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Words on the street
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If you’re interested in local transportation news, which might be the case if you’re reading this, you know there’s been a lot to talk about in recent weeks.

Even if we exclude the results from Georgia’s Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, there have been plenty of other stories to follow.

Of particular interest to bicyclists was news that the City of Savannah plans to deploy additional signage on Price Street. The goal is to provide guidance to confused motorists who are still trying to drive in the bike lane many months after it officially opened.

While the design’s different from other bicycle lanes in the city, there is a precedent. In fact, WTOC–TV used a photo of the similarly arrayed Washington Avenue bicycle lanes to illustrate its Aug. 9 story on Price Street.

I can’t imagine what some local drivers would make of cycle tracks, bicycle boulevards, half street closures, intersection bike boxes and through lanes, and other innovative facilities being installed in other parts of the country.

I presume that most motorists are genuinely confused, but I can’t shake the suspicion that some are staging an Occupy the Bike Lane movement to protest the rearrangement of the street. Price Street, in its previous incarnation, had excess car carrying capacity. This allowed drivers to achieve maximum escape velocity as they rocketed out of downtown. The quality of life in the neighborhood suffered, as did the facades and porches of adjacent buildings that were hit by wayward cars.

The reconfigured street delivers improved livability and public safety, but I suspect motorists, who were accustomed to speeding on Price Street, now feel inconvenienced.

The vibrancy of the National Landmark Historic District means that drivers must contend with all sorts of vehicles–from bicycles to buses to baby strollers –and most of these are traveling at slower speeds.

That’s a good thing, unless you are impatient to get to the Southside. In that case, the reconfigured Price Street is now one less place you can reliably expect to go fast.

A similar feeling probably colored some folks’ reaction to a new Savannah–Chatham Metropolitan Police Department initiative. On Aug. 13, the SCMPD announced it would begin a 90–day focus on traffic enforcement, during which, “every officer becomes a traffic unit...”

Complaints against stepped–up traffic enforcement are predictable. First come accusations that the additional citations are simply revenue enhancement. Next comes the suggestion that enforcing traffic regulations is a misallocation of law enforcement resources that would be better directed toward combating violent crime.

I’m not a doctor (at least not the kind of doctor that helps people, as my wife likes to say) but I stand by the veracity of this often cited medical finding: Whether you are killed by a person driving a car or killed by a person wielding a gun, you will be exactly the same amount of dead. And the vast majority of us are much more likely to be hurt or killed in traffic crashes than we are to be victims of violent crime.

If the duty of police officers is to protect and serve, discouraging speeding, distracted or impaired driving, and other violations that cause traffic crashes is a productive and perfectly appropriate use of their time, training and talent.

As the most vulnerable of road users, cyclists and pedestrians can benefit from a focus on traffic enforcement. As WSVH–FM’s Orlando Montoya reported Aug. 9, “Georgia roads are becoming safer for drivers. But more pedestrians than ever are being struck and killed,” and our state’s pedestrian fatality rate is 25 percent higher than the national average.

What’s the best strategy to address these statistics?

It’s unclear whether ticketing pedestrians increases safety. The SCMPD’s infamous 2009 jaywalking crackdown produced an entirely different result: a PR nightmare for the department.

On the other hand, studies from Miami and other cities suggest focusing enforcement on drivers decreases behavior that endangers pedestrians.

And, as Montoya’s piece suggests, the street design is receiving increased attention as a factor pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.

In this regard, Savannah is heading in the right direction with the redesign of Price Street. Now if we can all just learn how to use it correctly.

John Bennett is vice-chairman of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.