SAVANNAH’S elected and appointed officials haven’t exactly drawn rave reviews from citizens this year. From casual grumbling to pointed outrage, a lot of folks are dissatisfied with local government for a host of reasons.
In this context, instances of good and effective governance sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve. One example is Savannah City Council’s approval of a Price Street redesign, which will add parking and a pavement marked bicycle lane.
With its relatively small price tag, it might be tempting dismiss this as a trivial item on city hall’s agenda, but that would be a drastic underestimation of its significance. The Price Street redesign is a prudent, cost effective and thoughtful solution to not just one, but to numerous problems.
The project, from conception to approval by council, should serve as a model for how city government can work successfully in partnership with citizens. And it should be replicated often, beginning immediately.
How can a humble bike lane embody high standards of innovation, cooperation, fiscal responsibility and responsiveness to citizen concerns? It’s easy to understand if you recognize this isn’t just about bicycles.
The project will finally address a dangerous situation that has troubled nearby residents for decades. When I lived at the corner of Price and Gaston streets, I sometimes used the words “drag strip” and other times “racetrack” to describe the astoundingly high motor vehicle speeds on Price Street.
Sitting on your front porch isn’t generally thought of as an extreme sport, but on Price Street it can take nerves of steel. Buildings all up and down the street bear the scars inflicted by wayward cars. The addition of the bike lane and on–street parking will have a beneficial traffic calming effect.
And speaking of parking, competition for spaces is intense, especially in neighborhoods along the northern half of the street. Even residents on the southern portions of the street sometimes adopt a DIY approach to parking, storing their cars on sidewalks and on tree lawns, much to the consternation of pedestrians and, I presume, trees.
The combined impact of lower vehicle speeds and additional parking will undoubtedly make the neighborhood more walkable, improve safety and quality of life, and increase property values. If these are the only metrics we use, the Price Street project represents a significant return on investment. And that’s even before we consider bicycles.
Those who don’t regularly ride bicycles may be surprised to learn there is currently only one pavement-marked bike lane linking the National Landmark Historic District and neighborhoods to the south. To make matters worse, the Lincoln Street bike lane is safe for northbound traffic only. In other words, if you prefer to ride in bike lanes, as many people do, you can get into downtown, but you can’t get out.
Yet the lure of that single bicycle lane is so strong, it entices otherwise reasonable and risk–adverse people do one of the most dangerous things you can do on a bike: ride against traffic. The Price Street bike lane, designated for southbound traffic, will provide a much safer option for cyclists traveling out of the Historic District.
There are many more streets in all parts of the city that could be improved in similar ways and leaders should make them a top priority. Director of Mobility and Parking Services Sean Brandon and other city officials sweated the details to get Price Street just right. They should be directed now to turn their attention to another thoroughfare and then to another and then to another.
Price Street is an important and welcomed enhancement to Savannah’s active transportation infrastructure, but we shouldn’t stop there. As with all transportation systems, connectivity is the name of the game.
A robust bicycle network will benefit residents and will attract visitors and even employers. There’s tremendous bang for the buck, if we are smart enough to keep the momentum going.
Savannahians who are concerned about what’s being spent on trips to China or wine glasses or videos of dancing statues should be celebrating the Price Street project and demanding more of the same.
John Bennett is vice chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.