Cyclists merit more attention
The S.C. Department of Transportation just can't seem to get it right with regards to the James Island connector.
Years ago, it blundered by not designing and building the bridge so that it would accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.
Now it is banning bicyclists and pedestrians from the bridge instead of looking for ways to make it safe for them. Banning them leaves bicyclists to take an alternate route that appears even more unsafe.
State law is on the department's side. Officials say people who have been bicycling on the connector for years have been doing so illegally.
But refusing bikers a way to go from James Island to the peninsula without a serious search for a better answer is a cop-out and suggests a lack of concern for advancing South Carolina's efforts to become more bike-friendly.
Fortunately, Charleston Moves, a local advocacy group, is working with engineers to find a solution.
The DOT would be wise to involve its own engineers in the discussion. The city of Charleston also should be part of the dialogue.
Tom Bradford, director of the group, is reluctant to predict what the engineers will recommend. They will assess the demand for bike access, investigate whether a segment of the bridge could be refitted to be safe for bicyclists and consider the possibility of lowering the speed limit on the bridge. Driving 10 or 15 miles per hour slower over the bridge would add only a miniscule amount of time to the trip.
Controversial plans have been approved, with the support of Mayor Joe Riley, to convert for pedestrian and bicycle use one lane on the bridge that connects West Ashley to the peninsula. But the money isn't there yet.
So bicyclists who want to go from the peninsula to James Island still must travel a narrow sidewalk over the Ashley, drive along busy Folly Road and cross another narrow sidewalk over the Wappoo bridge.
The DOT also should be looking for a way to make it safe for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the Wappoo. Perhaps a cantilevered addition similar to one that was considered for the Ashley River bridge would work on this much shorter span.
And planners need to analyze how the completion of I-526, if it happens, will alter the outlook for bicyclists the length of the limited access road.
Nationally, more people are using bicycles instead of cars. The economy dictates that choice for some; others do it for health, for the environment or for fun.
The Charleston metropolitan area should be an inviting place to bicycle and walk. The weather is temperate year-round. A thriving downtown and hospital district are close enough to residential areas to make bicycling a logical alternative. And the vistas are beautiful.
The James Island connector, which lands at the mouth of the hospital district and offers a spectacular view of Charleston and the harbor, has served as an important link for bicyclists.
The recent tragic death of a bicyclist on the connector should inspire planners to buckle down and find a solution, not simply post signs warning cyclists to keep off.