In the Sept. 4 editorial, “Dream big for local bikeways,” you state that “every city cannot be a Copenhagen” when it comes to making cycling a priority in its traffic plans and infrastructure. Perhaps. But there is no reason that Charleston should not try.
The biggest challenge is not the bridges and waterways. It is the lack of leadership within the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT), as well as the executive and legislative branches of S.C. government.
While SCDOT claims to be open to “complete streets” (roadways designed and operated to enable safe, attractive, and comfortable access and travel for all users), their actions, or inactions, are one of the largest obstacles to the success of implementing infrastructure for cyclist’s and pedestrians in Charleston as well as the rest of the state.
The SCDOT designed and built the bridge to Sullivan’s Island with barely a sidewalk, much less a bike lane. This was after months of discussion and requests from the cycling community.
The SCDOT has refused to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Grimball and Folly roads, despite that James Island Elementary School (JIES), area residents, James Island Public Service District (JIPSD), the City of Charleston, the Town of James Island, and the 21-member First Congressional Legislative Delegation have requested one to improve the safety of drivers and pedestrians who are traveling to and from JIES.
If only the SCDOT would embrace the federal “Safe Routes to School” (SRTS) program with the same passion and commitment that it has for the removal of the trees on I-26.
From 2005-2012 SRTS allocated over $15 million to the state of South Carolina so that children can have safe, permanent access to sidewalks/bike paths between their home and school. Yet, the SCDOT, which oversees those funds, has denied S.C. schools/communities access to those funds six of those eight years.
Of the 22 schools that were “awarded” SRTS funding in 2007-2008, only two infrastructure projects have been completed.
For comparison, Iowa has awarded 86 SRTS grants impacting over 164 schools. And Indiana awarded 114.
SCDOT states that the trees on I-26 should be removed for our safety. Yet, they have shown little to no interest in the safety of our children who risk their lives with the morning traffic to get to school.
How much has the S.C. Legislature offered to South Carolina’s SRTS program? Zero.
The state of Iowa has invested $3 million annually on bicycling infrastructure and has received a return of $435 million per year in economic activity, plus $87 million in annual health cost savings (“Economic & Health Benefits of Bicycling in Iowa”).
With Charleston’s mild weather, and its frequent top ranking as a vacation destination, there is no doubt that we could easily receive returns on bicycling infrastructure investments higher than any city in Iowa. Possibly even more than Copenhagen.
South Carolina ended the fiscal year with a higher-than-expected surplus, handing legislators an additional $68 million to distribute next year, so revenue is not the problem.
I long for the day when the state of South Carolina has a governor, General Assembly and DOT that will make cycling and pedestrian infrastructure central to transportation needs in every community in South Carolina.