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CITY TALK: Other streets, problems merit attention, too

The three most recent City Talk columns have detailed the preliminary design proposals for the streetscapes of Broughton, Bay and River streets by the Florida-based landscape architecture firm EDSA.

You can view EDSA’s presentations at http://savannahga.gov/streetscape. The EDSA team will present the final conceptual designs from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 23 in the auditorium of the Coastal Georgia Center.

It will be an important meeting, for sure, but I don’t know how much public input will be considered at this point. City officials have secured funding with $8 million in bonds and seem determined to forge ahead with changes and improvements.

I’ve heard from a number of readers about the intense focus on those three streets. Some folks who live in other neighborhoods feel neglected, and some think that it’s silly to spend so much time and money on streetscape redesigns when the city has so many other pressing issues.

Many years ago, a local elected official talked to me rather candidly about his frustrations with his time in office. He explained that a functional government can and should deal with many issues simultaneously, not just a few.

Yes, we need intense focus on big issues like crime, but a vibrant city like Savannah also needs to be addressing myriad other needs, including quality-of-life issues like zoning and traffic calming.

But why the intense focus on three key corridors in the Historic District and not a similar focus elsewhere?

Broughton, Bay and River streets – arguably the three most important commercial streets in Savannah’s famed downtown – are plagued by problems that prevent them from reaching their potential. The changes being considered by EDSA could dramatically improve the experiences of both residents and visitors.

That said, I would agree that we need to be devoting more resources to corridor improvements, like the efforts in recent years to address problems on Victory Drive and improve the streetscape on Waters Avenue.

But the needs seem far greater than the available funding.

We could address some problems relatively inexpensively. For example, we could make some simple changes to streets like Drayton and Whitaker that would reduce the dangerously high vehicular speeds.

For relatively little time or money, we could also update the zoning code in ways that would spur private investment on some key corridors.

Ultimately, however, we need a clear vision of how we want to improve our streets, sidewalks and other elements of the public realm.

We need to listen to neighborhood residents, formulate action plans for implementing changes and identify possible funding sources, including grants and future SPLOST revenues.

Yes, some of this work is getting done now, but the needs are growing. As city manager Rob Hernandez settles in to his job, let’s hope that a clearer vision and a clearer process emerges.

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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