Two Savannah College of Art and Design graduate students have tackled a couple of Savannah and Chatham County projects with an idea they think could become a county-wide model.
Tripp Armstrong and Zia Musa, students in SCAD's master of architecture program, came up with an idea to improve the Truman Linear Park Trail plan by incorporating public transportation.
They suggest expanding the trail to River Street and linking more public spaces along the way with bus rapid transit as opposed to a streetcar system, which they view as costly, as Chatham Area Transit has proposed. CAT formally presented its downtown streetcar plan to city officials on Dec. 9.
"It is important to celebrate what is passed and the community in-between downtown and one's home," the students wrote.
"What is more this new plan is projected to increase Savannah's walkability by nearly double. Not only does the park make Savannah's citizens healthy but the city itself by reducing automotive travel and congestion, increasing bike-use with permeable paving."
Titled the "Truman Rapid Transit Health Plan," the proposed project is based on the reality that the walkability of Savannah's downtown grid changed as the city grew southward and outward. The students like the idea of a linear park to add balance between the more "human scale" of downtown and the "industrial scale" of the Southside.
The on-again, off-again plan, which is already approved, to link Daffin Park and Lake Mayer with a 4.8-mile multi-use linear park trail alongside the Truman Parkway, recently ran into a dispute between the county, which is overseeing construction, and the city over who will maintain it. Officials are trying to schedule a meeting to work out a long-term agreement for the $1.9 million project, said city spokesman Bret Bell.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit Savannah Bicycle Campaign, a big trail supporter, has launched a website touting the official project at trumangreenway.org.
Unlike the trail design, Armstrong and Musa's plan looks beyond simply providing recreational activity by expanding the popular linear park concept to connect educational, health care and commercial spaces along the Truman Parkway corridor via a bus rapid transit to River Street.
The plan's rapid transit bus system incorporates existing CAT bus lines so riders can use the trail and, ideally, connect beyond Savannah via the airport and Greyhound buses at CAT's new downtown transit center on Oglethorpe Avenue.
Several "hubs" of commuter parking lots for motorists and bike rack locations for a bike share program dot the design plan and are meant to encourage use of the rapid bus system and trail.
"There are a certain amount of people who will be using the trail — running, jogging, walking and biking," said Musa, 25, an Afghanistan native who recently became a U.S. citizen. "But the point is to bring in more people. The more people who use a space, the more active it is."
Rapid bus v. streetcar
The students' plan calls for dedicated lanes alongside the trail solely for rapid transit buses.
Bus rapid transit resembles light rail and streetcar systems in that they have fixed stops where riders board and depart, but it also gives traffic signal priority to allow the buses to travel through intersections without stopping.
It would take no more than 25 minutes to ride from one end of the route to the other, said Armstrong, 25, of Dayton, Ohio.
"It's actually better than light rail," he said. "The investment is considerably less. It also has been proven to have a higher economic increase to an area than light rail even has."
A first-of-its-kind study released in September by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a New York-based nonprofit that focuses on bus rapid transit development, compared the top bus rapid transit, light rail and streetcar systems.
It found bus rapid transit costs less to develop because it can operate on normal roads without the need to build rail tracks and overhead wires.