It’s encouraging to see the city of Savannah take steps to become a more bicycle and pedestrian friendly community. It’s a healthy and environmentally conscious route that other local governments should follow.
Walking and bicycling are healthy lifestyle choices that should be encouraged everywhere and made accessible to everyone, not just those who live in gated or exclusive communities. That means public leaders must think ahead. Indeed, it’s typically easier and less expensive to build sidewalks and bicycle routes on the front end of public projects, rather than adding them later on the back end, which will cost about $3 million in this latest case.
Plans to boost Savannah’s bicycling accommodations are scheduled to move ahead with two contracts going before the Savannah City Council at today’s meeting.
With the support of federal funds, the city is planning to widen Delesseps Avenue and LaRoche Avenue to provide bicycle lanes and sidewalks from Waters Avenue to Skidaway Road in east Savannah.
This crosstown east-west route should benefit pedestrians and bicyclists who walk or bike between Waters and Skidaway. Delesseps, which turns in to LaRoche just west of Savannah State University, is a narrow, two-lane road that’s heavily traveled. Adding sidewalks and a bike lane should improve safety for everyone, including motorists.
The Georgia Department of Transportation is providing $2.3 million for the project, and the remaining $732,000 would be funded by the city.
It’s a shame, however, that this city-DOT improvement plan doesn’t extend all the way down LaRoche past SSU and all the way out to the Isle of Hope in the county’s unincorporated area. Biking out to Isle of Hope is a popular pastime and adding a bike lane on LaRoche would make it easier and safer for bicyclists and motorists to share what is now a narrow, winding and picturesque road.
By design if not by coincidence, the Delesseps/LaRoche bikeway project intersects with the planned Truman Linear Trail — a city-county project to construct a six-mile-long pedestrian and bike trail from the city’s Daffin Park to the county’s Lake Mayer. The trail would generally parallel the Truman Parkway and Casey Canal and would connect more than 25 neighborhoods.
This long-planned trail, which has been plagued by bureaucratic confusion and opposition from some neighborhood groups, is also on the City Council’s agenda. The council is expected to consider an agreement allowing Chatham County access to city-owned parcels to construct the project.
Such interconnectivity between government and neighborhoods should be encouraged.
While some legitimate concerns about potential flooding and poor drainage along this proposed trail have yet to be satisfactorily addressed, improving the community’s network of bicycle routes and pedestrian walkways is a worthy endeavor. Work on southern half of the Truman Trail from Lake Mayer to DeRenne Avenue near Jenkins High School is scheduled to begin in May 2018. Work on the second half would commence in the summer of 2019.
Indeed, building more bike lanes helps get bicyclists off the sidewalk and onto designated bike lanes on the road. This improvement helps cut down on “bikelash” — angry reactions from pedestrians and motorists who don’t want to share the sidewalk or the road with bicyclists. Studies have also shown that an increase in bike traffic can slow down the traffic flow when bikes and motorized vehicles are mixed, creating more tension as motorists try to leapfrog the slower moving bicyclists.
The good thing is that pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure are low-cost in comparison to most road projects. This infrastructure can also serve to improve safety for all road users, while also promoting healthier lifestyles through more bicycling and walking.
At the same time, it’s essential that local governments properly maintain this new infrastructure. It does the public no good to have trails and lanes that are pock-marked, cracked and flooded over to the point where they are unusable. Funds must be put aside for necessary maintenance.