Steve DeAntonio figures he either walks, jogs or bikes the West Ashley Greenway at least three times a week, but he was surprised when a crew showed up last month and began work to pave it.
He is no fan of the change.“I just think this is a bad idea conceptually,” he said as he stood on the packed base behind the South Windermere Shopping Center. “Aren’t we trying to preserve green space?”
DeAntonio is far from alone.Since the city’s contractor, Landscape Pavers, started paving a 10-foot-wide path that parallels Savannah Highway, a fresh debate has emerged among walkers, runners, cyclists, stroller pushers and those in wheelchairs as far as what this linear park should look like.
Mayor Joe Riley and City Councilman Bill Moody said they are listening, and Riley said last week the city will tweak the project to reduce the paved walkway to 8 feet in width. It also will ensure it hugs the edge in narrow spots to create as large an unpaved section as possible.
Despite the change, the city won’t please everyone — and might not even stop the phone calls.
Long in the worksThe West Ashley Greenway didn’t start life as a park but as a railroad right of way, and the city has been wrestling with what it should look like since 1985.
That’s when the Charleston Water System (then known as the Commissioners of Public Works) bought the property, which stretches 10.5 miles from Folly Road to Main Road near Johns Island.
The utility still owns the land and maintains a big sewer line along much of it, but it has an agreement with the city to use the space for recreation.
As West Ashley has developed, a growing number of runners, dog walkers and bikers have been drawn to the largely wooded route that passes behind hundreds of suburban stores and backyards.
Vonie Gilreath, a past president of the Byrnes Downs neighborhood group, said the city has held at least three sets of public meetings on the Greenway’s future since 2006.
While some might enjoy the path in its current state — with widths of packed dirt, grass and chunky gravel — it can get muddy, even impassable, after a heavy rain and is not welcoming for strollers or wheelchairs.
Gilreath said the paving also should bring an environmental benefit because it would prevent dirt and clay from eroding into the marsh.
“I’m just confused as to how people could not have known about this,” she said. “Of course, there are always people who are going to disagree with it, and that’s fine.”
Growing disagreement?Dan and Rebecca Knapp have lived near the West Ashley Greenway since 1974, and they regularly walk the section currently set to be paved, which runs almost 2 miles from Folly Road and Stinson Drive.
They said they are concerned about the project for several reasons.
Some people don’t want to run or walk on pavement; cyclists could go much faster and pose a safety hazard on a smooth, paved surface; and the new asphalt will get hot in the summer and might even burn dogs’ paws.
In recent weeks, they have stopped many others along the Greenway and found similar sentiments.
“This doesn’t take into account the large number of current users who love the Greenway because it’s green and using it feels like a visit to the country,” she said. “This is something a lot of cities would love to have, and we’re paving over it.”
They have an ally in Addison Ingle, whose backyard backs up onto the Greenway and who also is uneasy with the change.
“I understand progress and what the city’s trying to do, but I think the scale is too big,” he said. “At what point do you destroy something for the benefit of a very few? As caring people, where do you draw the line?”
City Councilman Bill Moody, who represents the West Ashley area, said he has talked to the detractors and has tried to find a compromise.
“I got on my bike Tuesday and rode the whole thing just to see what some of them were talking about,” he said, adding that people seem divided about whether paving is a good idea.
“The people on the bicycles, they wanted the pavement,” he said. “I stopped a few joggers, and they didn’t want the pavement. They wanted to be able to run, but they acknowledged that it left a little to be desired because you could easily twist an ankle. It’s got some holes in it. It’s not that smooth.”
City’s responseMayor Joe Riley said he understands the reality of a project might only become clear once the contractor begins work, and he and Moody have heard the complaints about the new pavement.
Riley said the city has decided to narrow the pavement width from 10 feet to 8 feet. Moody noted that’s the width of most bike paths on Kiawah Island.
“The input and comments from the citizens have been very helpful,” Riley said.
While 10 feet is a federal standard for multiuse recreational paths, “in looking at it on the ground and then hearing from people, we know that an eight-foot bike path is a good-sized one,” he said.
Also, the paved path will meander and be aligned so there is a wide unpaved section — even in the Greenway’s most narrow sections.
Christian Schultz, who said he often runs and bikes the Greenway, applauded the decision to shrink the pavement.
“I’m all about compromises,” he said. “I like to look at things two ways rather than things being right and wrong.”
The change should save the city about $18,000 on the project, money that it can use as a credit for signs or even drinking fountains along the Greenway.
Moody said it remains to be seen if the change to an 8-foot width will end the debate or simply point it in a new direction.
“If we do it to 8 foot, now what crowd is going to be coming out?” he asked. “Is that a bigger crowd than the 10-foot crowd that’s been coming out?”