#TrickOutMyTrip New Orleans: Planners & neighbors working for better transit

Great minds think alike.

At ioby, we’ve long been proud that much of our resident leaders’ work aligns with their local governments’ high-level priorities, and that many leaders make a point of working directly with their decision-makers to gain consensus and ensure that neighborhood voices are heard.

Right now, lots of exciting urban planning measures are being undertaken in the great city of New Orleans, both by local leaders and municipal and regional planners. Most have many goals in common.

The topic of transit in particular is getting a lot of attention these days, in places like the Regional Planning Commission (RPC) of New Orleans’ Citizen Guide. The RPC highlights the role of community engagement in planning for better transit and public places right in the guide’s introduction: “We want to hear from you. With competing needs and limited funding, our work is most effective with robust public involvement and support.” The guide also states that “RPC strives for a balanced, efficient and sustainable transportation system, one that takes into account the needs of all users, including motorists, transit riders, pedestrians and bicyclists,” and that “RPC’s transportation planning philosophy and process emphasize accessibility, safety, system preservation, livable communities, [and] environmental sustainability.”

Similarly, Resilient New Orleans’ strategy identifies transit as a crucial city system that needs an overhaul, and resolves to “redesign our regional transit systems to connect people, employment, and essential services.” It further asserts that “developing a reliable and comprehensive multimodal transit network will help New Orleans be more resilient, enable low-income families to connect to opportunity, and improve safety and connectivity. This point of entry might seem like a single infrastructure project, but it has the potential to create benefits across sectors.” Resilient NOLA also shouts out “unprecedented resident engagement” in the research and planning efforts of the past decade that have been instrumental in shaping their current strategy.

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Both of these organizations believe that resilience and sustainability begin and end with the citizen, and so do Heidi Schmalbach and her team at Arts Council New Orleans, who are pushing the same regional priorities forward with their Trick Out My Trip project, The Story Shelter on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. The project will hire local high school students to prototype and install a creative bus shelter and crosswalk improvements along Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. “Many people in the immediate neighborhood surrounding the Boulevard are transit-dependent, including a large percentage of elderly citizens and youth,” Heidi says. “People often wait for 30 minutes or more without shade or seating. This dynamic street and neighborhood deserve transportation infrastructure to match. While any bus shelter that provides a shaded place to sit would be an improvement, we will use a participatory process and public art to create a bus shelter that is functional, aesthetically pleasing, and which pays homage to the front-porch culture of our city by encouraging friendly interaction between users—while having a powerful and lasting impact on young people’s’ attitudes towards themselves and their neighborhood.”


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[rendering inspiration via SF Streetsblog]

While Heidi is not currently working directly with PRC or Resilient NOLA, the parallels in their processes and goals are unmissable. For example, the story shelter project reimagines a more comfortable bus stop as an ideal place for neighbors to meet and socialize. This aligns neatly with RPC’s focus on the need for connected community places as well as with Resilient NOLA’s focus on creating hard infrastructure that encourages and supports transit use.

At ioby, we’re always heartened—though not surprised—to see our local leaders thinking along the same visionary lines as their city governments. If you want to join the NOLA transit conversation, visit ioby.org/trip to learn more about this and other Trick Out My Trip projects, volunteer to help, or make a donation to the cause—this week only, we’re matching the first $100 of every donation made, until the cash runs out!