EARLIER this month Savannah Technical College announced the purchase of 7 West Bay St. as the new downtown location for an expansion of their Culinary Arts program.
According to a release, “The expansion will more than double the available instructional space for Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry Arts” and take pressure off the teaching kitchen and classrooms at the college’s campus on White Bluff Road which are currently in use 16 hours a day.
The news was greeted enthusiastically, which is appropriate. Still, some readers of our city’s daily newspaper expressed concern about how the new facility would impact students.
One reader wondered, “Where are they going to park?” Another worried about students having to pay the recently increased parking rates.
I have different concerns when I visit Savannah Tech’s main campus on White Bluff Road. I wonder how students and college employees, who do not drive, reach this campus, which is surrounded by streets designed to function as highways. What are their daily commutes like?
To reach campus from the north, someone on a bicycle or on foot has to cross DeRenne Avenue, surely one of the most unpleasant experiences our civic realm has to offer. A little over a mile to the south of the campus is the intersection of White Bluff and Abercorn, which earned the dubious distinction of finishing third in a 2015 contest for “Worst Intersection in the United States.”
Presuming you make it across, you’ll have the luxury of using a sidewalk for only a small portion of your journey to the Savannah Tech campus. You’ll be slogging through the dirt, weeds, and debris on the shoulder most of the way. That is, until the shoulder disappears entirely and you are forced to enter the street and take your chances among the cars and trucks moving at speeds over 50 mph.
Savannah Tech is served by Chatham Area Transit’s 4 Barnard route, which terminates at the Joe Murray Rivers Jr. Intermodal Transit Center on Oglethorpe Avenue. Once the new instructional space is open, students could walk to 7 West Bay St. from the transit center.
However, Savannah Tech does not participate in CAT’s U-Pass program, which allows students to show a valid ID and ride any bus route for free. As a result, Shalonda Rountree, CAT’s marketing and business development manager, could not provide ridership statistics on Savannah Tech students.
She said CAT has tried to recruit Georgia Southern, SCAD and Savannah Tech to join U-Pass, so far without success, although demand is measurable.
“I receive a few inquiries weekly about the program from both students and parents at these institutions,” Rountree said. Savannah State University is the only local college that participates in the program.
I’ve found myself inside Savannah Tech’s Eckberg Auditorium many times over the years while participating in meetings related to Project DeRenne, intended to “determine the future of the DeRenne Avenue corridor while seeking to balance the often competing objectives of transportation and neighborhood connectivity.”
This effort has been underway so long Tomochichi probably showed up at one of the first public meetings. Eighty-one people attended the most recent meeting, held on Feb. 13, and I suspect every one of them arrived by private automobile. That’s how I got there.
Project DeRenne includes elements that could improve access and safety for people who walk and ride bikes, but when public meetings are held in locations that are difficult and potentially dangerous to travel to without a car, the voices of people who do not drive may not be heard.
As drivers, our main concern is convenience. We want reduced travel times and easy parking, and we’ve received around 80 years’ worth of fast, wide streets and untold acres of “free” parking in response to our demands. In the process we’ve destroyed historic neighborhoods and degraded irreplaceable coastal landscapes, and made it daunting and often dangerous to travel by walking or biking.
It’s hard to get folks used to driving everywhere to see their city from the vantage point of people who don’t or can’t drive. This is especially true if you live in a neighborhood like mine, where 100 percent of households have access to a car.
In other neighborhoods, that’s not the case. In the census tract that includes Kayton-Frazier and parts of Cuyler-Brownville, more than 58 percent of households do not have access to a car. In the tract which extends east from Forsyth Park to Price Street, 41 percent of households are carless.
This assumption that everyone, including Savannah Tech Culinary Arts students, drives is often called the “windshield perspective” and its provided a distorted view of our transportation needs for too long.