New Orleans’ St. Charles Avenue — a perfect street design for changing times

I was in New Orleans for a few days last week and traveled routinely on St. Charles Avenue. Cursory web searches didn’t turn up the date that St. Charles was first laid out, but it’s obviously a key connector that dates to the 19th century and before.

St. Charles is probably best known for its streetcar line, but construction has forced the temporary suspension of service on the western end of the street and on Carrollton Avenue.

Without the usual groups of people standing in the neutral ground waiting for streetcars, both avenues seemed oddly empty.

There was another change to St. Charles since my last trip to New Orleans a couple of years ago: far more cyclists. And this is summertime, when many college students at Tulane and Loyola are out of town.

On the portions of the street nearest Tulane, there’s now a bike lane going each way on St. Charles. It runs right alongside the parked cars — the exact configuration that we have in Savannah on Price Street and Washington Avenue.

So, as you can see in the photo below, long stretches of St. Charles now have the following configuration, working our way from left to right: sidewalk, tree lawn, parking lane (which wisely does not even have lines to delineate spaces, thus allowing for more cars), bicycle lane, vehicular travel lane, large median with streetcar tracks and with vehicular cut throughs for cross and turning traffic.

Here’s a shot taken a few evenings ago looking east, with the gates to Audubon Park visible on the right:


Let me add two other notes:

  • Even when streetcars are active, the neutral ground is wide enough, flat enough, and comfortable enough to make an excellent jogging path.
  • The width of the neutral ground, i.e. median, is sufficient to handle cross traffic and turning traffic in ways that make streetlights unnecessary except at significant intersections.

So here we have an historic street that far predates the automobile era — and an incredibly beautiful street too. The design has adapted beautifully for cars, streetcars, bicycles, pedestrians, even joggers.

It’s rather remarkable.

The configuration is one that could be adapted almost exactly to Abercorn Street between Victory Drive and DeRenne Avenue in Savannah. Modified versions could work on other streets.