In most cases, bicyclists and pedestrians don’t need to be on the shoulder of a freeway. But there are exceptions to every rule, and fortunately, state Sen. Chip Campsen realizes that.
A bill the Isle of Palms Republican has introduced would give local governments the ability to intervene when a freeway is the only safe or viable route for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Case in point: the James Island connector.
For years, bicyclists have used the shoulders of the bridge to commute between James Island and peninsula Charleston. Last year, an experienced bicyclist was killed by a van crossing the bridge. That accident resulted in the city opting to enforce a state law that bans bikes from the bridge.
Ironically, without the James Island connector bridge, cyclists are limited to a route they consider far more dangerous than the connector. James Islanders have to use Folly Road to get to the very narrow and very busy Wappoo bridge to West Ashley. And in order to get to and from the peninsula, they have to use narrow sidewalks on the busy Ashley River bridges.
The city of Charleston is working on a plan that would change the southern lane of the Ashley River Bridge that goes from West Ashley to the peninsula to a bike lane, at least for a while. In lieu of a permanent fix, it is well worth the try.
But no one yet has a plan to get bicyclists and pedestrians safely between James Island and West Ashley. So the James Island connector becomes the only likely answer.
Sen. Campsen’s bill doesn’t throw open the door for bicyclists on highways not designed for that purpose. Indeed, a local governing body has to first adopt an ordinance allowing bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the freeway. They would have to stay on the shoulder unless not practicable.
Next, the local government applies to the S.C. Department of Transportation for a “partial exemption” from the law. If the department determines there is no other reasonably safe or viable route, it can approve the application.
The DOT would be responsible for erecting appropriate signage and markers to alert motorists to bicycles and pedestrians.
Charleston Moves, a non-profit organization that advocates for bicycling and walking, is happy with the bill and the possibility that cyclists could return to the James Island connector. It reports that 22 other states have similar exceptions to their laws.
If the Legislature supports the bill it will be making a move to keep cyclists safer, reduce motor traffic, improve people’s health and be kind to the environment.
There is every reason to expedite the process and allow cyclists to use the safest possible routes.