Better get to Charleston City Hall early this afternoon if you want to find a parking meter to chain your bike to - they're going to go quick.

City Council will vote on a plan to shut down one lane of the T. Allen Legare Bridge to car traffic so the city can create a bike and pedestrian path between West Ashley and the peninsula.

The vote is going to be so close that neither side knows what's going to happen, a rare occurrence in the Hall that Joe Built.

But council members against this particular plan believe they are walking into this showdown at a disadvantage - because City Hall is trying to stack the deck.

Last week the city's office of Neighborhood Services sent an email to more than 100 community activists, asking them to show up in support of extending the West Ashley Greenway.

The email included a list of reasons to support the lane closure that looked suspiciously like the talking points issued at a news conference last week by the biking group Charleston Moves.

That, some City Council members believe, is outright campaigning.

"I really don't think employees should be sending biased information to the public," says Councilman Perry Waring. "Basically they are being lobbyists, and that's not what they are supposed to do."

Waring is not the only one who feels that way.

Information only?

Mayor Joe Riley says Neighborhood Services is simply doing what it always does.

The office is supposed to keep the community updated on what's going on, and often sends out notices about zoning changes and the like.

Riley says he speaks to all the neighborhood groups regularly and knows they care about the bike and pedestrian path issue, and that they overwhelmingly support it.

"We keep citizens informed," the mayor says. "I can't believe anyone would complain about a call from a constituent. I certainly wouldn't."

But several council members believe this is more than informational. After all, the email's subject line was "call for in-person support of the Legare Bridge Pedestrian and Bicycle Crossing."

"I just think it's wrong that a city department would create dissension between council members and their constituents," Councilman Aubry Alexander says.

This whole bridge thing has taken on the atmosphere of a political campaign, which is what it's become. In fact, some council members believe a few of their colleagues are staking out positions to curry favor with the bike crowd in the next mayoral election.

Which should be interesting because it seems like nearly everyone on council is running.

Of course, picking up the bike vote isn't going to do them much good if they alienate the motorist vote.

The only choice

In some ways, this has become a debate about the path of least resistance.

Many West Ashley council members say the state Department of Transportation, which ultimately controls the Legare Bridge, predicts the bridge will "fail" (that is, become hopelessly gridlocked) in 2019 with only three lanes onto the peninsula - 11 years earlier than it would with four lanes.

And they say no one will find the true price of this access path until one day when they are stuck in traffic.

Riley says that's not going to happen. Because of other infrastructure improvements - including a second exit lane onto Lockwood - the commute time will not increase for anyone more than a few seconds. And we can't wait on a new bridge that includes a bike lane, he says, because that's not coming anytime soon.

Several West Ashley council members want to wait on the results of a study about adding a bike lane to the James Island connector, which is coming out in a few weeks. They say that would ultimately be a better choice, and allow James Island and Johns Island folks access to the peninsula, seeing as how most people - including Riley - say that adding a bike lane to the Wappoo bridge is a no-go.

What's the hurry, they ask.

Riley says that the Legare Bridge is the only viable option, no matter what the study says.

But he needs six other votes besides his own to make that happen. It's up to council, which meets at 5 p.m., he says.

"If they want to deprive the citizens of West Ashley of this wonderful access, they should vote no," Riley says.

And that is exactly what at least five or six of them are going to do. Whether two more follow will depend on exactly who answers the call of the email.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.