Bicycle and Pedestrian Access
As the City and County of Charleston planned for growth, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure was recommended. As these plans are implemented, the importance of biking and pedestrian access seems to recede to the background. In January of 2012, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) officially decided that after eighteen years, bicyclists and pedestrians would no longer be allowed access to the James Island Connector (JIC). While it has always technically been illegal for bicyclists and pedestrians to use the Connector, the SCDOT has now placed warning signs and demands the City of Charleston enforce the law. As the Charleston area wrestles with bicycling and pedestrian concerns, the JIC controversy and how to address it stands as one of two flagship issues.
The JIC solution is simple and requires two steps, one of which has already been addressed: put the power to decide the fate of the Connector into the hands of City of Charleston leaders. More than twenty states allow cyclists to ride on “limited access freeways” (roadways with the same rating as the JIC) if there are no other routes available for safe passage. We worked to pass legislation that allows local governments in South Carolina to determine the routes that should be available to cyclists and pedestrians. Senator Campsen of Charleston proposed such a bill, which passed into South Carolina law in June 2012.
The second step is to make the Connector a safer route. Simple improvements can be made to allow all users safe access across the Connector. Lowering the Connector’s speed limit to 35-40 miles per hour, which would add less than one minute of additional travel time for drivers traveling from end to end, is the most immediate and sensible fix. Posting signs that indicate to motorists to watch for cyclists and share the road would help raise awareness that the road is intended for multiple users. Finally, the City and SCDOT could work together to place some sort of barrier between the bike and travel lanes. At the very least this could be rumble strips that the cyclists would never have to cross. At the most, this could be a cement barrier, much like the one on the Ravenel Bridge.
Unfortunately, the City chose to pay for an unnecessary feasible study, rather than go ahead and implement changes. Even worse, some council members still use the JIC as a distraction, pointing to it as a better route than the Legare Bridge, yet doing nothing to retrofit the roadway.
The second flagship issue is the Ashley River Bridges (a set of bridges, with the four lane Legare Bridge going downtown and the three lane World War I Memorial Bridge going to West Ashley). Currently this route is tenuous, with bicyclists and pedestrians sharing a narrow maintenance path close to speeding cars on the World War I Bridge. Since the 1980s, former Mayor Riley had promised a bicycle and pedestrian lane for this bridge. A safe route for multi-modal users would help open a transit option between West Ashley and the peninsula. The City of Charleston took yet another vote in favor of converting the fourth lane on the Legare Bridge and is now facing Charleston County opposition and delay (assisted by certain City Councilmembers).
Our elected officials at the local and state levels have the opportunity to make progress towards complete streets. In order for us to ensure a sustainable future for Charleston, we all must accept that it is the right of each of us to bike or walk or run or ride the bus, just as much as it is the right of each of us to drive. Any and all of those options, when practiced safely and without detriment to the safety of others, should be examined fairly, with proper infrastructure provided and maintained.
Complete streets investments are important and would benefit a diverse group of citizens. The League of American Bicyclists compiled 2010 bike and pedestrian commuter statistics for the City of Charleston, with 3% of our working population commuting to work via bicycle, and 6% commuting by walking–that is more than 5,000 of our friends, neighbors, family members, and colleagues who deserve safe access to work when they walk or bike. Most recently, Charleston had the largest increase in bicycle commuters in the nation. When examining the League’s data across the United States, even “non-bicycle friendly cities” have seen growth of regular bicycle commuters (30%) over the past ten years.