Business owners tend to measure success in dollars — more is better.
So a report done for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce puts a new focus on the need for this area to become more bicycle-friendly and to provide better public transit: It would pay off financially.
Next Generation Consulting reported that when the percentage of college degree holders in the community increases by 1 percent, the economic dividend is $865 per capita. In the Charleston metropolitan area, that would mean a $570,200,215 economic impact.
And what was at the top of its list to make Charleston more desirable for that sector of the population? Make the area less car-dependent.
That would entail investing in “a future-friendly, innovative multi-modal transportation system.” Specifically, reliable and convenient public transit, and safe walking and biking routes.
Sadly, until local governments find a way to provide for bikers and pedestrians to cross rivers safely, the area’s appeal to those wanting a healthy, active community with less traffic, less air pollution and more sustainability, is significantly diminished.
And until there is modern public transit, like light rail, that provides commuters a fast, attractive alternative to driving, many college-educated people will see this area as provincial — and possibly unfriendly.
The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments has commissioned a large study to address mass transit needs. That’s a good start.
Over the years, community leaders have acknowledged the need for both better public transit and better bike/pedestrian routes. And indeed, some headway has been made.
But even after the overwhelming success of the bike/pedestrian path over the Cooper River Bridge, they have failed to conquer the Ashley or the Wappoo.
It was two years ago that the idea was presented to convert one lane of the east-bound Ashley River bridge to bicycle use. Charleston, Charleston County and the S.C. Department of Transportation are still trying to nail down an agreement about issues like maintenance and operations involved with the new lane. One thing making it tricky is that the lane is to be temporary, and if it negatively impacts motor traffic it would be converted back to vehicular use.
A preliminary design by the county is now under internal review.
It was in June that the S.C. Legislature agreed to allow bike traffic on the James Island Connector. The city of Charleston on Sunday advertised for bids to study how bicyclists can be safely accommodated.
There is no safe way over the Wappoo bridge or the North Bridge over the Ashley River.
Tom Bradford, director of Charleston Moves, a non-profit organization that advocates for alternate forms of transportation, says people are frustrated and angered by the lack of progress.
Making those transportation changes happen is a challenge, but it is also critical to the area’s future. Traffic is getting worse, and at least one business executive, Matt Weismiller, president of Bechtold Corp., told New Generation Consulting that it is “negatively impacting our employees’ commute times and overall satisfaction with their work life.”
John Osborne, former chairman of the Chamber’s Young Professional group, said he is optimistic — very optimistic. The business community, he said, has caught on and understands the need for safe bike routes that people can travel to get to work.
Still, the wheels of government move all too slowly. And while it is important to make decisions that promote safety and ensure smooth operation, these changes should be dealt with like a footrace, not a stroll.