West Ashley bridge bike lane giving Charleston City Council congestion
It's a good thing all these bicyclists are in such good shape - they won't have any trouble pedaling home today after they waste their breath.
See, Charleston Moves is holding a press conference this morning to rally support for reserving one lane of the West Ashley bridges to bike traffic. And that's probably not going to happen.
The problem is that having a dedicated lane for bikers - the ones with spandex, not leather - means there will be one less lane for cars on the T. Allen Legare Bridge. It doesn't take a traffic engineer to know that equals bottleneck at the round Holiday Inn.
And congestion is bad politics. So, not surprisingly, a growing number of Charleston City Council members think this is a bad idea.
"I'm looking for a compelling reason," says Councilman Perry Waring. "I have not seen any studies saying if we did do this, what the volume of usage for bikes we'd have."
Yes, that is exactly the question. And it is a question that many folks are asking their council members.
Unfortunately, any answer less than 14,000 bikers a day means more traffic for West Ashley motorists.
And that's not an appealing scenario for most politicians.
Do the math
This is nothing against bikes - it's all about math.
In the past six years, traffic on the West Ashley bridges has gone up nearly 38 percent. That should be no surprise, seeing as how St. Andrews, James and Johns islands are growing faster than pot in Colorado.
The state Department of Transportation predicts it's only going to get worse.
The DOT has ultimate control over that bridge - it's part of Highway 17 - and can take back that fourth lane anytime. DOT officials predict they will do just that by 2020.
So this is a $2 million temporary solution. A quick fix that costs money but ultimately doesn't solve the problem? The very definition of bad politics.
The bike people make some good arguments for their cause, and they make some bad ones. The worst is that having four lanes promotes risky lane changes. Really?
The bridge is a problem now because you have six lanes of traffic - two from Folly Road, two from 17 and two from Highway 61 - merging into four lanes in a very short space. And in the length of that bridge, many people have to cross all those lanes to go left or right, depending on where they're coming from.
The bike people contend that a new safe passage will encourage more people to pedal to work and therefore cut down on car traffic.
Yes, it will cut down slightly on traffic: when it's not too hot, too cold, or dark during rush hour. Other times, not so much. At least that's what most people predict. And it's hard argue otherwise.
And that's bad politics, too.
You want to see political activism? Leave people sitting in gridlock on that bridge while three or four bike riders luxuriously pass them by.
That's exactly what a lot of council members fear.
"It's punishing 56,000 people," says Councilman Aubry Alexander. "If council wants to do that, OK ..."
A bridge plan to sell ya
The good news for bikers is that nearly everyone on council says there should be a permanent bike route into downtown.
Nearly all of them are looking at the James Island Connector when they say that.
They think that bridge would work better on a number of levels. They could add a cantilevered lane, it's probably easier to access from the greenway, and then James Island folks wouldn't have to bike over the Wappoo Cut bridge. Which is easier said than done.
If the bike crowd plays this right, they could actually see a permanent solution sooner rather than later. But if they show up at City Hall next week with a lot of folks from Mount Pleasant, North Charleston or Summerville - that is, people who have little stake in this - it's not going to do anything but strengthen the opposition. Already some council members think the bike community is a very vocal minority of folks who are getting far more than their numbers warrant. That may or may not be true, but it's the perception. And it politics ...
The biggest thing the bike crowd has to worry about right now may be this:
There is a semi-serious proposal floating around City Hall to block off said lane with cones for a couple of weeks. You know, just to see how it goes before spending all that money.
A lot of city officials believe it would give Charleston its very own bridgegate. And the bike lane would end up about as popular as Chris Christie.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.