Among those who want to make Savannah a more sustainable community, this past week may be remembered as a particularly important one. It marked a growing awareness of the economic, environmental, social, public safety and public health benefits to be derived from encouraging Savannah’s residents and visitors to move around the city on foot or by bicycle. Throughout the week there was evidence that local support for livable streets is gaining momentum, as residents and government officials came together to learn about how to make Savannah’s streets more livable.
Monday: A walking tour of downtown Savannah was led by staff from the City of Savannah and Metropolitan Planning Commission, along with volunteers from Pedestrian Advocates of the Coastal Empire. On the tour were attendees of the Governors Highway Safety Association convention including Tom Vanderbilt, who’s done critical work to help America understand Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Vanderbilt wrote about his experience in Savannah here. Also on the Tour was Dan Burden, the nation’s leading expert on walkable communities.
Tuesday: Burden met with a group of City of Savannah staff representing a range of bureaus from the fire department to Park and Tree. Later, Burden and neighborhood association members visited areas of the Southside that have been seriously degraded by automobile traffic volume and speed that are incompatible with neighborhood streets. Burden explained how traffic calming could address these problems and suggested ways to modify poor street design that stands in the way of greater walkability. The neighborhood visits were covered in the media here and here.
Wednesday: At a public forum, Burden presented a program on traffic calming to about 150 citizens at Armstrong Atlantic State University. Burden used photographs taken earlier in the week to demonstrate problems and solutions, such as on-street bicycle parking.
Thursday: Burden conducted a workshop for members of the city’s new Traffic Calming Committee, which is made up of neighborhood association leaders and facilitated by the Citizens Liaison Office. They were joined by personnel from the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, Parking and Mobility Services and other city departments.
Friday: Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson led the September edition of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign’s 2 Wheels 2 Work monthly bicycle commuting convoy. He spoke at a press conference in Johnson Square, emphasizing how bicycles fit into the city’s Thrive and Healthy Savannah initiatives. A new public service announcement, aimed at educating motorists on how to share the streets with cyclists, was screened at the press conference. Bicycle-friendly businesses Jittery Joe’s and Blue Goose Cafe provided coffee and breakfast for bicycle commuters.
Saturday: More than 400 cyclists turned out for the Savannah Bicycle Campaign’s Midnight Garden Ride. It’s always thrilling to see bicycles greatly outnumbering cars on Savannah’s streets, if only for a couple moments. Even bikes at rest provided an important visual clue about how increased bicycling can help Savannah. At the Distillery, where the ride began and ended, hundreds of bicycles were parked in the space required to store only a dozen or so cars.
Sunday: The Savannah Morning News was full of stories on walking and bicycling. City Talk Columnist Bill Dawers wrote an insightful column on Burden’s visit. Adam Van Brimmer wrote about the link between walkability and higher property values and Arek Sarkissian covered the Midnight Garden Ride.
Still, in order to get more citizens out of their cars and on their feet and bikes, we need an environment that is safe and friendly. Other news, this week, of a pedestrian injured and a cyclist killed underscores how far we have to go. Progress toward more livable streets can help reduce the frequency of these troubling and tragic occurrences. Does this week represent the beginning of Savannah’s new era of livable Streets?