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CITY TALK: Recent streetscape meeting presents problematic options

Last week, more than 100 engaged citizens attended the second in a series of meetings to discuss streetscape upgrades for Broughton, Bay and River streets.
 
The design firm EDSA is spearheading the Savannah Downtown Streetscape Improvement Initiative, which is being funded by $8 million in city bonds.
 
I was fairly enthusiastic about the direction of the process after the first meeting in late 2016, but last week’s session at the Coastal Georgia Center presented a number of problems.
 
Of course, nothing has been finalized, and I’d encourage anyone interested in the vitality of downtown to attend the upcoming meetings that will look more closely at each of the three corridors. Those meetings are scheduled for Feb. 20-22.
 
Stakeholders should also take a look at last week’s presentation at savannahga.gov/streetscape and then respond to the online survey.
 
EDSA’s Kona Gray led the presentation of two thematic approaches — “historic” and “coastal.”
 
The design choices for Broughton Street struck me as excellent. We will eventually have better tree cover and more cohesive design elements, and EDSA is recommending either intersection nodes or mid-block pedestrian gathering areas.
 
I prefer the design includes curb extensions and landscaping at intersections for a variety of reasons, but that design wouldn’t preclude the creation of mid-block pedestrian gathering areas.
 
EDSA’s preliminary concepts for Bay and River streets are much more problematic than their options for Broughton Street.
 
Stakeholders are clearly concerned about high vehicular speeds on Bay Street, but neither of the design options would reduce speeds – and one option would likely increase speeds.
 
Both options would protect existing trees and allow for new ones, but both would result in considerable loss of on-street parking that is critical for downtown retail stores and restaurants.
 
No bike lanes are being recommended for Bay or Broughton streets.
 
Curiously, the suggested options for River Street do include a bike lane, but I don’t see how that will work.
 
As someone who rides my bike routinely, I am unconvinced a useful bike lane can be added to River Street. There are simply too many pedestrians at busy times, and too many of them will end up walking in and across the bike lane.
 
Also, the proposed bike lane will have to negotiate the de facto barriers created by the Hyatt and by the cramped public spaces in the area of Joe’s Crab Shack.
 
My main concern as a cyclist is simply getting to River Street, not riding along River Street.
 
Under both design options, some of the historic cobblestones on the street itself would be covered.
 
The streetscape initiative is moving quickly, and funding has been identified. So interested parties need to get involved and be prepared for the February meetings.
 
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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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