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Bart Everson: Fixing a puddle

A puddle grows in Mid-City

Any time it rains, there’s a puddle that forms on the Jeff Davis bike path, right at the foot of the overpass where it vaults the I-10.

A puddle is not the biggest problem in our city, for sure. But this puddle is deep and large, encompassing the whole width of the path, impeding cyclists and especially pedestrians. I’ve seen people lay down planks or risk life and limb scaling the railings to get around it.

December 2007: After a rain water always pools right here, posing a bit of an obstacle for pedestrians who want to keep their socks dry.

Once the puddle forms, it tends to stay for days, until all the water evaporates. Improper drainage in New Orleans — who’d have thought?

It’s become such a fixture of my daily commute that I call it the “perpetual puddle.”

Everybody complains about subsidence, but nobody does anything about it

It wasn’t always thus. When the path was first built, water ran off easily. But as we all know, New Orleans is slowly sinking. It’s called subsidence, and the bike path in the neutral ground of Jeff Davis Parkway offers a textbook illustration.

Much of the path is actually the top of a box culvert, an underground drainage canal, which was built in the 1970s.

Over the last four decades, the land on the parkway has slowly subsided, while the culvert has stayed at the same level. You can see the difference clearly, especially after a rain.

Photo by Bart Everson.

The same thing is happening all around the city. Some neighborhoods are sinking more than an inch per year, we’re all at risk. When the waters start rising, every inch makes a difference.

One major cause of this sinking is: us. Humans. That’s right, I’m talking about anthropogenic subsidence. Blame our levees and our pumps. We drained the swamp (insert snide Trump reference if you must) by pumping out water a hundred years ago, and we continue to pump out the water to stay dry today. Sometimes it doesn’t work as well as we’d like! One side effect of all this pumping is that the land below us gets wrung out, like a sponge. It shrinks — we sink.

These facts are well known but still bear repeating. This is why we’re seeing more “pervious” parking lots, which allow for rain to penetrate straight down and replenish the water table, rather than running off to the side and being pumped away; you can find examples at either end of the parkway, at Xavier in Gert Town or Parkway Bakery in Mid-City. Other solutions include bioswales and retention ponds which can be found along the Lafitte Greenway.

For whatever reason, the portion of the bike path that connects to the overpass has sunk too, as becomes obvious after any significant rainfall.

That brings us back to the puddle.

BikePed matters

If you drive over this bridge, you may not even notice the puddle. But pedestrians notice it.

Aside from the occasional jogger, no one’s walking across this bridge for fun. The people walking over the bridge tend to include some of our most vulnerable citizens, people who don’t have cars and are just trying to get where they need to go. They may be disabled, young, elderly, and most likely poor.

April 2012: See what problems the standing water causes? After a rain this area is always trouble to cross. I followed this young man’s example a few seconds later.

It often seems we don’t do right by our poorest citizens. By extension, we don’t do right by pedestrians, because we (as a society) seem to hold the poor in contempt. In this city, as in so much of the country, class is inextricably entangled with race.

So there you have it. This puddle is racist! Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous on the face of it, but hopefully we can share a laugh while taking the issue seriously. This is what structural inequity looks like. Bicycle and pedestrian safety is a matter of social justice.

Furthermore, it worries me when things break and aren’t fixed. We see it all the time in New Orleans, and it’s demoralizing. Decay and dysfunction are so prevalent, in fact, that many of us become resigned pessimists without even realizing it. We internalize the crumbling brokenness; we shrug and say “What do you expect?”

I’ve seen the City make several efforts to fix the perpetual puddle. Each time, I confess I was surprised they were trying at all. My expectations are low, and that’s kind of sad. However, so far these measures have failed to resolve the problem.

The fix is in

That’s why I was heartened to learn that the City is aiming at a more permanent fix of the perpetual puddle quite soon.

You may have noticed recent work being done on the bridge. A contractor named Battco cleaned it up, pressure-washing the drainage outlets and painting the railings. They also put in a dozen new lights.

The next step is “subsidence repair.” I recently spoke to Dani Galloway, Director of Public Works, to learn more about what this might entail. When I mentioned the perpetual puddle, she knew just what I was talking about — because she’s encountered it while riding her bike.

Be still, my heart! Many times I’ve ridden my bicycle through New Orleans and wished that more city workers (to say nothing of elected officials) were out here riding with me, so they could get a taste of the challenges and opportunities we face.

Ms. Galloway says the City is preparing to tear up about 60′ of bike path, the reinforce and rebuild it it in such a way that the puddle no longer forms.

This work is supposed to take about five or six days and be done by June, at a cost of $10,000. It seems like a wise investment to me. Keep your eyes open for it.

A glimmer of hope flutters in my breast.

Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband, a father and a resident of Mid-City. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Greenway, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle. More at BartEverson.com.

3 thoughts on “Bart Everson: Fixing a puddle

  1. I ride the path several times a week and know this puddle well. However I’d gladly risk dealing with it than endure one of the city’s “fixes.” They say 5 or 6 days, but I’d bet they close this sucker down for a few months while the change orders roll in.

    Just look at what’s happening with the wisner path – going on what 6 months for a glorified sidewalk and still nowhere near finished!

  2. “Bicycle and pedestrian safety is a matter of social justice.”
    I’ve never articulated this idea so well as you have, but I recognize an obvious truth when I read it.
    Thank you for reporting this story. I was despairing halfway through it. But then – the hope of a happy ending to one wrong thing.
    If nothing else ever changes in New Orleans, I’d be satisfied with the city’s correcting all the broken or absent walkways and bike paths.

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