With James Island connector off limits, cycling alternative criticized
People have been bicycling illegally across the James Island connector for years, but that will come to end in a few weeks, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says.
The state Department of Transportation has informed the city that it soon will post signs on the limited-access highway that make it clear that bicyclists and pedestrians are prohibited, Riley said. The connector isn't safe for bicyclists, he said.
"It's designed for high speed."
The law wasn't previously enforced because the city failed to recognize that bicycling on the connector was illegal according to state law, Riley said.
The news of cyclists being prohibited on the connector, which links James Island with the Charleston peninsula, has stirred the ire of bicycle advocates who bemoan the lack of safe bike routes in the area.
DOT spokesman Pete Poore said the agency will post the signs, but it's up to local police to enforce the law, which has a maximum penalty of $100 or 30 days in jail for those who violate it.
Riley said the push to recognize and enforce the law was "certainly not unconnected" to the death of Mitchell Hollon, a noted anesthesiologist who was killed last summer when a vehicle struck him as he was biking across the connector.
Tom Bradford, director of the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group Charleston Moves, called news of the ban disappointing. The connector is not ideal for bicycles, he acknowledged, especially near the ramps.
Still, he said, it currently is the safest way for bicyclists to travel between James Island and the Charleston peninsula.
Riley said a plan in the works to convert one lane of the bridges over the Ashley River to a bike and pedestrian path would give bicycles safe access to the peninsula. Making that project happen "is one of my top priorities," he said.
The state gave a green light to the project last month, a move that allows planners to work on the design. But so far nobody has landed money to pay for it. Money likely will come from a combination of city, county, state and federal funds, Riley has said.
Katie Zimmerman, project manager for the Coastal Conservation League, said it's disappointing that the connector is being closed to bicyclists before the bike lane on the bridge over the Ashley River is complete.
That project could be delayed a long time, she said, because some people are opposed to it and no money is available to complete it.
Zimmerman said officials should first consider ways to make biking, running and walking on the connector more safe before closing it down.
And, she said, nobody seems to have thought about the alternative routes bikers likely would take between James Island and the peninsula, and whether they are safe.
Fred Nash, a bicyclist who lives on James Island and works downtown, said the most logical alternative to the connector is "a death-trap route."
Bikers likely will travel down Folly Road on James Island, across the Wappoo Cut bridge, through South Windermere, then finally across the Ashley River bridge into downtown. "Many points along that route are dangerous," he said.
Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis said department leaders plan to work with the biking community and the media to educate the public about the new rules for the connector after the signs go up.
Riley said it's unfortunate that bicyclists and pedestrians weren't taken into consideration when the connector was originally designed.
Bradford agreed. "It was a momentous lapse of judgment when it was designed to not consider bikes."