The front page of the Exchange section in today’s Savannah Morning News offered a grim assessment of the local economy, which probably won’t surprise many people. The headline: “A soured economy comes home to roost in 2008.” While the nation’s largest industries and colossal financial institutions are angling for government assistance, Mary Carr Mayle and Lauren Nardella’s article reminds us that “small businesses aren’t getting any bailouts” and that they will need to “get creative in order to survive.”
But there is something the local government could do to help some local businesses. Bill Dawers touched on it in his Dec. 9 “City Talk” column “Whitaker shops thrive.” He claims the “great shopping experience” available at stores in the “Downtown Design District” was likely lost on locals “who have never been in any of them.” Why? Dawers explains:
“… it’s hard to window shop when you’re driving 40 mph through the heart of an otherwise quiet neighborhood. The Downtown Design District is just one of many areas where traffic patterns have been created to save a few seconds for commuters but produce huge inconveniences for businesses, residents and pedestrians.”
I lived near the corner of Jones and Whitaker streets in the late 1990s, just a stone’s throw from the “Downtown Design District.” Then — just as it does today — Whitaker Street acted as a raceway that motorists used to make a quick escape to the Southside. Several years later I lived on the corner of Price and Gaston streets, which was even worse. The place was impossible to keep clean. Cars, buses and trucks flying down Price Street forced wave after wave of dust into the apartment.
I’m told Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson doesn’t have any interest in converting one-way streets to two-way, but perhaps a weakening economy could provide a new argument. Of course, the economic damage done by one-way streets is only one reason for doing away with them. In their paper “How One-Way Thinking is Hurting Historic Downtown Neighborhoods,” Matt Hanka John Gilderbloom of the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville offer a strong indictment of streets designed for cars, not people.
“… downtown one-way streets help kill neighborhoods and small businesses. We need to convert these one-way ghetto makers into two-way streets with parking, trees, and bike lanes to calm traffic and make neighborhoods more livable for families, young urban pioneers, and the elderly…These one-way streets also constitute a kind of ‘environmental racism,’ where speeding motorists on one-way streets increase the levels of exhaust, noise, and pollution.”
Hanka and Gilderbloom also suggest that one-way streets increase crime, decrease residential property values and generally degrade livability. What’s more, they suggest converting one-way streets to two-way will actually pay for itself as the cost “would easily be recaptured in increased taxes on homes and business growth.”
Photo by Russ Morris via Flickr.