Bay Street is currently under going a test of a new configuration. I applaud the leadership of the Mayor and elected officials for being willing to address Bay Street, and for taking decisive action. Savannah needs more of both, and it is encouraging to see leadership in action. However, I feel the current test case design is not in the best interests of the City, or its people. The current scheme is a traffic engineering solution, but what Bay Street needs is a Civic Design solution.
Bay Street is an East-West connector from the original 1733 Oglethorpe plan. It was designed at 75’ wide along with it’s southern counterpart; Broughton Street. These ran between some of the first wards of the Oglethorpe Plan, and were designed with that in mind. Today, Bay Street is burdened with a mix of car traffic, heavy truck traffic, heavy pedestrian traffic but also civic buildings and public open space. This is a design problem as some of these things do not tend to work well together. But the key is to note that it is a design problem not a traffic problem. Car traffic is but one of the issues, not the only one. Pedestrian safety and experience should also count. So should Civic Beauty and scale.
Historically, Bay Street has been the link to the riverfront and the site of prominent buildings for the City. That effect has been slowly eroded post World War II, as auto-oriented concerns has dominated the conversation. The street has been widen to four lanes, leaving a rather narrow side-walk on the south-side along with parking on both sides. The current test scheme is a return to the 1960’s era of traffic planning; making things easier for cars at all costs. This scheme removes the parking and creates four wider lanes for faster traffic flow and adds a tiny median as a token to the pedestrian. As my friend, and street design expert Victor Dover said; “That solution is like taking a time machine back to 1968”, and he is right.
-Oglethorpe Street, shouldn't Bay Street be beautiful too?
The current test scheme will, (and has) speed up traffic but that is actually not wanted as the pedestrians (and businesses) will suffer. This will be even worse if the orange barrels of the test case get turned into a permanent solution. The orange barrels are keeping traffic speeds artificially lower right now. Currently you have crowded sidewalks of only 5-6’ with cars and trucks moving fast right along side them. A truck mirror is now but a foot or two from your head walking along the south side of Bay Street. People don’t feel safe there (rightfully so), and the solution’s proposal of bollards and chain are a terrible band-aid for this unsafe design flaw. Again, this solution is solely auto-oriented. More appropriate for suburban areas, not the center of a city.
Our counter proposal, is one that blends the challenging needs of Bay Street into a design that serves all forms of transportation safely, builds Civic beauty and builds economic development. The proposal returns the on-street parking as a safety buffer for pedestrians and convenience of the near by businesses. The parking is actually wider at 7.5’ to help with the previous valid complaint of tightness. Two larger 10.5’ vehicular travel lanes (one each way) are then used to move car traffic. The wider lane again helps with the tightness and larger truck traffic. The center is a split zone of left turn lanes or medians as needed. A big change is growing the southern-sidewalk to about 15’, including adding in street trees.
- Bay Street at night, notice how close cars are to a crowded sidewalk?
Results of this proposal, will be slower but a steady vehicular movement. Ideally, the truck traffic will eventually be directed around the City via other routes (as is also being tested now).
- Our Counter-Proposal.
Pedestrians will be safer with the parking, street trees and wider sidewalks as well as now only having to cross two lanes of traffic vs. four. Although Bay Street isn't generally a biking street, bikes will fit in more comfortably with cars with the wider 10.5’ lane. Business benefits from the happy pedestrians, a bigger and nicer sidewalk/street-scape, and the ability to even start to put our seating along (as only B. Mathews does now). Imagine the increase in property and rent values along Bay Street as an economic development means.
- New Proposed Street section.
If those properties increased in value just 20% from having a great street frontage, that would be an increase of about $40-60 Million dollars for the City and its people. Great design creates value. Bad design destroys value. Which is why Bay Street rents, and properties underperform vs. better streets like Broughton, Bull or Oglethorpe. These impacts do not even count the overall effect on the City of making Bay Street a beautiful street, and a better connection to the river. Millions of people come to Savannah because the city is beautiful, and it has beautiful streets. Bay Street deserves to be one of our most beautiful streets. The solution is a Civic Design, which builds value for the city, not one which takes it away. I encourage the city to explore this, or other alternate solutions prior to making a determination of the best design course. Many cities have dealt with this same problem, Savannah isn't alone in seeing this design problem. The solution is here in 2016, not 1968.