Savannah Bike Safety: A guide for cyclists and drivers
It’s 10:30 a.m., classes are letting out and SCAD students are flooding the streets of downtown Savannah. Everybody has somewhere they need to be and many are getting on a bicycle to get there.
According to the American Community Survey (ACS), Savannah — in terms of people biking to work — has the highest bicycle commuter rate in the state of Georgia. The city ranks ninth in the South and comes in at number 15 across the nation.
Due to Savannah’s flat roads and high poverty rate, cycling is a common form of transportation. The cost-effectiveness, combined with the hassle of finding parking, is what makes it so popular among SCAD students.
But Savannah being a bike-heavy town does not necessarily mean everyone is on the same page. Savannah Bicycle Campaign (SBC) Executive Director John Bennett still sees dangerous behaviors among bicyclers and drivers. In a phone interview, Bennett explained some of the common misconceptions and ways to avoid getting into an accident.
Do’s and Don’ts for cyclists AND drivers:
DON’T bike against traffic
“Riding against traffic is something that we definitely discourage … that’s one of the No. 1 safety messages we try to convey,” Bennett said. “It increases your chances of getting hit by 400 percent,” he added.
Biking against traffic, also known as salmoning, increases the risk of getting hit by a car for cyclists going both the correct and incorrect directions.
DO look for oncoming cyclists BEFORE opening your car door
The most effective technique to avoid dooring (opening your car door on a cyclist) is the Dutch Reach, Bennett said. The Dutch Reach is when a motorist reaches with his or her right hand to open the driver’s-side car door. The motorist’s whole torso will be forced to move so they will face toward the window and able to look out for cyclists.
DON’T bike on the sidewalk
“Riding on a sidewalk makes you much more vulnerable to cars exiting driveways and turning into driveways because they’re not looking for bicycles on sidewalks,” Bennett said.
It is also illegal to ride on the sidewalk in the state of Georgia.
DO look out for cyclists (as well as pedestrians) when driving
“The most dangerous thing I see … is people entering historic neighborhoods driving like they would on a suburban thoroughfare or on a highway and then becoming frustrated and angry when they see people walking or trying to cross the street.”
“It’s amazingly reckless and potentially deadly,” Bennett said. “You need to be aware of people all around you walking, riding bikes; you can’t pretend that everybody is going to get out of the way.”
DON’T bike on high-traffic, fast-paced, four-lane or one-way roads
“We recommend that people select routes as best they can to avoid high-speed, multi-lane streets.”
In Savannah, these include Bay Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Whitaker, Drayton, Henry and Anderson Streets and any other four-lane, one-way traffic or bi-directional streets that have heavy motor vehicle traffic or that people typically speed on.
“They are essentially highways within a city,” Bennett said.
Price, Barnard, Habersham and Lincoln streets all have marked bike lanes and are the safest way to avoid heavy traffic.
DO adhere to the three-foot passing law
The law in Georgia is that if you’re following or passing someone on a bike the minimum safe distance you should allow between your car and that bike is three feet.
DON’T forget about bike racks
To keep your bike safe and ensure that you always have a sound method of transportation, be aware of the bike racks located along your normal routes.
DO advocate for more bike lanes and complete streets
The Complete Streets Ordinance, which was implemented in Savannah in 2015, with encouragement from the SBC, is the concept that anytime the city builds, repairs or paves a street they make sure that it’s safe for bikers, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. This includes implementing bike lanes, sidewalks and protected bike lanes into roads that are constructed or repaired in Savannah.
“In the four years after bike lanes were put into Price Street, car crashes have gone down by 27 percent,” said Bennett. “Unfortunately, we haven’t done much work on new bicycle and pedestrian projects [in Savannah] in the last five years.”
SBC strives to educate drivers and cyclists and to advocate for and achieve better facilities.
“What we know is when you build better facilities two major things occur: crashes go down for everyone and behavior by everyone improves,” Bennett said.
Bennett encourages SCAD students to get involved in advocating for complete streets, saying that students are often overlooked by local decision-makers based on the assumption that SCAD students are only in Savannah for a short period of time.
“It’s a good opportunity both to get involved in making the city better for you and your classmates for however long you’re here, but I think it’s also a good way to become involved in civic life,” Bennett said. “Especially if you’re a person who wants to bring positive change to your community.”
Written by Asli Shebe.