Sunday, January 23, 2011

As if to Prove a Point

An ambulance responds in the 2500 block of Palmyra Street earlier this month.

Just one block over on Cleveland Avenue, residents have not had access to emergency services since November.  The block is immediately outside the VA Footprint, but the construction work there is in furtherance of the VA project.  It's hoped that the street, long torn up, will finally permit roadway access for residents in early February.

The lack of emergency services was one of the key drivers for the dozens in attendance at last Wednesday's City Council Committee hearing:

Here's the articulate and comprehensive testimony of one property owner on Cleveland Avenue, outlining all of the issues faced by the people on the periphery...after the break:

Residents, businesses and property owners in the area bounded by S. Rocheblave, S. Broad, Cleveland Ave. and Banks St. have been subjected to numerous public safety hazards and other inconveniences, as a result of the city of New Orleans’ road construction project in their neighborhood. In a recent news report, the mayor’s press secretary referred residents to a company, which holds the construction contract with the city, for any complaints. Please clear up a few questions about this procedure:

• Is the contractor contractually obligated to the city to resolve all of the residents’ concerns?
• Since the contractor does not have any apparent responsibility to the residents, what systems does the city have in place to ensure that the contractor will document and respond positively to remedy residents’ concerns?

• What is the actual mechanism for residents to follow to resolve concerns or issues?
• What is the time frame for resolving residents’ concerns?
• If the contractor does not address or resolve concerns in a timely manner, who should a resident contact?
• As owner of these contracts and as representatives of the citizens of New Orleans, why hasn’t the mayor’s office and the city been interested in documenting and following up on the public safety concerns of the citizens whom they represent?

The City of New Orleans should solicit, document and follow-up on the public safety concerns of the residents in lower Mid-City, in regards to construction work in their neighborhood. The city should demand that their contractors proceed with any public works projects in a manner which provides continued safety for the residents of and visitors to the city. Public safety concerns and other inconveniences include:

• Lack of adequate traffic safety signage
• Workers blocking traffic on open streets
• No pedestrian crosswalks at intersections on S. Rocheblave (slip/fall hazard)
• Questionable air quality
• Increased noise pollution
• Construction debris hazards
• No efficient emergency notification system
• Road closures
• Holes in sidewalks, streets
• Structural damage to homes
• Loss of business (rental) income
• Reduced city services, increased property taxes

On Cleveland Avenue, in particular:

• No safe parking at or near homes
• No safe vehicular or pedestrian access to homes
• No curbside garbage collection
• No emergency access to homes
• Trespassing by construction workers
• Open, un-barricaded trenches next to sidewalks

Details concerning each of these conditions follow below.

• TRAFFIC SAFETY SIGNS. There aren’t adequate traffic safety signs in the area. Drivers need to know which roads are actually open to one-way and/or to two-way traffic, through traffic or residential-only traffic. Pedestrians also need to have safe, designated walkways. Areas that are off limits to the public need to be posted. NOPD has allegedly detained and threatened at least one teenage resident with arrest for trespassing, while the teenager walked home from school.
o Install “posted”, “no trespassing”, “road closed” and “detour” signs as appropriate, so that residents and visitors can navigate a safe route to homes and businesses in the area.
o Design and issue maps, outlining traffic areas.
o Large potholes need to be roped off and labeled with “caution” tape, then filled.
o Pedestrian walkways need to be established (paved) and labeled properly.

• VEHICULAR TRAFFIC CONGESTION. Construction truck drivers have been seen blocking the streets which are open to vehicular traffic, with their trucks sitting side-by-side on a street, facing opposite directions - the two drivers having a discussion. As other vehicles approached, the construction truck drivers instructed the other driver(s) to back track and go around to the next block to reach their destination. This occurred on a street which was apparently open to through traffic.
o Instruct construction truck drivers to pull their trucks to the side of the road instead of blocking traffic.

• PARKING. Closing of residential streets has taken away the ability of residents to park at or near their homes. A few vehicles have needed towing from and/or been damaged by sink holes which formed where road work had recently been performed in the area.
o Proper use of backfill to cover work areas is essential.
o Solicit, document and reimburse damage claims, if not already done.
o Provide safe, lighted, designated parking areas for residents and visitors while construction work progresses.

