Lower 9th bus tour vote delayed

Associated Press photo by Gerald Herbert -- A tour bus turns a corner in the Lower 9th Ward section of New Orleans in October.
Associated Press photo by Gerald Herbert -- A tour bus turns a corner in the Lower 9th Ward section of New Orleans in October.

District E Councilman James Gray withdrew a package of proposed ordinances Thursday that would have made bus tours of the Lower 9th Ward legal on some streets with a city-issued decal.

Former Councilman Ernest Charbonnet introduced the ordinances in late November, toward the end of his interim term. Gray, who took office late last month, said Thursday that he needed to study the matter before acting on it.

“I inherited it,” Gray said after the council’s meeting. “It’s something I need to take a look at.”

Charbonnet introduced the proposed legislation after residents complained that tour buses blocked streets and damaged roads. Residents also were weary of being gawked at, he previously had said.

On the other hand, not all residents were bothered by the tour buses. Some said they enjoyed waving to tourists and selling homemade treats such as pralines, a popular New Orleans candy, as the buses wended through the neighborhood.

An ordinance already on the books prohibits tour buses from the Lower 9th Ward entirely. The council passed that ordinance in the days after Hurricane Katrina in an effort to prevent vehicles from getting in the way of cleanup efforts.

The neighborhood was devastated when levees failed during the Aug. 29, 2005, storm. Many homes were pushed off their foundations after floodwalls collapsed. Blocks of the neighborhood remain vacant and overgrown with weeds.

Many tour companies nixed the neighborhood from their routes during the summer after buses were stopped and ticketed.

About 9 million people visit New Orleans each year, and Katrina tours are popular among those wanting an up-close look at the houses being built by Make It Right, the foundation launched after Katrina by actor Brad Pitt, as well as the home of Fats Domino.

A pilot program to allow buses into the neighborhood was set to take place this month and continue until January 2015.

The proposed ordinance set the cost of each decal at $350. Streets approved for bus tours included Florida Avenue, North Claiborne Avenue, St. Claude Avenue, Tennessee Street, Tupelo Street, Caffin Avenue, Chartres Street, Forstall Street and Douglas Street.

Under the proposed legislation, buses that did not follow approved routes could have faced a permit revocation for up to five days. Repeated violations could have resulted in a complete revocation. School buses transporting students and buses used by nonprofit organizations to bring volunteers to work in the neighborhood are exempt from the regulations.

The Associated Press

contributed to this report