HICKS COLUMN: Don’t yell at the cops, they aren’t the problem
Here’s a fun math problem:
What do you get when you add 20,000 cars to the 70,600 that normally file onto East Bay, Meeting, Calhoun and King streets during any given day.
The answer is — wait for it — traffic.
The Friday before the Cooper River Bridge Run is traditionally the most congested day on Charleston roads. As you may have discovered if you were downtown Friday afternoon, when the better part of 25,000 people tried to pick up their race packets at Gaillard Auditorium.
It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that adding a third more traffic to Charleston’s already busy streets will result in some delay. No traffic engineer in the world could design a system to avoid it.
So, if you are stuck in Bridge Run congestion today, just chill. Don’t try to turn left and, if possible, avoid the major thoroughfares.
And don’t cuss at the police officers in the intersections.
They aren’t the problem.
A simple plan
On Friday afternoon, Charleston Police Capt. Chip Searson was monitoring downtown traffic the old-fashioned way: he was in it.
Searson was coordinating the department’s plan for directing traffic during the rush of people picking up Bridge Run stuff. He had officers at every intersection in the mid-peninsula, directing traffic from before noon until after 7 p.m.
“There is definitely an art to directing traffic,” Searson says. “We are using the same plan as last year, with a few tweaks.”
Searson has done this for years, and his plan’s strong point is its simplicity. Move the most cars in the fastest time.
The nerve center of the city’s traffic plan was the intersection of Meeting and Calhoun, which cops affectionately call “The Pit.” From there, traffic supervisor Brad Wilson had the vantage point to call the shots. The idea was to get all north-south traffic moving at one time and then, with military precision, switch to east-west.
He would radio out, “We’re still going north-south. In 20 seconds, we are switching to east-west.”
The results were pretty impressive.
Calhoun Street was moving better than it usually does, and Meeting Street was — for the most part — no worse than it is on a typical Friday.
Which isn’t great — but hey, Charleston is popular.
Why can’t I turn?
The officers directing all this traffic, some of whom come from other departments, don’t have it easy.
They stand in the street for nine hours, holding their arms up, dodging cars, baking in the sun and dealing with some motorists who don’t play well with others. One woman let loose a string of profanities as she drove by Wilson. He replied with “Have a good day!”
Searson attempted to ease the tension among his troops, pulling up to an officer at the corner of East Bay and Chapel and putting on his left turn signal.
“Why can’t I turn left?” he called out. “I’ve got to pick up my aunt.”
“Yeah,” the officer said, playing along. “You probably have surgery scheduled, too.”
These guys have heard it all. And every time someone starts messing with these officers, they are only holding up traffic even more.
“This sort of thing takes patience on everyone’s part,” Searson says.
He’s absolutely right. So take it easy, lay off the horn and lay off the cops.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.