• PEDESTRIAN WALKWAYS. There are no designated pedestrian walkways at the intersections of S. Rocheblave and cross streets (Cleveland Ave.). Residents who park near these intersections, risk slips, trips and falls, while walking to their homes, especially during rainy periods. Streets and sidewalks in the neighborhood have been demolished or damaged, leaving no safe paths for pedestrians. Regular mail and package delivery is similarly hampered by the lack of safe walkways.
o Install safe, level, paved pedestrian walkways
o Install safe, secure pedestrian bridges at each home.
• SAFE ACCESS TO HOMES has essentially been blocked by this improvement project. It has become a major undertaking for residents to even get groceries into their homes. Historically, residents could easily drive up to their homes and move items from in the front of the home to their kitchens; many are now forced to carry bags for almost an entire city block. Anyone attempting to carry a baby or walk with small children through this area may be at particularly higher risk, since young children are prone to making sudden movements. On rainy days, the unsafe condition is exacerbated by slick or muddy walkways; filled with water, residents can’t tell a small puddle from a large pothole. Many of the homes have front steps which sit on the sidewalk. How will residents keep access to and from their homes once the contractor does the final sidewalk paving?

o Install safe, level pedestrian walkways
o Open streets to resident only traffic.
o Cover or secure the trenches on Cleveland Avenue.
o Install safe, secure pedestrian bridges at each home.
o Supply residents with rolling carts.

• CURBSIDE GARBAGE COLLECTION. Street closures to through traffic have left residents without curbside garbage collection. Residents/workers must cart garbage cans to the closest cross street with open traffic flow. Of course, this also means that homes, sitting on corner lots, have an overabundance of garbage cans at their doorsteps twice a week. On Cleveland Avenue, the route that must be followed is not entirely paved, has large holes in areas that are paved, and is also lined with open trenches on both sides of the street. Rolling an oversized garbage can down a narrow, uneven, unpaved path, lined on one side by a trench, is an unsafe condition for garbage collection company workers and residents.
o Open the streets to residential traffic.
o Close the trenches until underground access is actually needed for the day’s work.
o Install safe, secure pedestrian bridges at each home.
o Install safe pedestrian walkways.

• EMERGENCY ACCESS TO HOMES. Closing of streets and installation of roadside trenches has hampered or blocked emergency access to many of the homes in the lower Mid-City area adjacent to the hospital construction site. Fire, police, ambulance and other emergency medical services will face slip, trip and fall hazards while responding to calls in this area. The delays that may be caused by the absence of safe vehicular and pedestrian access to homes could be fatal to anyone facing a serious emergency in this neighborhood. The ability of emergency medical workers to safely move a sick person on a gurney, from their home to an ambulance via damaged walkway, bordered by roadside trench may have been rendered impossible.
o Re-fill and cover the trenches on Cleveland Avenue until access to the area underground is needed for that day’s/week’s work.
o Install guard rails or barricades to prevent a fall into the trenches.
o For any roads that remain open, barricades and caution tape need to be installed around large potholes immediately. Fill large potholes on streets that remain open.
o Install safe, level, unobstructed, paved pedestrian walkways.
o Install barricades and caution tape around any trenches that are needed for that week’s work.
o When trenches must be dug into the street, install safe, secure foot bridges from the street to the walkway.

• AIR QUALITY. There is an alarming amount of dust created during some of the construction procedures. There also doesn’t appear to be any monitoring of air quality in the construction area. Many of the residents in lower mid-city are children and elderly. In any event, each resident and each worker alike, have the right to breathe clean air.
o Take measures to reduce dusting while breaking streets or any other procedure which produces large amounts of dust. The work area to be disturbed can be sprayed with water to reduce the amount of dusting.
o Issue dust masks to workers and residents.
o Install monitoring stations near the work area to monitor air quality, especially dust particles.

• NOISE POLLUTION. The noise that is generated from the heavy equipment used in construction seems to be higher than acceptable levels during work hours. Noise exposure to residents does not appear to be monitored. This may also be a worker safety concern.
o Perform noise monitoring tests.
o Issue hearing protection to workers and residents.
o Investigate ways to incorporate noise pollution reduction methods in current procedures.

• EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION. A gas leak was reported in the Cleveland Street area, reportedly, as a result of some construction work. (workers hit an underground gas pipe) Only some of the residents were notified of this emergency need to evacuate. There doesn’t seem to be any efficient system of emergency alarms in this area, to notify residents about emergency conditions.
o Install emergency horns and/or speakers, strategically placed throughout the neighborhood. Create brochures, describing the emergency notification system to residents.
o Allow residents to sign up for emergency telephone notifications. Use this system to notify residents of any emergency situation in the area, especially where evacuation may be required.

• DEBRIS HAZARDS. Construction workers leave construction materials on residents’ property, often leaning these materials against residents’ houses. Construction material is routinely left on walkways. Heavy machinery is parked in the middle of Cleveland Avenue overnight. Leaving this lower mid-city residential area cluttered with construction debris, materials and equipment for any length of time, is disrespectful to the residents of the neighborhood, and creates a public safety hazard.
o Staging for construction materials and equipment should be kept outside of the neighborhood. At the end of each workday, construction materials and equipment should be removed from the neighborhood work area.

• TRESPASSING. Community safety and security is compromised by construction workers, sitting on residents’ front porch steps while taking breaks.
o Please instruct workers to refrain from trespassing on residents’ property.

• IMMEDIATE RELIEF FOR UNSAFE CONDITIONS. Other road construction projects in the city (Earhart Blvd), have maintained safe vehicular travel routes, safe pedestrian travel routes, safe access to homes and businesses during extended periods of road construction. What prevents the city and their contractor from immediately restoring pedestrian and vehicular safety to the residents of and visitors to the lower Mid-City area? If these concerns cannot be addressed immediately, when can the residents of Lower Mid-City expect to be restored with safe pedestrian walkways and safe streets which are open to residential traffic?
o Investigate avenues to restore safe travel routes to lower mid-city, and implement.

• STRUCTURAL DAMAGE TO HOMES. Heavy equipment causing too much vibration in area houses. In particular, the equipment used to “punch” holes in the street, causes houses in the area to shake/vibrate at unacceptable levels. This shaking may have already damaged the structures of houses in the area. This work has been shown to loosen supports for a dropped ceiling in one apartment home, loosen wall cabinets from the wall, and to cause at least one wall hanging to fall from the wall and break. Recent cracking of interior walls has been detected.
o The city has the right to, and should restrict/forbid further use of this equipment which can damage the structural integrity of area homes.
o Allow homeowners to hire the home inspector of their choice, at the city of New Orleans’ expense, to find recently occurring structural defects due to vibration/impact, if any. Also allow affected homeowners to hire the home repair contractor of their choice, to repair damages which are deemed to be a result of recently occurring vibration/impact, the city of New Orleans to pay for structural repairs needed.

• REIMBURSEMENT FOR LOSS OF BUSINESS (RENTAL) INCOME. At least one resident, who is renting an apartment in the affected area, was featured in a news report, complaining about unsafe living conditions due to construction in the neighborhood. This resident has already made plans to move to a different residence because of these unsafe conditions. The likelihood of renting that vacated apartment to a new tenant may remain slim during this time of such heavy construction in this neighborhood.
o City of New Orleans should reimburse landlords for loss of rental income, due to unsafe conditions caused by road construction.

• REDUCED SERVICES; INCREASED PROPERTY TAXES. During the same time that this neighborhood has been subjected to greatly diminished city services due to this project, including loss of vehicular access to their homes (unpaved, closed roads), loss of safe pedestrian access to their homes (broken or missing sidewalks, bordered by trenches), potential structural damage to homes, loss of parking at or near their homes, loss of various utilities on different occasions (electricity, gas, telephone), there has been an increase in property taxes. As is customary, there may be another increase in property taxes for this area, once the construction work is completed. This recent increase in property taxes during a time of such diminished services seems unconscionable.
o Recommend to the property tax assessor, to reduce property taxes for homeowners in the affected area, retroactive to the time that S. Rocheblave became part of a construction area, to reflect the reduced value of property which suffers from the ailments which are discussed in this document.

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