How they voted: Bridge bike lane

To approve the design phase going forward:

City Council members: Kathleen Wilson, Dean Riegel, Mike Seekings, William Dudley Gregorie, Robert Mitchell, James Lewis, Rodney Williams, and Mayor Joe Riley.

Voting against: Bill Moody, Aubry Alexander, Keith Waring; Marvin Wagner, Gary White.

Heels and wheels won the battle of the bridge as a divided Charleston City Council voted in favor of closing one of the car lanes on the inbound T. Allen Legare Bridge and making it exclusive to cyclists and walkers.

If the timetable sticks, the lane could be open for use within the next 12- to- 18 months, giving bicyclists an accessible path from West Ashley, across the peninsula and over the Cooper River bridge into Mount Pleasant - if they wish to pedal that far.

The 8-5 City Council vote Tuesday to go forward with the idea came as dozens of area residents flooded City Council chambers advocating for the lane by citing the ease, recreational boost and commuting alternative the path will bring.

"It's not about closing off a lane; it's about opening up a bridge," said Stephanie Hunt, chairman of the board of the pro-cycling group Charleston Moves.

The vote in favor came as several council members representing districts in West Ashley tried to delay the effort, saying they feared what will happen to traffic as cars back up or end up jockeying for space while heading into the city, especially during the morning rush hour.

Councilman Bill Moody of West Ashley called the idea "shortsighted," as he predicted traffic will only get slower, more cluttered and worse as drivers merge from three highly traveled paths that include the Folly Road, Savannah Highway and Ashley River Road corridors. More than 56,000 cars travel along both directions of the two U.S. Highway 17 bridges daily that connect Charleston and West Ashley. That number is projected to surpass 59,000 by 2035.

Supporters of the route, including Mayor Joe Riley, said the benefits outweighed the concerns. Also, he said the worst of the projected traffic snarl will be alleviated by redesigning and adding a new turning lane to the Bee Street and Lockwood Boulevard intersection. The extra space at the stoplight there amounts to doubling the capacity, the city said.

"This is what the future of Charleston is going to be," added Riley in promoting the lane as extension of the city's support of alternative forms of travel.

As envisioned, the southernmost lane of the Legare Bridge heading north into the city will be blocked off by a rail-topped barrier. Inside the lane it would be designated for biking and recreation use, while the three outside lanes would remain for vehicles. Strollers, joggers and sightseers would be allowed inside the path too.

City estimates indicate that up to 1,500 people will use the lane on weekdays, with at least 1,000 of them likely to be work-bound commuters. On weekends, the usage rate would drop to about 1,000 people a day, though the rates for both categories would probably dip by about one-third during times of rain, bad weather or intense heat.

The measure that passed Tuesday was for council giving its support to a Charleston County and state Department of Transportation memorandum agreement to go forward with the next design phase of the lane. None of the more than $1.6 million cost will be absorbed by the city; Charleston County will pay for the lane with local sales tax money.

Officials, however, spoke Tuesday of the possibility the county could ask for the more than $600,000 that's been spent on the lane study so far to be reimbursed if the vote had failed, since the bike lane was something the city had initially requested.

Several members of the public who spoke in favor of the lane pointed to the need for safe bike routes by remembering at least three fatal accidents seen around Charleston in which cyclists were killed by drivers. Other selling points were that younger people from West Ashley would use the bridge path often - thus keeping cars out of downtown - if the route were safe.

Some of the constituents named as instant beneficiaries included students, food and beverage workers, and downtown professionals.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.