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Proposed solutions for downtown Savannah residents' trolley concerns coming soon

Story by Evan Lasseter | Savannah Morning News

Downtown Savannah residents may see proposed solutions this spring to two major quality-of-life concerns ― tour vehicle amplification and high trolley traffic in squares.

Savannah City Manager Jay Melder told members of the Downtown Neighborhood Association Tuesday night that a pilot for trolley route adjustments on Warren and Washington Squares will take effect on April 1. He also promised a proposed ordinance to reduce tour vehicle amplification in either April or May this year.

"I'm happy to support any technology that we think is going to make life better for downtown residents," Melder said.

The pilot program for route adjustments will be carried out by Old Town Trolley and Old Savannah Tours. Warren and Washington Squares were selected for the pilot due to those being areas of high trolley traffic.

The Old Town Trolley route will remove a trip down Rainbow Row, which is one section of downtown that a DNA study found heavy trolley traffic. The new Old Savannah Tours route will remove access to Houston Street going around Washington Square, according to Melder's presentation.

"We want to see how it goes; we want to see what the impacts are," Melder said.

DNA President David McDonald said he is hopeful the adjustments in the pilot will have a positive impact. Still, the neighborhood's trolley study identified other squares, such as Chippewa and Columbia, that also experience a high frequency of trolleys.

When it comes to tour vehicle sound, there are a few options on the table. The most prominent potential solutions are in-ear technology or directional speakers. The directional speakers are likely the preferred solution for trolley companies, with Old Town Trolley's General Manager Garry Patrick saying in December that in-ear technology does not enhance the visitor experience.

Neighborhood associations represented on TAC ― Downtown, Victorian, Thomas Square ― expressed in December's TAC meeting the need for neighborhood leaders to see a demonstration of directional speakers before endorsing them.

Melder said a public demonstration will take place before the ordinance is proposed.

"I'm not an audio technician, but I have seen a demo. I thought it worked," Melder said. "But we want to make sure the DNA has an opportunity to see what these directional audio systems can do, and whether or not it's a solution that is going to work for us."

The measures proposed by Melder are the most concrete steps to date seeking a balance between tourists and residents. DNA first presented its trolley study to TAC in October 2023, and the trolley companies followed in December.

McDonald said he is happy things are moving forward, but the effectiveness of the measures is still uncertain.

"We've got the attention of the city council, the mayor, and the city manager, so we're happy about that," McDonald said. "Now it's time to see implementation."


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