BALOG COLUMN: Parks should be pedestrian friendly
The plan by Charleston city officials to convert Mary Murray Boulevard around Hampton Park to one lane for pedestrians and one lane for vehicle traffic sure sounds like a win-win.
The lane around the park is closed to vehicle traffic from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, March through August, and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings year-round.
A few minutes after 7 p.m. Tuesday, there were at least a half a dozen runners, about 10 bicyclists, lots of walkers and at least one in-line skater taking advantage of the road closure, and it's not hard to see why. For starters, it's a mile, so that makes it ideal for those looking to track distance.
And it's flat, it's scenic, and has no stop signs. Of course, those are probably the same reasons that it might more often seem like a speedway than a scenic drive.
Out and about
Some folks taking advantage of the road closure Tuesday night hadn't heard about the city's proposal to create a permanent pedestrian lane around the park, but they seemed receptive.
Rachel Ware had just finished her workout in the park. She lives here but goes to Emory in Atlanta, so she's home for the summer. She uses the road in the park once or twice a week during the summer, not necessarily when the road is closed to traffic. “I just come whenever,” she said.
Cynthia Wahl, who was training for an Olympic-distance triathlon as her son Ben watched, said she probably wouldn't necessarily use the park any more than she does now if there were a dedicated pedestrian lane.
“On the nights we come, it's always non-car anyway,” she said.
But she added that it would benefit her fellow Team in Training athletes, particularly during their weekly long runs on Sundays.
Share the road
The paved running path around the park, with its mileage markers and exercise stations, is great too. But it's extremely narrow, certainly not wide enough for pedestrians and bicyclists to share. A dedicated lane could only improve safety.
Yes, the area's premier pedestrian path on the Ravenel Bridge has problems—sometimes walkers or runners spread out too far into the bike lane, and sometimes bicyclists don't give enough advance warning when approaching walkers. But there's no denying that it's spurred so many people to exercise more.
Nan Rickson, who lives across from the park on Moultrie Street, said she'd like to see the whole thing closed to vehicle traffic. Rickson, whose Toyota Prius sports a “Share the Road” license plate, has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years and was part of a group that tried to urge the city to keep the park vehicle-free.
Restricting the vehicles to a narrower lane might actually make them slow down to the posted speed limit of 20 mph, reducing or eliminating it as a preferable route to avoid stop signs around the park perimeter.
“You're not saving any time by going as slow as you're supposed to,” she said.
Maybe dividing the road will reinforce that too.
Melanie Balog is the Digital Editor. Reach her at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.