A bike lane across the Ashley River, now a very real and exciting possibility, would dramatically enhance the area's livability and benefit its health, environment and connectedness.

By persevering on behalf of the project, despite setbacks, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, City Councilman Mike Seekings and Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor have advanced a plan that could provide a vital link now missing in the Lowcountry's transportation system.

A traffic study shows that one of the four bridge lanes from West Ashley to the peninsula could be converted for bike and pedestrian use without slowing vehicular traffic. That finding is key to moving forward with the project.

Money numbers haven't been crunched, but it appears that the project would not be terribly expensive. In one form, it would call for sidewalks on Albemarle Road from the West Ashley Greenway to Folly Road, signage and a yet-to-be-designed barrier separating bikes from vehicles.

A more expensive, but also more beautiful, alternative would build a path over the marsh from Ripley Point Drive, where the West Ashley Greenway ends, to the bridge.

The next step will be to get approval from the S.C. Department of Transportation. We can be optimistic in light of the department's stated commitment to providing safe lanes for bikers and pedestrians. With DOT approval, the design would be fine-tuned and the funding arranged.

The DOT, city and county can count on some resistance from motorists afraid that the change would slow them down, and from taxpayers afraid the cost would be too great for a project that could have a limited life.

Traffic increases over the next decade could create excessive congestion on the bridge. Even so, it makes sense at this point to give the bike lane a chance.

There were naysayers, too, before the bike lane was added to plans for the Arthur Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River. It has turned out to be immensely popular and a safe and scenic way for people to bike and walk for recreation or as part of their daily commute.

It is logical to anticipate that more motorists will leave their autos at home and bike once there is a safe, convenient way to cross the Ashley River. That will be great for their well-being, and will reduce congestion and automobile emissions.

Already, the West Ashley Greenway, along an old railroad bed, stretches 8.3 miles from Main Road to Albemarle. More than 57,000 West Ashley residents live within a half-mile of this and other trails.

The bridge path also would be crucial to the East Coast Greenway and for CharlestonMoves' Battery to Beach initiative, a safe cycling route from the Isle of Palms, through downtown Charleston and on to Folly Beach.

The Lowcountry, like many metropolitan areas trying to restructure transportation systems to accommodate bikes and pedestrians, has a long way to go. Only recently plans were announced to study a change in traffic lanes on the North Ashley River Bridge between West Ashley and North Charleston to allow bicycles.

The bike lane across the Ashley would open up safe cycling opportunities to thousands of residents. And it would provide momentum to address the next challenge -- a safe way for people to bike from James Island to Charleston.