Savannah and the traffic, Dec 16-17, 2018

Posted: December 31, 2018 in Georgia trips

Savannah GA is supposed to be a nice place.   I wanted to visit there by bicycle, but I made the mistake of trying to bicycle into it from thirty miles out.    I discovered how difficult and dangerous it is to bicycle into Savannah from outside the city.   Like a lot of port cities on the East Coast, Savannah is surrounded on several sides by water and swamps.   To bicycle to Savannah one has to either cross bridges that prohibit bicycles, or thread through narrow and dangerous busy highways.

This bike ride was so dangerous I have promised myself I will never do this kind of ride again.   We’ll see if that promise holds.

Savannah did end up being a fascinating cultural experience.  More on that later.

I had studied Google Maps and picked a spot to start riding.   I drove six hours south from Chapel Hill mostly on I-95, and parked the Prius on the street in the tiny town of Springfield, Georgia; thirty miles from downtown Savannah.  I pulled the bicycle out of the back.

I bicycled east on a two lane highway with no shoulder.   It was Sunday afternoon and traffic was light.

Unfortunately that road ended after about seven miles, and the only way towards Savannah was on Georgia Route 21, a four lane highway with rumble strips down the side.  If a large pack of cars approached, I jumped off the highway and stood in the grass while I let them pass.   This continued for about five unpleasant miles.

A little over halfway to downtown I was able to find relief by turning left into the Savannah port complex.   The roar of the traffic ceased immediately.  On this Sunday afternoon it was peaceful.  The road was empty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After passing alongside the port complex I realized this narrow road must have once been the main route into Savannah in the 1950’s.  Stuckey’s, right?

 

I consider the Alamo Plaza Motel a real find as there are hardly any motels like this left in the whole country.   I am not the only fan of this stuff, somebody wrote a whole Wikipedia page about the Alamo brand!

 

The Talmadge bridge rose in the distance, with a giant auto-carrying ship parked underneath.

 

I biked across a much smaller bridge and I suddenly was in Savannah!   The first neighborhood I saw was a 1940’s public housing complex.

Soon after, on Bay Street, I stopped to regroup in a crowded Starbucks.  Savannah has changed a lot during the past twenty years due to the growth of Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD.    This young woman waiting in line in Starbucks must have been a SCAD student, she was obliviously taking candid pictures of everyone with an expensive looking camera.   I returned the favor.

 

The previous day I had booked an Airbnb somewhere in central Savannah.   After drinking coffee and reading a while in Starbucks I biked off to look for my lodging.   Savannah is really beautiful but I find the fake trolly buses tacky.   People wandered around, or drove their Austin-Healy 3000’s.

 

 

 

 

This Kroger in Savannah is an example of how to build an urban supermarket with style.  The building comes right to the street.   There is a full parking lot across the street, fenced, and surrounded by shrubbery.  It was the one place I saw in Savannah that seemed to be patronized by all classes of people.

 

My Airbnb was the second bedroom of this two bedroom apartment, occupied by a former SCAD student.    It is just over the edge from the “historic district” and into the apparently gentrifying African-American neighborhood.   The building containing the Airbnb apartment is not very old, inside it seemed cheaply-built 1980’s.

The lodging was more than adequate and a good deal at $ 77.00 including tax.   The sad truth:  cheap hotels can feel gross but I have never felt that way in an Airbnb.   Sure, Airbnb’s are all over the map, sometimes they are small or dark or have lumpy beds or almost zero privacy, but none have felt dirty or sleazy or unsafe.   I theorize that the credit card and personal profile requirements for Airbnb filter out the poor and the needy and the unstable.  Another way to divide America, I guess.

My meal that evening at an Italian restaurant called Cuoco Pazzo.  It was also quite good, except my dinner cost about the same as my “hotel” room!

At Cuoco Pazzo I ate at a three seat bar in the same room as a quite capable jazz duo; bass and guitar, playing instrumentals of Christmas music.

