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Geographer Pierce Lewis once described New Orleans as an “inevitable city on an impossible site.” Its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River made Nouvelle-Orléans one of the most vital ports in North America—and one of the most vulnerable. Built on a dry patch of swamp between the river and Lake Pontchartrain, the Crescent City survived floods and disasters from its earliest days. The first recorded hurricane struck in 1772...
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Street System



Though many streets were under water after Hurricane Katrina, the only lasting damage was to the electrical streetcar line. All roads were open within a few weeks of the storm.

The street system is determined by the natural boundaries of the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. North-south streets are usually perpendicular to the lakeshore or riverbank, while east-west routes are more or less parallel to them.

Uptown means upstream and generally toward the river. Lakeside indicates the general direction toward the lake; riverside denotes the direction toward the river. Downtown, which encompasses the central business district, is east and northeast of Lee Circle.

The river-oriented part of the city falls within the triangle formed by Carrollton and Esplanade avenues and the Mississippi. Canal Street, Tulane Avenue and the Pontchartrain Expressway are the main thoroughfares. New Orleans' principal routes across the city are Tchoupitoulas Street and St. Charles, Claiborne and Broad avenues.

Above the Carrollton-Esplanade apex, roads run approximately northward to Lake Pontchartrain. In addition to Pontchartrain Expressway, the main routes are Wisner Boulevard and Elysian Fields Avenue. Major crosstown routes through New Orleans are Airline Highway, City Park Avenue, Gentilly Boulevard and Lakeshore Drive.

Canal Street, which runs northwest, divides north from south. Thus, street numbering moves outward from it as well as lakeward from the Mississippi. Streets also change names as they cross Canal. For example, Royal Street becomes St. Charles Avenue, and Bourbon Street becomes Carondelet Street. Except for divided thoroughfares such as Canal, Tulane, Basin and St. Charles, most streets downtown and in the French Quarter are one-way.

Few left turns are permitted from major arteries or moderately traveled downtown streets. It is easier to loop to the right back around the block than to drive a mile or more in search of a legal left turn. Right and left turns on red at one-way intersections are permitted unless otherwise posted.

The speed limit is 30 mph on most streets and 35 mph on boulevards, or as posted. However, on many streets these limits will rarely be reached. Heat, humidity and a water table that lies only 2 to 3 feet below the surface make street maintenance a continuing problem. A buckle of pavement may be the closest thing to a hill you see in New Orleans.

Rush hours are from 7 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. Avoid driving during these hours whenever possible. Congestion is greatest on bridges, I-10, I-610 and on the narrow streets of the French Quarter, several of which are blocked off for pedestrian use.

Parking

Parking lots and garages can be found throughout the downtown business area; fees range from $3 to $10 for the first hour and from $5 to $15 per day. Parking fees at the Riverwalk and in areas of the French Quarter are higher: $5 and up for 3-4 hours at the Riverwalk and $5.50 to $6.50 for 2 hours in the French Quarter (the closer to Bourbon Street, the higher the rates).

On-street parking is scarce and is prohibited in most central sections. Visitors should read—and heed—the rather small signs that tell where and when parking is legal, as the regulations are strictly enforced by prompt towing and heavy fines.

Taxis

Cabs are plentiful in the main business and tourist areas. Average fare is $3.50 initially and ranges from $1.60 to $2 for each additional mile. The largest companies are Checker/Yellow, (504) 943-2411; Metry, (504) 835-4242; and United, (504) 522-9771. Information about taxi service also can be obtained from the Taxicab Bureau; phone (504) 658-7102.

Public Transportation

New Orleans' city bus system is inexpensive and efficient. On regular runs within the city limits the bus fare is $1.25 and transfers are 25c; express fare is $1.50 or 25c with a transfer from a regular bus. The VisiTour pass, $5 for 1 day or $12 for 3 days, allows unlimited rides on all Regional Transit Authority buses and streetcars; exact change is required. Many fares were reduced or suspended after Hurricane Katrina.

The clanging streetcars that ply the city's last line of its kind up St. Charles Avenue are part of the transit system. CLOSURE INFORMATION: The storm destroyed the line's overhead electrical system; partial service in the downtown central business district is reported to resume by early 2007 and service in all areas is expected to resume by late 2007. In the interim, bus service is available on the same route.

Another line along Canal Street, with red streetcars, runs from Esplanade Avenue to Canal Street, then along Canal Street from the Mississippi River to the City Park Avenue terminal. Canal Street connects to City Park at Beauregard Circle via a line along North Carrollton Avenue. Note: The red streetcars have been temporarily replaced by the olive-green streetcars due to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The Riverfront Streetcar provides transportation along the Mississippi River from Thalia Street to Esplanade Avenue; fare is $1.50. All streetcar fares have been suspended at least through August 5, 2006. The Regional Transit Authority can provide more information about both bus and streetcar routes and fares; phone (504) 248-3900.

Buses marked “Vieux Carré” make a complete circuit of the French Quarter as well as a portion of the business district Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. Maps outlining tourist-related transit routes are available at the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau welcome center at 529 St. Ann St., next to Jackson Square.

Outlying parishes are served by other bus companies. East Jefferson Parish, including the airport, is served by Jefferson Parish Transit Co., (504) 818-1077. Westside Transit Lines Inc., (504) 367-7433, operates buses to Gretna, Harvey and other suburbs across the river.

A ferry system connects New Orleans with the West Bank and provides excellent views of the downtown skyline. The 10-minute trips depart from the Canal Street and Jackson Avenue docks and cost $1 per automobile. Pedestrians are transported free of charge.