John Bennett is executive director of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.
LET ME take you on a journey into the not too distant past. Close your eyes and imagine 15 years or so of calendar pages flipping by in reverse.
Now, picture yourself soaring above Coastal Georgia. Eventually you descend from the clouds and come to a gentle landing at a spot just west of I-95 exit 104.
Are you with me? Excellent.
Open your eyes. What do you see? Pine trees. Lots of pine trees. And a Walmart Supercenter.
Back then, this Walmart Supercenter was among the only shopping destination in the immediate area. Your entertainment options? The cluster of battered video game machines just inside the front door of the Walmart Supercenter.
Hungry? Try the McDonald’s inside the Walmart Supercenter.
Now, stay in the same spot, but travel forward through time to the present day. The pine trees are gone and the Walmart Supercenter has been joined by an all-star team of stores and restaurants.
Ready for lunch? You can sample delicacies from around the globe including distant lands like Italy (Olive Garden) and Texas (Longhorn). Among your entertainment options are an IMAX theater and, coming soon, a water park.
Unfortunately, along with all this new development came cars. Lots of cars.
Folks who live, work, shop and dine in this area are already frustrated by traffic congestion, and it will likely become worse on April 16 at 10 a.m. That’s when Ben Carter will shoot a flaming arrow toward the top of a faux lighthouse and officially open The Tanger Outlets Savannah. At least that’s the way the grand opening ceremony would go down if I were planning it.
Once that lighthouse begins guiding cars and delivery trucks off the interstate, locals fear the already heavy traffic in Godley Station will become an ungodly mess. Some elected officials and residents are taking steps to ensure this prediction comes true by opposing Chatham Area Transit service in the area.
You see, in addition to attracting shoppers and semis, the outlet mall will also bring people into Godley Station to search the Famous Footwear Outlet stockroom for a size 8 in black, refold shirts after we paw through them at the Gap Factory Store, and make perfect pretzels at Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Perfect.
As it stands now, most of them will be required to drive to work, along with employees of existing Godley Station businesses and their customers.
Some of the reasons offered by CAT opponents are predictable. The crime card is frequently played, not just to argue against transit, but also to ward off bike trails and even sidewalks. This line of thinking regards buses, bikes and hiking boots as excellent getaway vehicles, while ignoring the speed and cargo capacity that makes a car a better tool for criminal endeavors.
Some residents are worried about additional tax burden, especially when it funds a service they won’t use. But even if they never board a bus themselves, every person who does represents one less car backed up at the intersection of Pooler Parkway and Benton Boulevard.
And that brings us to the most inventive reason to oppose transit service: Some folks think buses will make congestion even worse on Pooler Parkway. This theory requires one to believe that although transit has successfully reduced congestion in cities around the world, somehow it would have the opposite effect in Pooler.
The most frustrating thing about the situation is that although Pooler’s growth has happened rapidly, there’s still time to learn from mistakes made in other places. There are plenty of good things happening that can be made even better.
For instance, people who live in The Preserve at Godley Station or the Colonial Grand at Godley Lake can walk to nearby stores and restaurants. In fact, I’d wager The Preserve has a higher Walk Score, a ranking system that awards points based on the numbers of amenities within walking distance, than many historic Savannah neighborhoods, including my own. Thoroughfares like Towne Center Boulevard have generous sidewalks and wide streets that are practically begging for bike lanes, an affordable and relatively easy upgrade.
The problem is Pooler Parkway itself, which is unpleasant and dangerous to walk along and cross.
Sadly, those who oppose transit because they worry about congestion and cost are likely to eventually call for the widening of Pooler Parkway, which will be colossally expensive and will make congestion even worse. That’s why many communities are wisely abandoning similar ideas.
Now, let’s pretend it’s 15 years from today. When you open our eyes in that same spot, will you see a desirable, prosperous, livable community with plenty of transportation options? It depends on the choices we make today.