 

The other patrons were mostly grey haired and well dressed.    The $ 19.50 lasagna was indeed delicious but it did not even fill me up.   So I got bean soup that was also very good, at $ 10.00 a bowl.   Wine was $11.00 a glass.

I cannot help but compare it to more or less the same meal I got four months ago on another bike trip; Scaffidi’s in a Steubenville OH strip mall, where the lasagna was just as delicious, but it had cost $9.50 INCLUDING A SOUP FIRST COURSE.    And wine there was $5.50 a glass, exactly half the price here.

As I was leaving Cuoco Pazzo the base player and guitarist were sitting at the bar, I guess they get free drinks.   I wanted to ask them if they got paid for this gig, but I demurred.

On the way walking back “home” I passed this store clearly not intended for the people eating at Cuoco Pazzo.   As in many cities it seemed like central Savannah was just for the rich and the poor and not a lot in between.

 

The Victorian era houses in this part of Savannah were lovely at night.

 

The next morning, just a few blocks from my “hotel” I found this place called Mate´ Factor.  They operate as a regular coffeehouse but also specialize in yerba mate´, a tea-ish drink popular in South America.

I got one of their custom lattes, a mix of yerba mate´, coffee, hot milk, and spices.    Paired with a home made almond scone it was my kind of breakfast.

I biked through town again.   I thought a lot about another city, Norfolk VA, my father’s hometown and right next to my hometown of Virginia Beach.   Norfolk and Savannah were about the same size in 1900.   Norfolk had been there since before 1700.   If Norfolk had not been so aggressive with federal government funded “redevelopment” (i.e., tearing down huge sections of “slums” in the fifties and sixties) could it have ended up like this?    Or did Norfolk never have the city pride and joie de vivre that allowed Savannah to blossom?   Savannah was indeed lovely on this Monday morning.

 

 

I still had about thirty miles to bike back to my car.     I took a different route from the way I came but it was not much better.   Traffic from the port of Savannah dominated.

I know from my work life that ocean container trucking has the worst paid drivers in trucking, using the worst trucks.   This is a national disgrace yet to become a scandal, but I thought about it a lot as these beat up trucks zoomed by me.

 

I promised myself I would never put myself in such a position again; I should have just stopped and taken an Uber.

I did sometimes get to jump off the main road and ride on residential streets.

I see these Share The Road notices all over America.   The state highway departments assuage their tiny degree of guilt by putting up these ridiculous signs.

The last half of the ride was on gentler country roads.  When I left the main highways it was like hitting a switch, all of a sudden all the truck noise stopped.   This donkey walked up to greet me at a fence.

I had one close call with a truck on a two lane road, but I did get back to my car in Springfield GA.    I drove home to Chapel Hill in time for dinner.

Comments
  1. A very fine tour & description of bicycling into Savannah.
    Many years ago, 1994, I bicycled from Salisbury MD to Ft. Lauderdale FL. The route I followed took me across Chesapeake Bay to Smith Island by boat. I stayed there for night then took a second boat to the VA side of the Bay. I bicycled as close to the Atlantic shore as possible using US 17, US 21, SC 170, & GA 25 in SC from Charleston to Savannah. I distinctly remember bicycling through Beaufort and thinking about going to Hilton Head Island. I don’t remember where I stayed along the route. I know it wasn’t in a motel. I traveled “loaded touring” on that tour. I continued to Savannah, crossing the Savannah River on the GA 25 bridge.
    Yes, Savannah was and is picturesque. The School of Art was smaller then.
    Thanks for your impressions.

  2. Gerrie says:

    Happy and relieved to hear you survived this adventure.

  3. Carmelita Hartley says:

    You NEED to be more careful! There are roads here that we will not bike on due to the traffics. And yes, the “Share the Road” signs are worse than a joke. Enjoyed the story, thanks for sharing.

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