The Creative Coast’s blogspot is Savannah’s sounding board for local thinkers, innovators, wanderers and wonderers. Guest bloggers share their thoughts, opinions and creative noodling from all over the map. This week’s blog is from Drew Wade, a radiologist, avid bicyclist and proponent of all things which make Savannah a better place to live. Pedal along with Drew as he lays out a roadmap to cooler, hipper, healthier community….
The Savanasphere has been swirling with talk of what might become of the old Backus Cadillac dealership at the corner of Victory Drive and Truman Parkway. Most of the comments are centered around the likelihood (and I believe for many reasons they are right) that Whole Foods is redeveloping the site for one of their stores. While I think many of us will find some solace in that arrival, relieving our inferiority complexes about Charleston, will a one-stop big box carrying a greater variety of organic and otherwise expensive groceries really change Savannah?
So, with that in mind, please consider suspending your disbelief to look at a slightly unfair comparison between these two things over which our MPC has domain. If you are excited by Whole Foods and the health benefits of eating better, please consider how we could make even greater gains by implementing the similarly named Complete Streets roads that accommodate all users, and not only for public health, but also economic health, and public safety, as Im sure youll be soon convinced.
Lets start with health. Georgia has an adult obesity rate of 28.7% – greater than 1 in 4; not only that, but 1 in 10 have diabetes. To top it off, Georgias childhood obesity rates are among the worst in the country, an obese country at that, and kids have fewer and fewer unstructured ways to get exercise (and are arguably not helped by a recent PR campaign). Ready recreational activities in the form of safe paths right outside their door could only help. Grocery stores come and go and dont serve everyone. A connected network of safely walkable, bikeable streets would give easy and long lasting access to physical activity that can be coupled with trips to work, the store, or a friends house.
Next, lets look at wealth. Whole Wallet, as Whole Foods has been dubbed by some, is clearly looking to serve an affluent demographic, and while a new store means a few more jobs, its hard to argue a significant economic impact to the city or region considering that people must have been shopping somewhere else before, and locally owned operations like the Forsyth Farmers Market, Brighter Day, local CSAs who currently offer similar choices may suffer.
The truth is, that if we as a city, make simple and repeated small investments in safer conditions for walking and bicycling, we would affect multiple positive changes on the local economy. Consider the economic implications of what many often bring up as a needed non-motorized road improvement project, namely, a safe bike route from Savannah to Tybee. Undoubtedly, we could attract greater numbers of tourists and keep them longer as they make a day trip riding back and forth, enriching the local economy with dollars from other places.
The second thing such a path would offer is an intangible quality-of-life benefit to those who live or might consider living here making it easier for our area to recruit and retain talented minds who might otherwise gravitate to places like Austin and Portland.
Third, and of critical importance is something that Sean Brandon recently said in this same space, providing transportation access to the least economically advantaged will boost their potential to achieve training and long term productive employment. Consider how difficult it is for someone without a car to get to and from Savannah Tech on White Bluff.
A final benefit of Complete Streets is a boost to public safety. Not only do more bicycles and pedestrians on the street make those streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, those streets are safer for motorists too! In addition to that obvious public safety benefit, Jane Jacobs and other advocates for urban renewal note that streets with people walking and bicycling have more eyes (and camera-equipped mobile phones) to root out illegal activity before it gets started. This notion of eyes on the street we instinctively know, but which some intellectually deny when faced with changes to the local traffic flow. Perhaps there is a similar effect to the old Backus lot from the increased numbers of folks visiting there in the future, but the effect is limited to the parking lot.
Outside the historic district and some older neighborhoods, our roads generally lack significant consideration for anything other than cars. Fortunately, we dont have to choose between safer streets and Whole Foods, and were fortunate if the news is true that this project will be infill rather than greenfield development. What I hope will draw your attention away from the shiny new building is that the concept of Complete Streets will serve our city with benefits to public health, economic development, livability, access for those in poverty and improvements to public safety.
All we have to do now is to build them.