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CITY TALK: Bay Street plan may make things worse

  • Trucks travel on East Bay Street earlier this month. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)

Maybe we should just change the name of Bay Street to Bay Road and call it a day.

Intentionally or not, the city of Savannah has taken steps over the years to reduce Bay Street’s friendliness to pedestrians and to small businesses. Now, led by Mayor Eddie DeLoach, Savannah officials are reconsidering the unpleasantness we’ve created.

The mayor and aldermen want to take another look at ways to reduce the negative impacts of heavy truck traffic on Bay Street. There are about 3,000 trucks per day on Bay Street, according to the presentation by head traffic engineer Mike Weiner at a recent council workshop session.

Weiner also noted that there are more than 200 sideswipe accidents per year on Bay Street.

The discussion at the workshop session turned to the elimination of on-street parking on Bay Street as a way to reduce congestion.

How will that impact the pedestrian experience?

Well, in 2007, the city removed 33 on-street parking spaces between Bull and Whitaker streets. As was noted in this newspaper after the elimination of those spaces, we ended up with traffic right up against sidewalks.

As congestion eases in the evening, travel speeds and noise increase, as you’ve no doubt noticed if you’ve ever been to the beer garden at Moon River Brewing Co. at the corner of Bay and Whitaker streets.

Aldermen Bill Durrence and Tony Thomas were among those who expressed serious concerns about the removal of parking, but the idea remained on the table as the session ended.

If on-street parking is removed, drivers will go faster because of the lack of visual friction, pedestrians will have to walk farther to get across the street, traffic will be whizzing even closer to sidewalks and small businesses will suffer.

So what can we do to reduce truck traffic on Bay Street? That’s a complex, long-term issue with no easy answer. I’ll revisit that problem soon.

But what can we do now to reduce speeds on Bay Street and make the street friendlier for pedestrians?

This is not rocket science. As Weiner and Durrence noted at the recent workshop session, curb extensions (i.e., bump outs) and other changes to the street design can calm traffic and make streets safer for pedestrians.

We can also increase the number of traffic signals and increase the length of the walk cycles. We could even consider eliminating turn lanes or travel lanes.

Yes, those moves will create additional vehicular congestion, but at the end of the day we have to decide if we want Bay to be a busy city street or a forbidding regional roadway.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

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