I am writing this note to you on my return from New Orleans and my session at the National Conference on Disaster Planning for the Car-less Society (www.carlessevacuation.org). I was one of the keynote speakers on developing future action plans for individuals in disasters like Hurricane Katrina. The Community Transportation Association was a co-sponsor of this event with the University of New Orleans, AARP, FTA, TCRP, the RTA of New Orleans, the City and the Planning Commission. I am including at the end of this note my remarks that I gave at the opening session. There were a number of people here today from outside Louisiana with our own Barb Cline of the Association's Board of Directors and Prairie Hills Transit in Spearfish, S.D., being the most noteworthy.
The University of New Orleans, where the conference was held, is on the lakeside of the city and on our way back our driver took us through and over several of the severely damaged areas we have all seen on television, magazines, and newspapers. It was a stunning site with vistas where whole neighborhoods looked like the scenes one would see in old World War II movies of destruction and tragic loss. The emptiness of these neighborhoods, devoid of people, was matched by one of the signs painted on one of the houses where someone left a message asking help to find their cat, or dog. I did not even see birds in these areas and did hear one of the speakers talk about migratory birds failing to return this year.
In the downtown areas and in the French Quarter there were many closed buildings, restaurants, and small businesses. The trade center where we once ate dinner at an Association Board Meeting before EXPO still has not had its roof completed and looks very bad. Although construction goes on, its seems small in comparison to the work that needs done. Our transit partners remain hard pressed with a huge lack of adequate resources. Only a few of the famous street cars are running. Although I walked the entire length of the French Quarter, and journeyed by bus to the lake, I never saw one paratransit vehicle or one human service transportation piece of equipment. And on Wednesday night, a few days before Mardi Gras, Kelly Shawn, CCTM, Technical Assistance Specialist, and I were the only people on several streets walking to dinner. Someone told me 200,000 people are still away---and it shows. There is so much to do it is almost overwhelming.
While in New Orleans, I heard very positive things about our Association's involvement on the fixed route bus service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, known locally as the LA SWIFT, which Kelly Shawn worked so hard on. It too has been significantly reduced following the withdrawal of FEMA funding leaving many people without the ability to come to New Orleans to work. I've also seen a couple of the FEMA villages now located in cut-off neighborhoods without bus service which only added to my sense of bewilderment and I can't imagine how it must feel to those who live there. The LADOT staff I met knew about our efforts to help and I appreciated hearing what they had to say.
I would say that there is a very long journey here that has yet to begin. There is so much disconnect in even spending money that has been appropriated. During his comments today the head of the MPO was so emotional about that---that he had to stop and compose himself out of what I would say was pain, anger, and sorrow.
Dale J. Marsico