One morning last week, Kevin Rose was headed downtown as usual to his office at Lominack Kolman Smith Architects.
Rose was driving in the left lane on Drayton Street when the car ahead of him in the right lane slowed just before the East Gwinnett Street intersection.
Many northbound cars turn onto Gwinnett Street, and that’s what Rose thought was happening.
And then the car came to a complete stop, which made Rose assume that a pedestrian was about to cross the street. He wouldn’t have hit the as yet unseen walker, but he feared that the car behind him would. Rose slammed on his brakes.
“I’ve seen this play out a million times where one car stops and the car in the other lane doesn’t,” Rose said of the incident. “Most pedestrians having seen the first car stop are lulled into a false sense of security.”
The pedestrian turned out to be an older woman using a walker. Rose’s car was rear-ended, but thankfully no one was injured.
Similar scenes happen routinely on Drayton and Whitaker streets.
“Without signalling devices indicating that pedestrians are present,” Rose said, “it is almost impossible to tell from lane two if someone is turning or stopping until it is too late.”
Let me share another story from that same stretch of Drayton Street.
A few months ago, I was about to walk across Drayton at Hall Street, just a block north of last week’s near-catastrophe.
About the same time, a mother and three children were also poised to cross.
There were cars several blocks south of us, and if I had been alone, I would have started crossing the street without thinking. I would have had plenty of time.
But sometimes being a pedestrian in this town comes with some extra responsibility. I knew that I could make it across easily, but I wasn’t so sure about the family next to me.
I waited on the curb, while the teen-age son from the family alongside me decided to go ahead. He correctly judged that the coast was clear but he incorrectly assumed that the situation was safe.
I stopped the two other children and mother from crossing.
The oncoming cars whizzed by us without a pause, and the teen, now standing on the sidewalk across the street, looked perplexed.
After the rest of us caught up to him, the teen remarked that he thought that drivers always stopped for pedestrians. I laughed that suggestion off without belaboring the rules of the road in Savannah.
None of this is a mystery. We know that average speeds on Drayton Street are way too high, and we know that pedestrians are routinely imperiled. I even wrote a recent column about witnessing two auto accidents in less than 24 hours on that same stretch of Drayton Street.
In 2016, downtown resident Matthew Hallett wrote a letter to the editor of this newspaper that touched on the exact situation that faced Kevin Rose last week.
“I have to admit that I often do not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk near the Mansion on Forsyth Park,” Hallett wrote, “because I fear I will get rear-ended or worse they will get flattened when someone zips around to pass me.”
So we have a known trouble spot where a fatal accident seems almost inevitable, but we have a local culture that tends to blame pedestrians even when they clearly have established the right-of-way. And we have a city bureaucracy that ignores these dangers and is even proposing policies that will increase vehicle speeds on key corridors.
The month-long experimental removal of parking spaces on Bay Street predictably resulted in higher speeds, despite the fact that residents have been alarmed by fast traffic on Bay for many years. At an upcoming workshop about the Bay Street streetscape, the design firm EDSA is likely to make recommendations that will result in even higher speeds.
Some readers will respond to this column by saying that we simply need more enforcement. If drivers are going too fast, then we need more police officers writing more tickets, right?
Wrong. All the problems discussed in this column are the direct result of poor street design. Roads like Drayton and Whitaker are essentially expressways. The unduly wide lanes with no on-street parking encourage dangerously high speeds. For long stretches, there are no signalized crossings for pedestrians.
It’s long past time for city officials to address known dangers like these.
City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.