Master Plan, Vol. 2, p. 7.20.
J. The Sale of the Street Would be Unprecedented
The sale of a street used by the public as much as Newcomb Boulevard is would be unprecedented. If this street could be sold, why not other streets? The approval of this closure could lead to a rash of street closures, further aggravating traffic and parking congestion. Wealthy citizens would barricade themselves in privileged gated communities, forcing a form of economic segregation on the City. New Orleans would go from being a City known for its urbanist charm, open grid, and lively pedestrian traffic to just another series of hard-to-navigate suburban cul-de-sacs.
The existing closure has reduced the "connectivity" which is a goal of the Master Plan. Selling the street would validate the illegal and unconstitutional closure and permanently shift parking demand and traffic onto other area streets. Our grid system is one of the reasons New Orleans is known as a charming, walkable City. Traffic conditions on Newcomb Boulevard, before it was closed, were not significantly different from those on many streets, and certainly were not significant enough to require that the street be closed. As City Traffic Engineer Allen Yrle testified, streets should not "be closed at the whim of residents." The application to purchase the street should be denied and the fence removed. Free Newcomb Boulevard and give it back to the citizens of New Orleans.
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