This past week, I took a short break from my work to travel around the southeastern US. In a rental car with my trusty sidekick, we toured Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, Asheville and Charlotte, North Carolina and all the points in between. Each city had its own charms and idiosyncrasies and I wanted to highlight a few elements of each that are relevant to readers of this blog. First: Charleston. A city that serves as an example of historic preservation success, walking through its streets allows one to appreciate the delights of tree-lined and narrow roadways. These narrow streets have presented unique challenges for bicyclist improvements in the city, as evidence by the general lack of bike lanes or racks. Recently, Charleston implemented a couple three-foot-wide bike lanes (see my photo below from John Street). Not only would cyclists in Europe find this improvement laughable, even people here in the US doubt its efficacy (see the comments). However, some there argue that the need for facilities is so great, even inadequate improvements are a step in the right direction, demonstrating a commitment to change.
Next stop: Savannah. This small city was Georgia’s first, establishing itself on the back of the cotton boom. Savannah holds claims to being America’s first planned city; James Edward Oglethorpe designed residences around 24 squares where trade historically took place and Forsyth Park, a beautiful tract of open space still alive with public life today. While the city has its pitfalls, it too seems to have succeeded at historic preservation and economic development, especially on its waterfront. Recently, the area has been redeveloped, opening the River Street Streetcar in 2009 and establishing the River Street Marketplace. When we visited, the area was buzzing with tourist activity.
In Charlotte, I was excited to check out their new light rail system: the blue line. An article out just today laments rising operating costs for the line, due largely to trains leaving a period of warrantee. But the line has seen a lot of success. Its ridership projections of about 9,100 passengers per day have been exceeded, reaching 12 to 14 thousand per day. It has also spurred much transit-oriented development along the line. While not focused on technological innovation, I hope this article showcases some of the character of southern US cities and their transportation-related investments. It is important to keep physical infrastructure and traditional planning methods in mind as we evaluate new methods and encourage innovation in historic places.