Bravo to Townsend Van Fleet for his letter that appeared in the May 28 Gazette Packet. It couldn’t have been more timely, since on the previous afternoon a humongous tour bus, or motor coach, did more than just graze a car parked in the 200 block of So. Lee Street. A loud crash brought neighbors spilling from their homes and left a late model Audi, parked fully 12 feet from the corner crosswalk, badly damaged and the street littered with debris, including a large piece of the bus’s fender. The police arrived, followed by the Ohio- based bus driver who hadn’t know he’d hit a car until the driver of the bus behind him told him (the behemoths always travel in packs of three or four). He was anything but arrogant, instead very apologetic, but he was confused by our streets, had been given no instructions or directions for reaching the waterfront, and had ended up on So. Lee because the cobble-stoned 100 block of Prince Street prevented him from proceeding directly to his destination at the foot of Prince.
Just why a bus that size was on either Prince or Lee Street raises a decades’ old question and calls for an immediate answer. In the 39 years I’ve lived near the corner of So. Lee and Duke Streets I’ve witnesses the nightly packs of tour buses inching past my house before trying to turn left onto Duke. At best it’s a dicey move that usually requires back and forth maneuvering that blocks traffic in all directions. Occasionally a bus will become wedged between parked cars on both streets, and minor damage to cars is not a rarity (I lost my side mirror to a motor coach several years ago). Twenty years ago I photographed some of this “action” and contacted then Mayor Ticer and Transportation and Environmental Services Director O’Kane about the problem, suggesting that the tour bus companies be given a prescribed route to follow that would avoid the narrowest and most historic blocks of Old Town. Both informed me that the city could not dictate to the bus companies and that any signage indicating bus routes would add unwanted clutter to our streets. Nothing could, or rather would, be done.
Now, however, something must be done. With massive demolition and construction projects about to start along So. Union Street as part of the Waterfront Development Project, traffic in the entire area promises to be severely impacted for some time, even without the packs of tour buses. Now is the time for our mayor and City Council to follow the example of other historic cities like Charleston, Savannah, Boston, San Francisco and New Orleans, to name just a few. That is, establish a tour bus depot on the edge of Old Town, bring tourists into our district by existing trolley or shuttle buses and stop the humongous motor coaches from doing any more harm on our historic streets.