IN THE first 15 minutes I spend at Francis Allen's charming rowhouse talking about the heavy traffic on his narrow little stretch of East Gordon, five vehicles pass by the front door.
One is an Old Town trolley full of tourists.
One is a SCAD security SUV.
One is a small SCAD bus.
One is a huge new SCAD bus, of the kind which has provoked quite a hubbub from many residents who feel they’re simply too large and heavy to safely negotiate many downtown streets.
Only one of the five vehicles is a privately-owned car.
Tiny sample size, to be sure. But while I’m at Francis’s house, literally 80 percent of the traffic is either SCAD or tourism related. He says that’s the norm these days.
While this portion of East Gordon is between two well-used thoroughfares, East Broad and Price Streets, it’s clearly too small-scale to comfortably host a similar level of traffic.
The affable Allen, co-owner of the Roots Up folk art gallery on Liberty Street, is as far from the stereotype of the persnickety, perpetually disgruntled downtown resident as you can get. He’s quick to joke that these are “First World problems.”
But they’ve not been without cost, he maintains, pointing out a recent street repair to fix broken water mains which he says were damaged right after the new big SCAD buses began using East Gordon—mostly to pick up and drop off students at the Clarence Thomas Center for Historic Preservation just down the block.
Allen says he’s no “SCAD-basher” by any means, enumerating all the good the school has done for Savannah, good work which indirectly helped lead to his own ability to open a successful gallery downtown.
He just says larger vehicles should stick to larger streets.
“Why can’t they just use East Broad and Price? They’re right there,” he muses. “I think they just use my street as a shortcut.”
The City of Savannah has assured Allen it’s just a coincidence the water mains broke when they did. In the big picture, however, the issue may involve more than pipes.
The City has been quick to wash their hands of the SCAD bus issue, so to speak, saying they have no jurisdiction over them.
But a closer reading of the laws and ordinances involved may say otherwise.
The City says the big SCAD buses aren’t covered by the Motorcoach for Hire ordinance, which regulates every "passenger vehicle which exceeds 34 feet in overall body length, excluding school buses and Chatham Area Transit vehicles on regularly scheduled passenger routes within the city."
The City and SCAD maintain that SCAD buses fall under the school bus exemption. But a close reading of Georgia state code reveals not just any vehicle can claim that exemption.
First of all, a “school bus” under state law carries over 15 passengers and is used to transport “school children to and from school or school activities.”
The law is clearly intended to apply to primary and secondary education, not to higher education institutions like SCAD, where the passengers are almost certainly all adults 18 or over.
More to the point, to claim the school bus exemption under state law, guess what you have to do your buses?
(a) Every bus used for the transportation of school children shall bear upon the front and rear thereof a plainly visible sign containing the words “SCHOOL BUS” in letters not less than eight inches in height.
(b) On and after January 1, 1971, every new school bus purchased for the transportation of school children shall be painted National School Bus Chrome Yellow.
While yellow happens to be one of SCAD’s school colors, clearly none of their vehicles complies with these clauses.
Also: If it’s true that the larger SCAD buses are indeed covered by the Motor Coach ordinance, they would seem to be in conflict with City regulations governing which routes a Motor Coach can use.
At savannahga.gov/DocumentCenter/View/4370 you can find map of the prohibited zones. East Broad and Price are apparently just fine to use.
But Francis Allen’s stretch of East Gordon? Apparently a no-go zone for motor coaches (but cleared for trolleys like Old Town's).
Overlay that map with SCAD’s real-time transit system map at scad.transloc.com—which by the way, is really cool and a great student service—and you’ll see more examples.
I asked Bridget Lidy, head of the City’s new Tourism Management & Ambassadorship Department, about all this.
About motor coaches, she says “These regulations are for tour vehicles that are for hire,” not passenger buses.
As far as SCAD is concerned, she says without elaborating that “During our discussion with SCAD, City staff shared a copy of the motor coach map which shows where motor coaches (for hire) are prohibited from operating.”
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the City would prefer that this issue fade away as quietly as possible.
And it will, unless residents choose to keep it alive. They might have a good case to make if they choose to pursue it.