September marks the start of the City of Savannah’s 30-day pilot study of Bay Street. After a number of pedestrian accidents on Bay Street, including the highly publicized death of a cyclist in June, city officials decided to implement temporary changes to test their impact on safety, with the potential to make them permanent if successful.
But many residents have doubts about whether all the proposed road safety measures will help reduce accidents, and some even worry that certain changes could make the situation worse.
Today, we look at the proposed road safety measures that will be tested during the pilot study, and whether residents and traffic safety experts believe they will help or hurt Bay Street.
Removing Parking to Widen Lanes
The most controversial aspect of the pilot study is the removal of parking on Bay Street to widen the traffic lanes. Many of these concerns are based around the difficulty of finding parking in the busy downtown area and the possible impact on local business, but some residents think that removing parking could actually make speeding worse on the busy road.
“We also know that drivers go faster when there is no on-street parking, which creates visual friction and forces drivers to be more vigilant,” said Bill Dawers in his City Talk column for Business in Savannah. “So we might see fewer sideswipe accidents, but we’re more likely to see higher speed wrecks with injuries.”
Dawers also expressed a concern for pedestrians on sidewalks, who will no longer have parked cars as a barrier from passing traffic.
This view is certainly reflected in the Federal Highway Administration’s guidance for traffic calming measures, all of which work to make a road appear smaller and more residential, thus reducing a motorist’s likelihood of speeding. If removing street parking and widening the lanes leads to increased speeding on Bay Street, it is difficult to see how pedestrian safety can be improved.
However, other residents think that removing street parking could actually help pedestrians by removing the risk factor involved with on-street parking. “I think it will definitely make it safer for pedestrians and make it a better street to drive on, I'm all for getting rid of parking on Bay Street, but I would want to see some sort of solution before that's implemented," bartender Daniel Spinelli told WTOC.
Along with pedestrian accidents, car on car accidents are also a major concern on Bay Street. Median barriers — islands located in the center of the roadway that are installed for the purpose of restricting traffic flow — can address both of these accident types.
They prevent the potential for sideswiping and crossover collision between opposing directions of traffic by creating a physical barrier separating them. Median barriers create a visual cue that slows traffic, which falls in line with the goals of the 30-day pilot study.
Medians can also provide a refuge for pedestrians and bicyclists wishing to cross the street, according to the FHWA.
However, in order to be truly successful, medians created for pedestrian refuge purposes should also be combined with other traffic calming measures, such as crosswalks. They must also be an ideal width of two meters wide. It is unknown whether Savannah will be adding these traffic calming embellishments to the median
Temporary traffic cones have been installed where the city plans to add a grassy median if the pilot study is successful.
Another road safety measure that will be tested during the 30-day pilot study is sidewalk bollards. Bollards are used to restrict certain types of traffic, usually motorist traffic, while allowing pedestrians to enter and exit. Ideal bollard design includes a minimum height of 30 inches, and enough space to allow easy passage by cyclists, pedestrians, and wheelchair users, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
These sidewalk bollards could provide a solution to Dawers’s concern for pedestrians who are no longer protected by a barrier of on-street parked cars, as a new barrier of concrete pillars will be installed along the sidewalk to block cars.
Reducing Truck Traffic
Truck traffic makes up roughly 10 percent of traffic that traverses Bay Street, according to City of Savannah Traffic Engineer Mike Weiner. These large commercial vehicles are a risk in this busy downtown area, especially to pedestrians — in fact, it was a passing dump truck that killed the cyclist in June.
Bay Street Blues co-owner Bonnie Walden expressed concern over these big trucks speeding by on Bay Street to News Channel 25, especially after the widening of the lanes. “It seems like the traffic has, if anything, speeded up with the wider lanes. It leaves only three to four feet from the curb to where the big 18-wheelers are whizzing by. And it's frightening,” Walden explained.
The later part of the 30-day pilot study involves restricting truck traffic between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. in order to study the impact upon safety on Bay Street. If successful, the city could place greater restraints on truck traffic during the daytime, when more pedestrians are present.
This could certainly help reduce large commercial vehicle traffic on this street, but a few residents worry about the strain that could be placed on other surrounding streets, which would likely not help Savannah’s overall safety.
"I know, sometimes those school buses are on that route as well. So I wouldn't want them to be caught in that extended, more difficult traffic than we have now," explained Irene Hines, Savannah-Chatham County Public School Board member, to WTOC.
If the 30-Day pilot study of Bay Street is successful, Savannah could become a safer place for pedestrians and motorists alike, but there is also a possibility that some of these road safety measures could create an even bigger speeding problem in the area. Until the study results are seen, safety on the road will remain a major concern for Savannah, especially for those recently injured in a car accident.
If you’ve been harmed in a car accident caused by the reckless actions of another driver, our attorneys can help. Read more to learn how our car accident attorneys in Savannah help the victims of car accidents to recover full compensation for their losses. If you prepared to pursue a claim, fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form today.