Savannah, Georgia | City Accessibility Compliance
Many say that Charleston, South Carolina is the most beautiful little city in the South, but I would have to say that between Charleston and Savannah, Georgia, I would have to give them a toss-up. Filled with mossy trees that overhang the beautiful cobblestone streets, Savannah offers everything from trolley rides to city parks to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room (which is hands down the finest home cooking around). When you go there it is quaintly located on "the most beautiful street in America" and the location certainly lives up to its label. Be prepared to wait an hour and a half in a long line outside the restaurant before you get a table with 10 other people around 20 delicious country meats, vegetables, and cornbreads.
Gryphon's is also another popular choice. This restaurant was an apothecary with a tiny ice cream shop in the corner, in days gone by. It now has the feel of eating in a library with books galore and a truly delectable cuisine. But this story is not about all of the wonderful things that the sense can absorb, but rather, how accessible the city is to people with mobility impairments.
This is not one of our full-scale audits of a city government to ascertain every technical violation of the ADA replete with recommendations and costs for compliance, but rather, it is my story of our experiences while soaking in the southern heat for three days on the streets of Savannah. Back to Gryphon's for a moment - there is a step-up into the restaurant that is approximately 10" high. They have a great portable ramp inside, but there is no sign outside or doorbell (or anything else to indicate that the ramp is available). The thing is is that once you are in the restaurant, they have accessible tables and a toilet room that is so accessible a consultant has to take a fine eye to pick up on any barriers to access (there are a few of course, but overall, it is very usable inside).
The City of Savannah was designated in 1966 as one large historical area, so there are limits on what can be done to provide access without threatening or destroying the historical significance of the city. Cobblestone streets and sidewalks are the norm. And while there are newer parts of town that have wonderful curb ramps and smooth sidewalks with no cross slopes, if you are a wheelchair user, then for the most part, you have to take to the streets to navigate the city. Curb ramps are (mostly) extremely steep and in most cases there is not much room to improve the situation as many of the stores are relatively close to the street.
You want to ride a trolley? Be prepared to give at least a 24-hour notice as there are only a handful of trolleys that are accessible. Down at the river, all of the boats for tourists have ramps down to them and the sunset cruise that we took even had usable toilet rooms on board. When you go down to the riverwalk, the street that divides the restaurants and shops from the pier is constructed from large rectangular stones that have deep gaps between them and a trolley track that you must cross to get to the pier. Approximately every 500 feet, there are smooth crossings from one side to the other, but there is no directional signage so just keep wheeling in one direction and you will find a smooth crossing if you are going down to the docks. At many of the intersections there are verbal enunciators for those with visual impairments which is also very pleasant to the ears.
Although the city has a great number of problems for people who use mobility devices, I spoke with many business owners about their obligations under the ADA and what they could do to provide the greatest measure of access to get into their stores. All were extremely receptive, took my card, and thanked me profusely for the advice. The bottom line is Savannah is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited and I have traveled quite extensively about the US. From natural beauty to dining experiences and entertainment venues, there's plenty to do in this lovely village in the south. I would go again, but if you are new to using a wheelchair or uncomfortable of wheeling with traffic on occasion, then this is not the city for you.
Enjoy your travels!
Kirk, President of Tcherneshoff Consulting, Inc.