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April 18, 2014

Connecting the 9 in New Orleans


On a recent Saturday, the Sierra Club joined up with community allies in New Orleans to host a recreational outing, the Connect the 9 Community Bike Ride, to advocate for better pedestrian and bicycle connections between the Lower Ninth Ward and the rest of the city.


Participants benefitted from exercising outdoors and sharing in an urban learning experience. Sponsoring the event with the Club were Global Green USA, the Green Project, Bike Easy, and the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED).


"Our goal was to increase awareness about the barrier the St. Claude Avenue Bridge poses to pedestrians and bike riders going from the Lower Ninth Ward to the Bywater neighborhood and the rest of the city of New Orleans," says Darryl Malek-Wiley (at right, below), a Sierra Club organizer based in the Crescent City. "The bridge needs safety improvements and a separate, protected lane for pedestrians and cyclists."


New Orleans' Industrial Canal, which runs 5.5 miles from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain, has only three bridges crossing it. The St. Claude Bridge, built in 1919, is the only one that's low-rise. It's also the closest bridge to the river and the Bywater, where jobs for people living in the Lower Ninth Ward are located.

St.-Claude-BridgeSt. Claude Avenue Bridge. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

"This was both an educational event and a celebratory bike ride," says Malek-Wiley. "We just learned that the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission has committed $45,000 to study the feasibility of adding an extra lane to the bridge for bikes and pedestrians."


A mix of Sierra Club members and residents of the Bywater and the Lower Ninth Ward took part in the ride, which started at the Green Project in the Bywater, crossed the St. Claude Avenue Bridge to the Lower Ninth Ward, stopped on the levee at Deslonde, and wrapped up at Bayou Bienvenue.


The Green Project, known for its building materials warehouse store that diverts usable materials from landfills and puts them back into circulation in the community, teaches and encourages good environmental stewardship and mindful use of resources.


Bayou Bienvenue, below, is a 12-mile-long bayou that runs along the border between Orleans Parish and St. Bernard Parish to the east of New Orleans. Restoring the bayou has been a long-term project of the Sierra Club and the local community ever since Hurricane Katrina.


"After Katrina, community members decided they wanted to make their neighborhoods sustainable, and that doesn't just mean greener," says Malek-Wiley. "It also means restoring natural areas like the cypress-tupelo wooded swamp in Bayou Bienvenue, which is within the city limits in the Lower Ninth Ward."

Bayou-BienvenueBayou Bienvenue. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This year's Connect the 9 event is the second annual bike ride bringing together Sierra Club members with residents of the Bywater and the Lower Ninth to connect with nearby nature. "We bike to natural areas within the city and see projects like Global Green, which features new homes with solar panels and high energy efficiency," Malek-Wiley says.


The Global Green houses are an example of how to take the traditional New Orleans shotgun house, with rooms arranged one behind the other, good cross-ventilation from windows, and doors at either end of the house, and make a 21st -century version of that housing type.


After crossing the St. Claude Bridge, riders stopped atop the Mississippi River levee at Deslonde before touring areas of the Lower Ninth Ward most heavily affected by Katrina. Close to the river, on the higher ground, more houses survived the storm; further away from the river, more houses were destroyed. "It's counter-intuitive to people from the rest of the country, where you go down to the river," Malek-Wiley says. "In south Louisiana, you walk up the levee to get to the river."


The ride ended at the Bayou Bienvenue observation center, where CSED and the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition recently erected informational signs outlining the importance of the cypress-tupelo forest that has been destroyed by saltwater intrusion.


"In many ways this was really a traditional Sierra Club outing," says Malek-Wiley. "We took people to see beautiful places, but we also exposed them to problems and things they might not have seen there, so they'll be motivated to work to protect these areas. Bayou Bienvenue should be a showcase about restoring the Gulf Coast."


All photos by Andy Zellinger, except where otherwise noted.

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