Savannah intersection
The 37th street intersection with Ogeechee Road, one of the highlighted intersections in a $23 million grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve safety along 37th Street. Credit: City of Savannah

Fatal and serious injury car crashes in Savannah slightly rose last year after hitting a record high in 2021, new traffic data shows. 

The total number of crashes resulting in death and serious injury for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians grew by 46% between 2020 and 2021 – from 127 to 186. Last year, the trend continued unabated with 187 such crashes, according to data from the Georgia Department of Transportation. 

The number of bicyclists killed in car crashes last year increased to three, which was the total amount killed between 2017 to 2021.  

This comes as Savannah and greater Chatham County are experiencing rapid economic development and an influx in new residents. Chatham and its surrounding counties are estimated to grow 34% by 2045. 

Savannah city officials hope to combat these crash statistics and eventually eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2027 with its Vision Zero initiative. Vision Zero focuses on data collection and altering street design to protect drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. 

A key part of that plan is an ambitious $23 million grant request sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation last month.

The grant proposal seeks federal funding to complete the city’s Tide to Town project, which would build out a citywide loop of bike trails and walking paths connecting disparate neighborhoods and offering a safe alternative to driving. It would also fund improvements to intersections along 37th street, which has high rates of crashes and low quality of infrastructure, according to the proposal. 

The Tide to Town route, a 30-mile route that would connect the Southside to Downtown Savannah if it receives the funding to build further. Credit: City of Savannah

Push for investments

Driving/walking/biking while under the influence of alcohol or drugs occurs in Savannah at a rate close to double the state in fatal crashes and three times the state in serious injury crashes, according to the 2022 Vision Zero report.

Another major factor in Savannah crashes are high speeds. A majority of fatal and serious injury crashes occur on streets where the speed limit is between 35 and 45 mph, the report says. 

These are issues that District 4 Alderman Nick Palumbo said he hopes to tackle if the city’s grant application for $23,274,784 is approved. The so-called “Implementation Grant” is under the DOT’s Safe Streets and Roads for All, which was funded under the Biden administration’s infrastructure law in 2021. 

Tide to Town, which recently received $10 million under the city’s hotel-motel tax, would span 30 miles and connect the Southside to West Savannah to River Street before following alongside the Harry S. Truman Parkway and completing the loop. Officials would put funding towards a “protected separated facility” for cyclists and pedestrians on Middleground Road, which is along the Tide to Town route and connects Montgomery Cross Road and Abercorn Street. The proposal cites the pedestrian deaths on Middleground Road in 2016 and 2020 as reasons for its selection. The funding would also allow the city to build out different parts of the route, according to Palumbo. 

“The objective is not just about connectivity, but to provide mobility and transportation solutions for individuals who choose to get where they need to be without a car – and safely,” Palumbo said. 

The other half of the money would go towards improvements on 37th Street at 15 intersections. 

From grant proposal: a map of intersections along 37th Street where Savannah city officials would change light signals, increase pedestrian walk time and improve crosswalks if they were granted funding. Credit: Grant proposal, screenshot

These would include:

  • Installation of left hand turn bays, which statistically lower crashes
  • Adjusting the timing of yellow lights to reduce red-light violations
  • Increased crosswalk visibility with lighting and markings
  • More sidewalks and shared-use paths for pedestrians
  • A 3- to 7-second head start for pedestrians crossing the street before a green light appears for drivers parallel to the crosswalk
  • More on-street parking, which statistically causes drivers to travel slower

Savannah applied for this grant last year but was not selected – while Atlanta was, according to Palumbo. He hopes this time will be different. 

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...