Earlier this afternoon, on a fairly stark 7-2 vote, Savannah City Council rejected amending ordinances to allow double decker tour buses in the Historic District.
Even the possibility of an ordinance change had seemed to be on the back burner, but the entrepreneurs who wanted to bring double decker buses to town apparently were lobbying behind the scenes and were prepared for a “compromise” that would prevent the buses from going around squares south of Liberty and around any squares east of Lincoln.
From the Savannah Morning News:
“This is not a last-ditch effort,” said Julie Wade, the attorney representing the bus company. “This is a significant compromise that addresses residents’ concerns about noise, privacy and congestion.”
The coach route eliminates 13 squares, including those east of Lincoln Street and all those between Liberty and Gaston streets.
Many downtown residents argue the one-square-mile historic district is becoming too congested with tour vehicles. The double-decker buses, they contend, would add scores of tourists per bus per day. The city last year issued 1,455 motor coach permits and permitted 96 motorized tour vehicles.
But there are residential properties throughout the zone where the buses would still have traveled. Aside from legitimate privacy concerns for residents, consider a walking tourist — or local — who is caught up in the sacral quality of some of Savannah’s public spaces. After all, the monuments for the most part honor the dead.
You’re standing there contemplating Savannah’s rich history and incomparable beauty, and then a double decker bus goes by with a couple of dozen folks peering down at you.
The ordinary tour buses are distracting enough, with the eyes largely veiled by the semi-enclosed space and with the miked narration bleeding out into the public space.
Downtown Neighborhood Association President Hank Reed sent out a letter last night to the Mayor and Aldermen. I’ll repost it here in its entirety:
Mayor Jackson & Savannah City Council,
The Downtown Neighborhood Association understands the Boston owners have been lobbying some of you to allow Double Decker buses in the motorcoach zone.
Apparently they prefer to work behind the scenes and surprise the residents in Council. On behalf of downtown residents, I’ve emailed attorney Julie Wade twice for information about new proposals, but received no response. There has also been no response to our request for key bus specs, including the loaded curb weight and height of the upper deck floor above the street. Just like last December, they haven’t followed the normal process and consulted the Council’s Tourism Advisory Committee on this new proposal.
Meanwhile, residents in the motorcoach zone already experience more traffic. If Boston brings these buses in, Savannah tour companies may have to do so to compete. The motorcoach zone will be saturated. The motorcoach study the city just received hasn’t had an opportunity to be considered.
The negative effects of operating these vehicles in the historic district, including loss of privacy, diesel pollution, damage to canopy trees, injury to tourists, city liability, speaker noise, and roadway damage (what is the curb weight?) will not go away. They will just be concentrated in the motorcoach zone.
Most significantly, Savannah’s image as a top tourist destination will be compromised. Our unique historic ambiance — compatible with trolleys and horse carriages but not London buses — is the source of our success attracting tourists. Savannah’s tourism industry understands this. They work in partnership with residents to protect our quality of life and historic environment. They understand those are the qualities that bring tourists here and encourage us to be welcoming hosts.
Please listen carefully to the TAC, City Manager and the citizens most impacted tomorrow. We request your support to maintain the longstanding ban on double decker buses.
Thanks very much for considering these views of Savannah’s Downtown Citizens in your decision process. We know these decisions are very difficult. We also understand you are probably getting strong pressure, behind the scenes, from the Boston business owners. We are confident you will make the best decision for Savannah’s long-term future.
As Hank notes, we were never even told the exact specs of the double decker buses — nothing beyond some bland assurance that they weren’t any bigger than regular buses. How then can they hold twice the number of people? What is the height of the seated and standing eye line for riders on the upper deck?
It’s good to see Council reject this.