Last week, Savannah City Council approved the conversion of Montgomery Street from one-way to two-way traffic between Liberty Street and Broughton Street.
The city’s short press release about the change said that the reason was “to provide better access to the new Cultural Arts Center.” Without the change, southbound vehicles leaving the new arts center, which is across the street from the Civic Center, would have to turn north onto Montgomery or Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
Yes, MLK is a two-way street, but a median bottles up traffic along key portions of the historic corridor.
We don’t know at this point how much traffic the Cultural Arts Center will generate, and I’m dubious that it will be used to its full potential after cuts impacted the size and quality of planned performance spaces.
But the conversion of Montgomery to two-way traffic is cause for celebration under any circumstances.
Right now, Montgomery Street’s northbound-only flow between Liberty and Broughton restricts drivers’ options and backs up traffic at key points in the downtown grid.
Drivers looking for parking south of Broughton Street eventually hit Montgomery and are forced to turn north whether they want to go that way or not. Montgomery is currently not an option for Broughton Street drivers who want to turn south and leave the downtown area.
Because of these traffic patterns, we often end up with unnecessary congestion near the intersection of Broughton and MLK, and drivers who are looking for parking are pushed farther north and west, when available on-street spaces are more likely to be found to the south and east.
The change will also be good for downtown area bicycle riders, who will have another good option for southbound travel, at least as far as Liberty.
The conversion to two-way traffic could also reduce speeds on Montgomery between Liberty and Broughton, which would make that corridor friendlier to those on foot.
Sure, drivers who enter the city via I-16 might be inconvenienced by the loss of one northbound lane on Montgomery Street, but drivers can also turn east or west onto Liberty. When those same drivers exit the city, they’re going to find it easier because of the extra southbound lane.
Of course, we’d have even better connectivity if Montgomery Street’s new southbound lane could continue without interruption past Liberty, but we still have to contend with the I-16 flyover for the foreseeable future.
With this conversion of Montgomery Street and the potential for restoring other blocks of the downtown grid after the new arena is built, we might be on a slow path to better connectivity in the western portions of the Historic District. That will be good for everyone.
City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.