I USE my car for most around town trips—not due to any emotional attachment to the Subaru, but because it’s the easiest way to get myself and my stuff from home to wherever I need to go. Most of the time, driving my car is some combination of a faster, more convenient, more comfortable, or cheaper way to go than any other means.
Auto congestion, and its relief, is big news in Savannah of late, with projects like the Ellis Square garage and Project DeRenne generating much well-deserved enthusiasm. But, as noted last week, the issue isn’t really about too many automobiles trying to get to the same places at the same time.
The issue is people—more people wanting to do more things in places that are popular or are close together. And most of us find that, despite an increase in traffic and a decrease in easy nearby parking spots, using our cars is still the optimal way to do what we want to do.
A solution to the problem of how to get people where we want to go involves a change in perception—on my part and on the part of the people in charge of economic development in our city.
My part? Be willing to think outside the box a little. Like most people, I’m usually only motivated to do so when it works to my immediate advantage.
Many days I find my to-do list including a 45-minute exercise walk around Daffin Park, followed by a series of short errands in the car that, if done on foot, would cover about the same amount of mileage and time.
One Saturday in late October I decided to walk my errands—an effort to save time that resulted in an experience resembling an obstacle course drill instead of a power walk.
Heading south on Waters I went eight blocks to Savannah Dry Cleaners, then five more blocks, crossing the into Medical Arts Shopping Center for a grouper po’ boy at My Place Café and cash from The Savannah Bank’s ATM. From there it was only four blocks or so for an on-time arrival for a coffee date at a friends’ house on 65th Street.
Along Waters Avenue, sidewalks are in place for only about two blocks of the 13-block stretch to Medical Arts, including a ten-foot long “sidewalk to nowhere” leading away from a new-looking bus shelter.
A church, two convenience stores and two auto repair shops have paved parking areas across the fronts of their businesses, providing walkable surfaces along my route but requiring me to play “dodge the autos” as cars backed up or turned in from the roadway.
Two blocks of Waters are abutted with dirt paths beaten into the grass from many walkers trudging back and forth over the years. Several times my walk led me into the oncoming auto travel lane, due to steeply sloped yards or wide, water-filled pits, often where the service lanes intersect with the street. Had it been a busy weekday I would have been stymied by the confusing Delesseps intersection with cars coming from five directions.
Hiking conditions along 65th Street were only slightly better.
My trip was a success despite its challenges, but I’ll be thinking twice before I try it again soon. It’s no wonder that driving is usually my travel mode of choice, and I’m not alone in thinking this way.
It appears that for decades our community leaders—retail developers, city administrators, large employers, elected officials and even some neighborhood activists—have adopted the habit of using the automobile as the baseline for moving customers, homeowners, students, employees, patients, and visitors to and from their establishments.
Future on-foot errand trips could be aided by an expansion of the type of thinking that seems to be underway in some offices of City Hall. The approach being applied by Project DeRenne to the two-block area adjacent to DeRenne Avenue is an excellent model to apply to support the people living and working in neighborhoods north and south.
With hospital employees and medical residents living nearby, how about a sidewalk and bike path network that puts pedestrians and cyclists on even footing? How about a network of sidewalks to and from Medical Arts and other nearby dining spots for medical and dental employees on lunch breaks?
It takes time and effort to change the way we think, and still more effort to change the way we act. I’ll keep trying to come up with easy or convenient ways to get where I need to go, and hope for better sidewalks in the decades ahead. And in the meantime, there’s always the Subaru. cs