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CITY TALK: Bay Street redesign has (too) many goals

  • Bay Street coastal streetscape plans.
  • The Bay Street historic streetscape plans. (All plans courtesy of EDSA)

Sunday’s City Talk looked at the preliminary design created by the landscape architecture firm EDSA for the streetscape on Broughton Street.

Today, let’s take a look at the Florida-based firm’s plans for Bay Street. The general proposals for Broughton, Bay and River streets were presented last week in a series of meetings with stakeholders and members of the public.

As I noted in Sunday’s column, the Broughton Street plans seemed to be met with broad approval, with the exception of the tree species chosen by city officials.

Interestingly, the web page for the streetscape initiative (http://www.savannahga.gov/streetscape) now has a link to a document that indicates the city is still planning to rely on Bosque Elms on Broughton Street, despite the fact that we’ve hired a major landscape architecture firm that would very likely choose other species.

The Bay Street presentation attracted fewer people than the Broughton Street presentation, but the audience peppered EDSA’s Kona Gray with questions about lane width, pedestrian crossings, bicycle access and, of course, tree species.

It seems likely that no one will be entirely happy with EDSA’s final designs for Bay Street, which will be presented on March 23. There are just too many demands on the street for it to serve all users well.

The preliminary designs leave the Bay Street vehicular lanes about as wide as they are now, but EDSA proposes widening both the north and south sidewalks.

On the north side, the curb would be extended to give more room for the existing live oaks. The planners also seem intent on making the sidewalk wide enough to accommodate bicycles, buts, as both a legal and a practical matter, I don’t know if that will work.

The widened sidewalk on the south side is a critical safety need for pedestrians and will create space for street trees. Two new traffic lights on East Bay would also increase pedestrian safety.

The proposal also includes a very narrow median on some blocks, although there would be significant stretches with no median.

To accommodate these changes, we’d lose half or more of the on-street parking on Bay Street. That’s problematic for a variety of reasons, including the fact that many of those spaces are used by low-wage service industry employees who can park for free after 5 p.m.

If we had fewer vehicular travel lanes, we’d have more flexibility in terms of design. I’ll note that some cities even have travel lanes that become parking lanes after a certain hour.

I’m curious to see how the EDSA team balances some of these demands on the street, but I’m pretty sure no one is going to be thrilled by the necessary compromises.

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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