Editor’s Note – this post originally appeared on the New Orleans Levee Facebook page. It has been reprinted here with permission.
The popular public sharing Blue Bikes are being replaced with a more New Orleans-practical Blue Boats program, enabling residents to rent rowboats in the event of hurricanes or, recently, the all-too-common sudden street flooding that has inundated the city.
On Monday, the mouth of venerable St. Charles Avenue and much of the Lower Garden District flooded during a snap afternoon rainstorm, which residents used to look forward to for their cooling effects on steamy days.
“We don’t know what’s underneath our streets blocking our drainage canals so we’re getting on top of the problem by putting out boat rentals on our streets,” a beaming Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban said Thursday, the 14th year since Hurricane Katrina. “Get it? Boats. On TOP of water. Get it?
“We’re just trying to be proactive in admitting we don’t know what’s going on and in that vein being proactive in keeping residents’ heads above water,” he said.
The city got the idea to swap out bikes for boats on Monday, when what used to be considered a typically brief summer afternoon rainstorm caused enough flooding for people to canoe past Emeril’s Delmonico steakhouse on St. Charles Avenue near Interstate 10 and other affected areas.
“We just thought, well, not everyone has a canoe or even a rowboat,” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. “This allows everyone the same chance to row for their lives.”
The S&WB has been under fire for nearly every action it’s taken recently, but most recently was the lack of inspections of underground drainage canals, which, to most officials in most cities would have been a no-brainer.
“Not inspecting underground drainage for at least 15 years in a city that’s been through just about every type of flooding imaginable is about as Looney Tunes as it gets, even for us,” said Sue Wedge, director of the division of the criminally insane at the Army Corps of Engineers.
Last week, the S&WB pulled an entire vehicle out of the mouth a covered drainage canal along the Lafitte Greenway that serves to drain Mid-City, which has been flooding recently when too many people spit on the sidewalks.
The Blue Boats program works much like the Blue Bikes initiative.
Now, flood victims either before or during a rain event and subsequent flooding can head to one of the many Blue Boat stations and take out boats, with oars, either by the minute, month. length of hurricane season (five months) or annually.
“Depending on the severity of flooding, boaters can explore anywhere they want to go,” Korban said. “Reduced fares are available for residents who use Louisiana Purchase (S/NAP) or Medicaid.”
Unlike the Blue Bikes, boaters do not even need to return the boats to a Blue Boat station.
“Eventually, flooding will push the boats into our drainage canals and we’ll just pick them up as they block the system,” Korban said. “It’s fool-proof!”
Not everyone was happy about the Blue Boat program.
“This gives us fewer targets to try to hit,” one city driver told The Levee. “Those Blue Bikes were easy to spot and when you hit one you knew they were durable bikes and you’d only hurt or kill the riders, which is the point.
“Most of them were probably out-of-towners, anyway, so, you know, like, who cared? he said.
City officials said they had considered swapping out the Blue Bikes program for a Blue Umbrellas project, a Blue Shrimp Boots initiative, or a Blue Your Brains Out idea before settling on the boats.
“Just trying to help!” city officials said in a joint statement.
Photo illustration concept by Levee contributors The Bayou Brothers – John J. Hutchings and Bryan Hutchings. Photo illustration by Rudy Matthew Vorkapic.