Chris Fraser lives on James Island but often bikes downtown.

And he can't understand why more hasn't been done to improve the worn and scruffy pathway that runs straight down the upper peninsula -- from Mount Pleasant Street to Line Street.

He successfully pushed for an initial study that the city's Civic Design Center completed in May 2010, but since then the idea has stalled.

"Getting anybody's attention for funding has been a lot more challenging than I hoped," he said. "It's kind of like it's there, and nobody has paid any attention to it. It's one of those out-of-sight, out-of-mind things."

Fraser hasn't given up. In fact, he hopes the July 5 death of cycling enthusiast Mitchell Hollon will spur local governments to do more to improve the trail and give cyclists and pedestrians another, safer route.

Some glimmers of hope

While Fraser might be frustrated with the inactivity, his idea has been embraced in many circles.

The city sees the path's improvement as a high priority, said Tim Keane, director of Charleston's Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability.

Also, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments views this as an important transportation corridor, planner Vonie Gilreath said.

A decent pedestrian and cycling surface already exists in some places, namely an approximately 8-foot-wide asphalt path under Interstate 26 from Cypress Street to Huger Street.

This path is one of the few remnants of Linear Park, which was developed in the 1970s shortly after the elevated interstate was built. North and south of this park, the route is little more than well-trodden dirt near railroad tracks.

Gilreath has volunteered her own time to help clean up the area so it looks more appealing and safe. She is planning another push during the Trident United Way's Sept. 9 Day of Caring.

"It's much cleaner than it has been," she said. "It's just a great opportunity."

Keane said these cleanup efforts are an important first step, and the city hopes to partner with the S.C. Department of Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railroad, Charleston County and possibly private property owners to plan more significant improvements.

"I think there are several next steps," he said. "The good thing is you've got an existing condition that, with a little money, can be improved and made more safe and beautiful to people."

Skateboard park

What could kick the pathway project into an even higher gear is the construction of a new skateboard park nearby, on land under the Ravenel Bridge ramps just west of Meeting Street.

The Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission has committed $2 million toward that project, which has floundered a bit as the county worked to get permission from the state for its plans.

Commission Director Tom O'Rourke said he is hopeful that that roadblock soon will be cleared.

On Aug. 11 the commission will have received all proposals from companies interested in designing and building the park. It is expected to select one by early fall, and the team's first job will be to get the DOT's approval on the park design. Construction could start next year.

"On the 11th, the fun part actually starts, and I think it's going to happen pretty rapidly," O'Rourke said, adding that real estate agents have asked him about the timetable because they are interested in properties nearby. "I think that whole area is just going to take off, I really do."

Keane said it's too early to put a price tag on how much money might be needed to create a quality pedestrian and cycling path along the approximately mile-long route. It also is unclear who might be asked to pay.

"We certainly see this as a cooperative effort," he said. The Park and Recreation Commission could play a role, O'Rourke said.

Commuter's perspective

Alex Seabrook, 42, lives in West Ashley but has walked the pathway regularly for years to get from a bus stop near Spring Street to his job at Kinder Morgan Inc. in the Neck Area.

Seabrook said the route is shadier and protected from the rain, unlike the nearby sidewalk along Meeting Street.

"This is my path," he said. "It's very convenient for me."

Seabrook said he has seen this area look better. He remembers when basketball courts and other playground equipment lined the route, but the courts are now partially covered by sand. Most of the electronic lighting never comes on these days.

Seabrook said he also has noticed some changes for the better. There's less graffiti and fewer homeless camp sites.

He said he would be pleased to see an effort to make the path more attractive and safe. As he talked, a few other pedestrians and one cyclist passed by.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.