Coming Out for the Streetcar to Poland

From left: Vann Joines of the Bywater Neighborhood Association, Rachel Heligman of Transport for NOLA, and Councilmember Palmer

Yesterday, residents gathered in the neutral ground of St. Claude Avenue in the middle of the afternoon, braving the traffic, the rain and the South Louisiana spring heat. They came from the neighborhoods flanking the thoroughfare—Bywater, Bunny Friends, Upper Ninth, and more. They gathered in the street to make their voices heard, to connect with one another, and to meet with leaders and advocates like Councilmember Kristen Giselson Palmer and Transport for NOLA.

The crowd wants the new St. Claude streetcar extended to Poland Avenue. Over the past week, Neighborland has supported Transport for NOLA in an effort to demonstrate and quantify community support for the idea. We received over 2,250 signatures for an online petition, distributed thousands of petition stickers in neighborhood businesses , and helped craft mobile walls  to reach the many area residents that don’t use online media regularly.

The response on the street was overwhelming, and very enlightening. Consistently, residents wanted not only to show their support, but talk about why the project is important to them. Their motivations were as diverse as their demographics. Some people chose to talk about economic development, new jobs, and new residents for the underutilized area. Others care most about sustainability, and building a network of cleaner transportation. Many people spoke most passionately about justice–about  reversing decades of neglect weathered by neighborhood residents. And of course, lots of folks just want to be able to get to the CBD and back without the expense and hassle of a car.

Despite different motivations, the people of the St. Claude Avenue neighborhoods have coalesced around this issue. When asked to contribute their voice to the chorus, most were happy to do so, and wanted to know how else they could help. That’s why yesterdays event was so important. Transport for NOLA and Councilmember Palmer are key advocates connecting regular people to those who can more directly influence the future of their neighborhoods. After mobilizing the community to strengthen the RTA’s application for federal funds, these advocates can reconnect when another window of opportunity opens–say, when making phone calls to Louisiana’s congressional delegation will influence which issues on which they focus their limited time and resources.

We want to say thank you to all of the residents that contributed to the cause, including those that came before us. This is not the first campaign to secure investment in transit for the area, and many folks have worked tirelessly for years advocating for this cause. But this is not the end of the campaign, either. We’ll stay tuned to Transport for NOLA and Councilmember Palmer to learn how we can make a difference in the future.