Charleston Moves and the 1,666 citizens who signed a petition to support opening the Legare Bridge over the Ashley River to all citizens, not just automobiles, are proud of City Council's recent vote to move forward on the bike/ped lane retrofit. Council showed real vision and leadership, despite knowing that there are and will be many naysayers, as there always are in the face of uncertainty and change.
The eight "yes" votes were supporting a practical transportation solution and were cast by reasonable, thoughtful members of the Charleston City Council who understand this retrofit will ultimately benefit everyone - motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians alike.
Reaching the decision to cast a "yes" vote may not have been easy, and it's not difficult to understand the traffic concerns some citizens are expressing. But Mayor Riley and our City Council understand that this project will contribute profoundly to the quality of life of all of us, that this lane is not a frivolity benefitting a few.
People who study how cities work - what makes them run smoothly and contribute to health and happiness - are supporting multiple transportation modes. As close as Greenville, Spartanburg and Asheville, leaders have seen that civic choices like this reduce auto congestion, address parking problems and contribute to public health and the quality of the air we breathe.
At the individual level, this vote supports budget-conscious, healthy daily choices: Why burn a gallon of gas and sit in traffic when you can get to work while getting some exercise and enjoying the beauty of Charleston?
This is especially true for countless people who'll be able to make the short hop over the Ashley by bike or on foot from their homes in West Ashley to their jobs on the peninsula. This includes hundreds of MUSC employees and students, as well as Citadel students and Wagener Terrace residents who will now have safe, easy access to grocery stores and businesses a short distance away over the Ashley River.
For another group, it may not be a matter of personal choice; their budgets dictate that they rely on using a bicycle or walking. These fellow citizens are now put at risk as they hug the margins of our streets, roads and sidewalks. They carry their lunches, their groceries, or a briefcase, paintbrushes, a tool box. It is not fun and games.
Now that the major stretches of the West Ashley Greenway have been paved, usage is soaring, and it's on its way to its role as a part of the Savannah Highway Transportation Corridor. The missing link is connecting it to downtown Charleston, just as is planned with this project. This will be a boon to West Ashley.
Times have changed. A significant number of people understand that bicycling offers a much more pleasant way to move around, and that more cars is not the answer to traffic issues. Some consciously opt out of driving. Many of them are precisely the kind smart and tech-savvy young people we want in here in Charleston working with us, or for us.
Eighty percent of auto trips are between one or two miles in length - our destinations are within easy range by bike or on foot. But because they don't feel safe, many drive such short and easy distances, when riding or walking would be their preference. Because it is fun, easy, economical, healthy and convenient, riding a bicycle is becoming the "new normal" in cities across the country, and in Charleston. Have you noticed? Bicycles are everywhere.
Charleston has serious traffic and parking concerns, and the only long-term solution is to begin to reduce the number of cars.
A car occupies at least 300 square feet of real estate, whether parked or moving down the road. As our population grows, it'll be impossible to add another car for each newcomer. We have already paved over enough of the beautiful Lowcountry.
Mayor Joe Riley is an excellent student of what makes a city great. And the seven members of City Council who supported him deserve credit for listening, for understanding the common sense practicality of the Legare Bridge bicycle and pedestrian lane.
Soon, all of us will see it as another contribution to the greatness of our city.
Acting Director, Charleston Moves
Board Chair, Charleston Moves