In my City Talk column on Sunday — Is it time to talk traffic calming in downtown Savannah? — I focused entirely on Drayton Street and Whitaker Street.
Many drivers on those streets greatly exceed the posted speed limit (35 mph for much of the time), and they aren’t going to slow down if the street design remains as it is now.
After all, drivers will typically go faster when roads are straight and flat, when roads are one-way, when there is no on-street parking, when lanes are wide (typical freeway lanes are 12′, Drayton and Whitaker are 15′), and when there is little “visual friction” from streetscape elements like trees.
We know from the nasty routine wrecks that drivers aren’t safe cruising faster than 35 mph on Drayton and Whitaker, but the street design deceives those drivers into thinking that they can safely go much faster.
Even though there is plenty of room for bicyclists on Drayton and Whitaker, most of us avoid those streets like the plague. Pedestrians, too, avoid Drayton and Whitaker; the very elements that make drivers feel safer make pedestrians feel more imperiled.
If we were starting from scratch, we would never design Drayton and Whitaker like they exist today. It’s long past time to get serious about changing them.
With fairly straightforward changes, we can dramatically improve safety on those streets, and at the same time we can dramatically enhance quality of life for nearby residents and enhance the experiences of hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
At the end of the day, however, the most compelling argument for redesigning the streets might be a financial one.
Public land has value. Used appropriately and efficiently, public spaces — including our streets — can enhance the value of neighboring properties, encourage development, contribute to the tax coffers, and promote neighborhood vibrancy. We simply don’t need two 15′ lanes on those streets, and the wasted space could be repurposed in ways that would generate many millions in economic activity each year.
Let’s look at some images that I created using Streetmix. I’m sharing these under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. You are welcome to use them under the same terms.
I should say right off the bat that pretty much all streets have some variation in width. I’m working with a basic width of 40′ in most of these images and ideas — that’s the approximate width of the two lanes and the sidewalks along much of the street.
Just keep in mind that the calculations might vary slightly from block to block, and, as I suggest near the end of the post, we don’t necessarily need to treat all blocks of Whitaker and Drayton the same.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m focusing on Whitaker rather than Drayton, primarily because the northernmost blocks of Whitaker really do need a radical redesign.
Also, really important: I am assuming that Drayton and Whitaker will continue to be one-way streets, but the best options might involve making them both two-way.
And also really important: you might assume that wider lanes are safer lanes, but the evidence does not support that conclusion. Drivers travel more slowly and carefully in narrower lanes, and even if certain types of wrecks increase on narrower roads, those accidents are much less likely to be catastrophic because the speeds are lower.
So here’s what Whitaker looks like now — two overly wide travel lanes and absurdly narrow sidewalks.
Next is a pretty minor redesign, although this would definitely cost some money since it involves devoting a significant amount of the road surface to the sidewalks. Nothing ambitious here, however — we make the sidewalks safer, beautify the street with trees, slow traffic because of the narrower but still perfectly wide lanes, and, maybe most critically, improve the visibility of drivers at the stop signs on the cross streets.
There’s plenty of room on Whitaker for the following design too — two travel lanes and a lane of parking, which would add considerable value to the properties next to the on-street parking:
But maybe we don’t need the parking as much as a bike lane? Two travel lanes plus bike lane, and a little extra sidewalk width that could be used for beautification:
I would suggest that some stretches of Drayton and Whitaker don’t really need two vehicular travel lanes. These are more radical options — 1 travel lane, 1 bike lane, on-street parking, and wider, safer sidewalks. In one, I’ve put the bike lane next to the parked cars like on Price; in the other, I’ve used the parking as a buffer to protect the bike lane.
As I said above, there is no reason to think that Whitaker and Drayton need the same design for the entire stretch from Victory Drive to Bay Street. The northernmost blocks of Whitaker — from Bay to Broughton — have a large number of pedestrians; many of them are patronizing popular restaurants and bars, while many others are just trying to get safely across the two travel lanes. But if you stand at the corner of, say, Whitaker and Bryan, you realize that the cars turning off Bay and turning out of the parking garage are only really using a single lane. We could and should dramatically reimagine those busy blocks — and we could turn a truly repellant street into a pleasant and comfortable one, including space for outdoor cafe seating and a protected bike lane.
But maybe we need two travel lanes on other parts of Whitaker, especially around Forsyth Park. Here I’ve still made the lanes narrower — again, that’s a no-brainer — but the left lane here is a dedicated turn lane onto Park Avenue, while the buffered bicycle lane will also make it much safer and more pleasant for pedestrians on the west side of Whitaker. After narrowing the lanes, I was able to widen the western sidewalk by 2′ and create a 2′ buffer for the bike lane. The presence of that bike lane would also make it much easier to reduce bicycle traffic in Forsyth Park.
These are all just possibilities, but any and all of them are better than what we have now.