Citizens of Louisiana have much to be thankful for this holiday season. Even though South Louisiana has suffered great loss at the hands of the storms last year, Louisiana has earned the chance to turn these tragedies into opportunities that will yield great gain in the years to come.
For the first time ever, we have at our disposal the world's most talented long-range regional and neighborhood planners to help us plan the best possible future for our state and our descendents. Such planning can enable progress that Louisiana has never experienced.
Louisiana Speaks, the long-range community planning initiative of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, thanks the team of planners who are working tirelessly and often without thanks to help us rebuild safer, smarter and stronger. We would also like to thank the "champions" of this effort who have been charged with spreading the word about the important work that's being done and who are seeking to build consensus to help ensure that these plans will become Louisiana's reality.
Transportation and Land Use
The Louisiana Public Broadcasting TV Network hosted an informative "Louisiana Public Square" program focusing on transportation and land use last week. In case you missed it, you can view the program in streaming video by visiting www.louisianaspeaks.org. It is available here in the "What's New" box via streaming video, pod cast or transcript formats. You may also send us your comments on this program and to tell us what you think about transportation and land use.
The program was taped with a live studio audience including Louisiana residents who are concerned about transportation and land use issues while rebuilding South Louisiana. The studio audience posed questions on these subjects to a panel of experts and state leaders. The panelists were Andy Kopplin, Executive Director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority; Cedric Grant, Deputy Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development; Peter Calthorpe, principal of Calthorpe Associates and lead planner to Louisiana Speaks; and Walter Brooks, Executive Director of the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission.
The issues of transportation and land use are important ones to consider. In January, the citizens of Louisiana will have the opportunity to consider and vote on outcomes for rebuilding the southern region of the state. The proposed outcomes will be offered as the result of a spate of public meetings held to collect data on what citizens want their areas to become. This data is being incorporated into a sophisticated forecasting exercise that will give us a clearer understanding of how the rebuilding choices we make now will impact our futures. At the end of the planning stage, the future of Louisiana's rebuilding effort will be in the hands of Louisianans who cast votes in January on how they want their areas to be rebuilt.
The following is a summary of the "Louisiana Public Square," focusing on transportation and land use:
The Problem Traffic
The majority of Americans (60%) live in the suburbs. This means that most Americans depend on their automobiles to move in and around their communities. History has shown that building bigger roads leads to generating more traffic. Traffic congestion was a problem in parts of South Louisiana before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In a post-Katrina/Rita Louisiana, the problem has been exacerbated, not only in areas that received hurricane damage, but also in areas that have experienced a population spike due to displaced hurricane evacuees. It has become a regional problem but one that can be remedied by regional planning.
The LA Swift bus service that has shuttled evacuees between Baton Rouge and New Orleans after Katrina has been helpful. The buses have enabled people to travel to and from their jobs, and/or damaged homes without adding more cars to I-10. The LA Swift bus service has been used by 900 to 1,000 riders each day totaling about 213,000 LA Swift riders in the past year. While this service has been helpful for many, it is a short term solution to the problem. The FEMA funding that has made that service available for the past year was due to expire on December 1, 2006, but was recently extended by 90 days to end March 1, 2007.
There has been talk about a permanent passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The success of the LA Swift bus service has paved the way for serious discussion about shifting from personal transportation choices to public transportation choices. However, there are alternate uses for the same funds that would be used for the passenger rail service. All options are being considered. The LRA Board has already allocated much of its community development block grant (CDBG) money for infrastructure repair and replacement, and energy rate relief. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has requested that the LRA partially fund the project's capital improvement costs and its first three years of operations out of the remaining CDBG infrastructure funds.
In January, the Louisiana Speaks planning team will identify permanent solutions for the problems of highway and surface road congestion in South Louisiana by offering rebuilding outcomes that combine smart land use and transportation alternatives.
The ongoing development of sprawling communities will ensure that we will continue to depend on personal transportation to get around, perpetuating the same traffic congestion problems. To combat this outcome, the long-range regional planning team will offer rebuilding options in January that focus on rebuilding the region's communities in a way that allows more pedestrian mobility. The heart of smart land use is to enhance the overall quality of life by developing truly pedestrian communities. We only have a finite amount of money so must make wise decisions with it. Do we want to use that money to build bigger roads, only to have to build even bigger ones in the future? Or, do we want to build pedestrian-friendly communities that give people transportation options? New Orleans in particular is already well poised for less dependence on personal transportation. The Street Car line is popular and efficient because the Street Car line is reliable and services walkable neighborhoods. The best LA Swift bus system and the best light rail system in the world won't help our problem if, once a passenger arrives at a destination, he or she is stranded at a bus or train depot. The rebuilding options that will be offered in January will address the issue of redesigning communities to be more pedestrian and Louisiana's citizens will be able to make their choices.
"Louisiana Speaks will put these issues, and others, on the table for everyone to consider, and that's a great thing. Louisiana's citizens will have the opportunity to choose which outcomes they prefer, and that's an even greater thing," said Walter J. Leger Jr., LRA Board Member.
The idea for building pedestrian communities is not new. Traditionally, it's what we've always built in America. Early on, we built villages, which became towns, which became pedestrian cities. The subdivisions and shopping malls came along much later and cut out the need for visiting the village center or downtown and created the need for personal transportation to reach daily destinations.
The Louisiana Speaks process is a massive regional recovery and future growth plan the likes of which have never been seen. Louisiana's state and local leaders are collaborating as never before to improve the health of all of South Louisiana's interconnected towns and cities with this regional plan for rebuilding. This plan calls for improving both land use and transportation, within and between all municipalities.
To view the work that Louisiana Speaks has done so far, visit www.louisianaspeaks.org Please stay engaged in this process so that in January, you will be able to cast your vote for the solutions for transportation, land use and other issues that you think are best for rebuilding South Louisiana.
Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.