Monthly Archives: February 2009

Transportation commissioner fired for failing to build unnecessary roads?

picture-15.pngThere were plenty of stories in the news late last year, which indicated Americans are driving less, despite the fact that fuel prices have fallen off a cliff. “We’re driving less even as gasoline prices drop” in USA Today described a corresponding jump in transit use:

“While driving declined, subways, buses, commuter rail and light-rail systems have reported record increases in ridership. Amtrak, the nation’s intercity passenger railroad, said it carried the highest number of passengers and brought in the most revenue in fiscal 2008 in its 37-year history.”

The cause of the driving decline, it was widely agreed, was the struggling economy. Yet that wasn’t the complete story, the USA Today story pointed out:

“I think when we probe these numbers we’ll find that a lot of people have figured out how to telework or how to go into the office fewer days. And having experienced that and made that work, I think they’ll continue to save the money and the time and effort and reduce some of those trips.”

While the biggest decreases in driving have been seen in Western states, Georgia also saw declines and it’s against this backdrop, yesterday, that Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Gena Evans was sacked. According to a Savannah Morning News story GDOT Board Chairman Bill Kuhlke said Evans was fired because she wasn’t cranking out new roads quickly enough.

“Kuhlke said the attitude of the board was that Gena Evans had not done enough to get the agency building roads fast enough. ‘The attitude of the board is: We’re not moving as fast as we think we can, and we needed to make a change to start getting projects out the door,’ he said.”

It’s worth noting that when Evans took the helm of the agency, the staff she inherited was unable to tell her exactly how many projects it had on the books. By April of last year it became clear that GDOT had promised $1 billion more in projects than it could hope to deliver.

There are, of course, opinions about why Evans was dismissed that diverge from Kuhlke’s explanation.

State senate bill a threat to roadside trees

Some readers may remember the controversy last year when Wilmington Island trees were sacrificed to make way for a deceleration lane. Why was it necessary to remove the trees? The protection of motorists was cited as the official reason, despite research that discredits tree removal as a safety precaution in urban areas. I was reminded of this type of thinking yesterday when I was informed that rumble strips, which bedevil cyclists and keep them from safely using roads, are a safety enhancement. The message is the same: Our desire to protect motorists from themselves, even when misguided or misinformed, trumps all other concerns.

But back to the trees, it seems they just can’t catch a break. Not only can they be removed if they dare to grow in a place where a wayward motorist might hit them, they may soon be at risk if they have the audacity to block a motorists’ view of a Hardee’s billboard. Adrienn Mendonca of the Savannah Tree Foundation forwarded an e-mail from the Garden Club of Georgia, which sounds the alarm over Senate Bill 164. It would allow outdoor advertisers, who agreed to shorten the height of billboards, to chop down trees that block the new signs. In exchange, the billboard owners would agree to plant some smaller trees and other vegetation. While replacing sky high billboards sounds good, the garden club is saying “not so fast.”

“It is the position of GCG that it is not a fair exchange to cut down tall mature trees and possibly plant much shorter trees (less oxygen producing)  or wildflowers or pay a nominal fee. The bill would eliminate many current restrictions that GCG has fought to maintain over the years. By talking about replanting approved trees and wildflower gardens, the sponsors try to make this bill sound like a “beautification” bill, when it fact, the outdoor advertisers are trying to find a way to cut down massive amounts of tall trees on public  rights of way.”

Scenic Georgia is similarly concerned about the legislation.

Savannah Earth Day Festival has new Web site

picture-13.pngThe City of Savannah’s Earth Day Festival has a new (at least I think it’s new) Web site. It features forms that can be used by prospective volunteers, exhibitors and sponsors, who want to become involved with the April 18 event in Forsyth Park. Last year’s festival was punctuated by massive recycling collections at the south end of the park and the Savannah Bicycle Campaign’s first ever Savannah Wheelie bike ride, which attracted nearly 300 participants including Mayor Otis Johnson and Chatham County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis.

The Wheelie will ride again this year and RecycleRama is back too, with organizers accepting paint, electronics, eye glasses, tires and other materials. The Festival is organized by the environmental affairs office of the city’s Water and Sewer Bureau. For more information, contact Sarah Barlow at 912-651-6943 or sarah_barlow@savannahga.gov.

In search of Savannah’s hidden bike racks

picture-12.pngThe city’s recent bicycle rack installations, placed in former car parking spaces, are a terrific way to provide bicycle parking close to the entrances of popular destinations and emphasize that bicycles belong on the street. Some local business also recognize their customers arrive by bike and they deploy bicycle racks accordingly. By doing so, they can encourage even more people to pedal. And spend money.

Sadly, though, some store owners and shopping center managers just don’t get the idea that their cycling customers are no different than those who drive, in that they would prefer to park their vehicles near the entrance to the business. Like motorists, their desire to park near the entrance becomes more acute when the weather is bad. But this concept is lost on those who select locations for bike racks as if they were HVAC units or generators, placing them at the side or in back of buildings so they are “out of the way.” They are not just out of the way, they are out of sight.

This makes them difficult for cyclists to find, which might actually be a good thing, because using these racks may put cyclists at risk. Think about it: When folks drive to the store alone at night, do they generally feel comfortable parking near a poorly lighted loading dock at the rear of the store? Are they OK with leaving their cars in the shadows on the sides of buildings, where few people go unless they wish to engage in activities they would prefer others not to see? Cyclists are no different.

I took the photo above of a lonely bicycle rack at a local big box retailer after I discovered it quite by accident. I doubt it has ever been used for its intended purpose. Anyone recognize this location?

Big Switch Television Recycling Event

The City of Savannah is teaming up with Chatham County to ensure that televisions are disposed of properly during the analog to digital broadcasting switch. “The Big Switch” Television Recycling Event event will be held on Saturday, Feb. 21  from 10 a.m. – noon at Lake Mayer. The event is free and only televisions from Savannah and Chatham County residents will be accepted. All businesses and commercial entities prohibited.

For more information, e-mail Anne Robinson.