The discussion Tuesday was about traffic counts and travel times, but what Charleston City Council actually voted for was to keep bicyclists safe.
It was the right thing to do.
Council, by a vote of 8-5, gave Charleston County the go-ahead to convert a traffic lane into a bike and pedestrian lane on the bridge from West Ashley to the peninsula. At present bicyclists have to approach and exit the bridge on a dirt shoulder and cross on a narrow, raised sidewalk. It's hair-raising and dangerous - so dangerous that most opt not to do it.
Opponents sounded alarms about possible traffic jams as a result of going from four lanes to three, but a study commissioned by the county indicates the plan will work.
The transformation, after all, is far more than simply designating one lane for bicycles and pedestrians.
It involves a safe approach to the bridge and exit from it. It will adjust the way cars feed onto the bridge from Folly Road and Hwys. 61 and 17. And it will add a new lane of traffic at the problem intersection of Bee Street and Lockwood Boulevard on a route that hospital employees often use. (Also, surveys indicate that hospital workers are among those likely to commute by bike, further easing vehicular traffic.)
Providing a safe way for bicyclists to cross the Ashley is key to the city becoming more bike-friendly, a trend found in major cities around the globe.
It's a trend the business community says is key to attracting smart, young people who want to work in a community that cares for the environment and its residents' health.
And crossing the Ashley is a vital link in a bike system that will go from the terminus of the West Ashley Greenway to East Cooper, and eventually the Isle of Palms.
Still, five council members were unswayed by those arguments, by a petition with 1,666 signatures supporting the bike lane, by accounts about three area bicyclists who died tragically after being struck by vehicles and by 33 people speaking on behalf of the bike lane. (Aside from members of council, only one person spoke against it.)
Those naysayers' stance is especially disappointing, given that projections indicate it will take cars at most 13 additional seconds to cross the bridge after the bike lane is completed.
Also, the traffic numbers that opponents latched onto need scrutiny. They talk about how more than 56,000 people cross the Ashley (both directions) daily and how that number is expected to increase to 59,000 by 2035.
By then, 21 years from now, one would hope that City Council and other local and state leaders will have convinced the S.C. Department of Transportation to replace the aging bridge, which is already considered functionally obsolete.
The replacement, of course, will certainly include safe, wide bike/pedestrian access.
Until that happens, however, City Council has acted wisely to take cyclists and pedestrians out of harm's way as they cross the Ashley River.
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