along the lighted path
Call it equal opportunity for Algiers health enthusiasts.
With the opening Thursday of the first two-mile stretch of the Algiers Levee Hike and Bike Path, West Bank residents have access to lighted levee-top bike trails like those that walkers and cyclists on the East Bank have enjoyed for years.
The $3 million first phase runs from the Canal Street-Algiers ferry landing on Algiers Point to Merrill Street just beyond Federal City.
It features a 10-foot-wide asphalt trail with light poles every 150 feet, several historical plaques and six overlook areas with benches and water fountains.
At each end are stations with drinking fountains for dogs and plastic bag dispensers for pet waste.
“Now it will be lighted just like it is along the French Quarter, so it will be beautiful,” said Kathy Lynn Honaker, executive director of the Algiers Development District.
Honaker said the funding and schedule for building the rest of what will ultimately be a 5.6-mile path from the Algiers Point ferry landing to the Algiers-Chalmette ferry landing are still up in the air.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working on raising parts of the levee in the affected area, Honaker said, but she hopes the full trail can be finished in a couple of years.
“We wanted to do something for the community, and there’s just been 100 percent support for this,” she said of the trail. “It’s something people have really wanted.”
Mark Delaney, president of the New Orleans Bicycle Club, said the levee path on the East Bank has been a boon to the local cycling community and he expects the same for the West Bank.
“The levee paths are wider than normal bike paths,” he said. “They provide a safe alternative to cycling on busy city streets.”
Randy Legeai, a bike club member who trains on the East Bank levee path, said he expects the new path will get heavy use.
“For most riders, the levee is preferable to the street, and we’re glad to hear that the Algiers section is opening,” he said. “We look forward to having complete bike paths on both sides of the river.”
Legeai said that as long as the Algiers path runs less than 10 miles, it will likely be used mainly by casual cyclists and pedestrians.
More serious cyclists need longer distances to train and will likely do so on the East Bank, where the trails are longer, he said.
Honaker and the trail’s other supporters — including state Reps. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, and Chris Leopold, R-Belle Chasse; state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-New Orleans; and New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer — see it as an economic-development tool.
It should attract visitors and connect the 156-acre Federal City complex to ferries providing access to job centers on the East Bank, including the French Quarter, the Central Business District and the developing biomedical district in Mid-City.
Honaker said some final construction work wrapping up the first phase remains to be done, and other elements could still be added to the path.
The Marine Corps may put in another fountain next to Federal City, and six on-ramps once slated for the initial 2-mile stretch that were scrapped due to engineering complications will likely be added later.
Construction on the first phase started just under a year ago, but the planning process for the entire park began in 2010.
The project is funded by a bond issue to be paid back by sales tax revenue from within the Algiers Development District’s tax increment financing district, with the lion’s share coming from the Walmart-anchored shopping center within it.
Paths like the one in Algiers have been snaking throughout Louisiana communities for the last two decades.
There’s even a push to ultimately connect Baton Rouge and New Orleans with a bike path along the east bank of the Mississippi River.
Metro area bike trails include one along the southern bank of Lake Pontchartrain, which is temporarily closed while the Corps of Engineers works on the levee; the 28-mile Tammany Trace between Covington and Slidell on the north shore; and the Mississippi River Trail, which officially stretches 22 miles from Audubon Park upriver to Destrehan, though the paved section of the levee top extends several miles farther.