Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sixteen Billion Gallons and a Streetcar Named Desire


Bayou Segnette State Park
7777 Westbank Expressway
Westwego, LA 70094
GPS: 29.88990o, -090.16239o

Today was all New Orleans -- mostly getting acquainted with their public transit system.

The Mississippi River flows north to south, as everyone knows. A careful look shows that the river travels mostly west to east and east to west as it whipsaws back and forth working its way from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. So as the river passes through New Orleans, it is traveling west to east in a crescent shape (hence the nickname Crescent City). The bulk of the city lies on the East Bank (north shore) but a substantial chunk of the metropolitan area lies on the West Bank (south shore).

Why New Orleans is nicknamed "The Crescent City"


Bayou Segnette State Park, our campground, is on the West Bank (south shore). So our first encounter with New Orleans public transit was with the Canal Street / Algiers Point Ferry to carry us over those sixteen billion gallons per hour I mentioned previously.

Algiers is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans and, the only Orleans Parish community located on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. Algiers is also known as the 15th Ward, one of the seventeen wards of New Orleans. Algiers Point was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and designated a local historic district in 1994.


In river pilotage, Algiers Point is simply one of the many points of land around which the river flows—albeit a significant one. Since the 1970s, the name Algiers Point has also referred to the neighborhood in the immediate vicinity of that point.

The course of the Mississippi River passing through New Orleans is in the shape of a crescent. As the river reaches the downriver end of that crescent, flowing by then in a northerly direction, it makes a sharp "right-hand" turn to the east. The French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Bywater lie on the outside of the bend on the river's left descending bank. The point of land on the river's right descending bank is, and has historically been, called Algiers Point.

Just off this point is where the Mississippi River is at its deepest, approximately 200 feet deep. This depth varies from year to year as the river alternately scours and deposits silt. A U.S. Coast Guard aid to navigation, Algiers Point Light "95," marks the point.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' linear description of the location is mile 94.6 AHP (above Head of Passes) on the Lower Mississippi River. We located "Head of Passes" in yesterday's post

So this is where we went to board the ferry boat to New Orleans.


The Algiers Point Ferry Terminal is surprising in its simplicity. There is no parking lot. Only on-street parking in the residential neighborhood which comes right up to the terminal. The structure is typical tasteless government concrete with no signage visible as you approach. After two flights of stairs to get above the levee, you can see the river and realize you are in a ferry terminal. I guess part of my confusion came from the fact that this ferry carries no vehicles, only passengers and bicycles. Thus there is no need for a vehicle staging area. That reduces the real estate requirement to almost nothing.

Our ferry boat was the Col Frank X. Armiger, a 268-ton diesel, twin screw craft able to carry 351 passengers. It makes the crossing every thirty minutes.

The Col Frank X. Armiger


I've crossed rivers on ferry boats before. But I must admit I've never sat on top of sixteen billion gallons per hour. This is "Ole Man River". In the few minutes it took to cross the river, we encountered

sixteen billion gallons

St Louis Cathederal

Barges and Towboats

River boats


All comfortable sharing this waterway. I can see how this river has captured the imagination of so many people for so long.

The river's length is a gee-whiz statistic used to impress folks. For the Mississippi, that number is 2,348 miles. But the volume of water is determined more by the size of the drainage basin. On this score, I get conflicting information. One source says the Mississippi River is the third largest drainage basin in the world, after the Amazon and the Congo. Another source states that the Mississippi River is the chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. I'll leave that argument for other people on another day. I'm impressed with the fact that every drop of rain that falls between the Appalachians and the Rockies becomes part of the sixteen billion gallons passing this point every hour and that The Col Frank X. Armiger whisked us over it in less than half an hour.

Michelle and Bonnie just enjoyed the ride.
Jim and I took pictures.


Through all that river traffic, with no whistles or horns, the crossing took less than half an hour.

Approaching Canal Street Ferry Terminal


Though brightly decorated with the Mardi Gras spirit, the terminal still needs a paint job.

The Canal Street Ferry Terminal


Canal Street Ferry Terminal / Canal Street Station
where the river meets the road


Leaving the ferry put us at the foot of Canal Street, the hub of the New Orleans trolley system. We were four yokels in the big city, not knowing where we were, where we wanted to go, or how to get there. Today we were headed for the "Garden District". A kind soul told us to "Take the Canal Street trolley north to Carondelet, get a transfer, get on the St Charles trolley, ride to the Garden District, and get off wherever you like."

Of the four of us, I was the only one with big city trolley experience, and I was confused. Where I came from, you "took the G Bus or the 13 trolley". The only transit lines with street names were the two subway lines; the Broad Street subway, which traversed the entire city from north to south, or the Market Street subway, handling the job from east to west. In New Orleans, the trolley and bus lines are named after the street that dominates the route. There are five streetcar routes: Canal - Cemeteries, St Charles, Riverfront, Rampart, and Canal-City Park. All of the streetcars on each route carry the name of the route. Although confusing to me, I think the naming is much more romantic and classy than "13 trolley". Especially if one is called "The Streetcar Named Desire."

A Streetcar Named Desire


So where is "The Streetcar Named Desire"? Alas, it is no more -- since 1948 in fact. There was, and still is, a Desire Street in New Orleans and from 1920 to 1948, at the height of streetcar use in New Orleans, there was a streetcar route called "Desire". It ran through the French Quarter and on out east to the Marigny, Bywater, and Upper Ninth Ward neighborhoods where it ran on Desire Street for several miles. During that time every streetcar on that route carried the name Desire.

The "Desire" Streetcar Route


Tennessee Williams lived in The French Quarter (722 Toulouse Street) before he got rich and famous. So did William Faulkner (624 Pirate's Alley). I'm sure they each rode the Desire streetcar line often. What a master stroke for Williams to pick up the name "Streetcar Named Desire" for the title of the play that made him rich and famous. The name was taken from the line in the play where Blanche DuBois describes how she reached the Kowalski residence —"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!"

"They told me to take a streetcar named Desire ..."


Our instructions for today were "Take the Canal Street trolley north to Carondelet, get a transfer, get on the St Charles trolley, ride to the Garden District, and get off wherever you like."

Canal and St Charles Trollies


If Blanche could do it so can we.

Thanks to Jim Spain for many of these pictures

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