75-Mile Network in 2 Years: New Orleans’s Big Jump or Leap of Faith?
Inspired by the Spanish city of Sevilla, which has written one of the great cycling success stories of the 21st Century to date, in early 2019 the City of New Orleans committed to the audacious goal of building a 75-mile network of protected bike lanes and bike boulevards in two years. New Orleans was also motivated by the availability of funding from the appropriately named Big Jump project of PeopleForBikes (PfB), an industry organization that had secured significant private funding to support the trial of transformative investments in protected bikeways in several U.S. cities. PfB hired Toole Design to work with the City to develop a citywide bikeway network plan, identify priority corridors for rapid implementation, and advance designs for construction.
Although the City wasn’t starting from scratch in addressing the needs of people on bikes, they did not have a preconceived network plan and only limited experience implementing this kind of infrastructure. The Toole Design team sat down with City staff, Bike Easy – the local bike advocacy organization, Connect the Crescent and other community groups, to establish set of principles on which to plan and prioritize a bikeway network in the City. The City needed a network of low stress, connected, useful bikeways that served underinvested neighborhoods and could be implemented in a timely fashion.
Based on these foundational principles, Toole Design identified a network of more than 550 miles that included 285 miles of protected bike lanes. “The challenge,” said Project Manager Adam Wood, “was then to prioritize 75 miles of projects within that network that made meaningful connections from the get-go, and could be implemented right away…because everyone was focused on the two-year deadline.”
Equity was a key driver of the prioritization process. “We wanted the network to benefit underserved populations,” explained Senior Planner Trung Vo. “We created a Bicycle Equity Index (BEI) to identify neighborhoods with above average densities of people of color, populations in poverty, zero-car households, and households with people under the age of 18 and over the age of 65. The Algiers neighborhood – one of the oldest in the City – had a high BEI score…and an enthusiastic local council member, Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, who was able to help the City advance projects to construction quickly as a result of her connections to the community.”
Wood also credits Jennifer Ruley and the City with having effective and well-established community connections. “City staff were able to engage with neighborhood groups and a representative cross-section of the community who saw the projects as being beneficial to everyone, including by providing easier access to jobs. The Mayor’s Neighborhood Engagement Office and the active involvement of City Council members’ district staff made all the difference.”
Both Wood and Vo have also been impressed with the willingness of City engineering staff to explore creative options to solve intersection design issues to help facilitate bicyclist crossings. This constructive attitude helps explain how the City has gone from no bike plan to several installed projects that are part of a network in just over a year…with more in the pipeline.
The rapid planning, design, and implementation process is built on a foundation of network planning, strong community outreach, a bikeway design guide tailored to rapid-build projects, and a collaborative process for developing corridor scoping reports that speed projects from concept to approved designs. Toole Design has done everything possible to ensure the rapid pace of the project has not affected the quality of the work. Last month, Wood and Vo were recognized with an internal “Project of the Year” award for their role in the New Orleans Big Jump project, based in part on the rigorous quality assurance and quality control processes they established at the outset. And, with a few months to go before the initial two-year deadline is up, they are excited to be part of a project that is demonstrating that cities can make meaningful changes quickly and relatively cheaply – and that a big jump need not be a leap of faith.
Making Effective Connections in Beverly Hills
A full suite of virtual engagement techniques implemented by Toole Design, including this inviting opening video, is informing Connect Beverly Hills: Meet Me on Wilshire & La Cienega, a streetscape plan for the heart of the City of Beverly Hills, CA. The video invites people to engage with the project, helping stakeholders and city staff collaborate on the streetscaping plan and the development of a Mobility Hub along the two corridors — which are getting new Metro Purple Line stations that are currently under construction.
Virtual engagement has been critical during the pandemic to ensure that the project meets community needs, and multiple online activities with a variety of time commitments and topic areas allow stakeholders to share their feedback in multiple ways. In addition to the video, ongoing engagement options have included participating in a virtual walk audit of the project area, completing a design preferences survey, and leaving comments in an interactive map. Toole Design also hosted two virtual charrettes and multiple stakeholder interviews. During the first virtual charrette in June, the design team gathered fascinating insights into the way people perceive Wilshire and La Cienega today as well as how they imagine them in the future. The project team comprising the City, Toole Design, RIOS and CARS (Community Arts Resources) captured this input to inform the second charrette, focused on design, that happened the week of October 14. Presentations and recordings of the charrettes, as well as additional project information, are online at connect.beverlyhills.org.
We’re Hiring an Office Director in Los Angeles…and more
Toole Design is hiring an office director in Los Angeles, CA. This is an exciting opportunity to manage a dynamic staff in a rapidly growing market for Toole Design, following the departure of Nat Gale to become the Director of Operations for the City of Hartford, CT. Also coming soon, Planner and Designer positions in our Oakland, CA office. We still have positions open for engineers and planners in Austin, TX and are seeking a Compliance and Contracts Operations Specialist in either our Madison, WI; Portland, OR; or Silver Spring, MD offices. Please keep checking our careers page for details of these and additional openings.
Bill Schultheiss, PE, Vice President and Director of Sustainable Safety shared a global perspective on Vision Zero as part of a Safe Mobility Live Stream event for the City of Edmonton on October 14th. The event also reported out the crash and equity analyses completed as part of the City’s proposed Safe Mobility Strategy and captured the lived experiences Edmontonians shared during outreach phase of the plan.
Congratulations to Blake Loudermilk, PE, Director of Engineering, Southeastern U.S., for local recognition of his leadership skills and potential. He was named to the inaugural class of Spartanburg’s Forty Under 40 by Spartanburg Young Professionals, OneSpartanburg Inc., and the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.
Barbara Mosier, PE, PTOE, Director of Traffic Engineering, Mid-Atlantic presented Designing for Safety: Vision Zero and Development Review to the Vision Zero Cities conference last week. The recording is available for a single session fee of $10. We are still awaiting details of how to access Andy Clarke’s breathless 30-minute presentation of the FHWA Bikeway Selection Guide at the Texas Trails and Active Transportation conference, and the contributions of Mariel Colman and Sally Sharrow to the Ohio Transportation Engineering Conference on intersection design and pedestrian crossing safety respectively.
Coming in November: Jennifer Toole, AICP is the featured guest on the ITE Talks Transportation podcast, scheduled to air on Tuesday, November 17th. Jennifer discusses everything from starting a company to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion issues, and Complete Streets.