Before long, Charleston is going to have to figure out the best - and safest - way to cross the Crosstown.
In the past 15 months, two college students have been killed while trying to traverse the Septima P. Clark Parkway on foot.
Folks are rightly concerned.
When you have two similar accidents at the same intersection it's not only tragic, it suggests there is a serious problem. Especially in a city that goes out of its way to accommodate transportation that does not require four wheels (sometimes to the chagrin of the ever-growing number of drivers in Charleston).
The question is what to do about it.
Coming Street crosses the Crosstown at the bottom of the hill where cars roll in off of Interstate 26. In the middle of the east- and westbound lanes is a median of grass and sidewalk about 70 feet wide.
City officials say the highway is meant to be crossed in two cycles of the traffic signal, with walkers and bikers waiting on the median sidewalk between lights. They want the state to put up a sign making these instructions clear.
But some state officials say we should just build a walking bridge over the highway.
That's a big difference.
What's the cost?
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard calls the Crosstown "The Great Connector."
But the Great Divide might work as well, seeing as how it bisects a growing area on the peninsula.
Gilliard grew up near the Crosstown and he's always known getting across it on foot can be treacherous.
It's getting worse as more college kids move north of the Crosstown for affordable housing.
In response to these two accidents, Gilliard filed legislation that calls for a $10,000 study of the intersection that would estimate the cost of a pedestrian bridge.
"This is the sensible way to do things in this state," Gilliard says. "I don't want someone to kill this by asking about the fiscal impact. We want to know the cost up front."
Of course, the cost is likely to be tremendous. After all, this is a state that claims it would cost more than $6 million to build a sound wall along a mile of I-26. There's no telling what kind of inflated fantasy-land figure they'll come up with for an entire pedestrian bridge.
The other bridge?
Some people likely are going to say it would be a huge waste of money to build a bridge over the Crosstown at Coming Street.
The median is wide there, and there is ample room to wait out the crosswalk signals. Plus - and here's the real point - there is already a pedestrian bridge about two blocks away. The bridge is near Rutledge, abutting the campus of Mitchell Math and Science Elementary School.
That's a good point.
It is not, however, the most inviting structure. Let's just say it detracts from the ongoing Crosstown project.
Gilliard is not the only one who believes it is worth considering another pedestrian bridge. He has the support of other Democrats and some Republicans - which is who you really need on your side to get anything passed by the General Assembly these days.
The city believes some additional signs, and a little patience, will solve the problem. And perhaps the study that Gilliard - a former city councilman - is proposing will say the same thing. Or maybe the state will conclude that the safest option is another bridge.
Bottom line, Gilliard says pinching pennies is not the way to go here. Some officials may disagree, and that's fine.
You don't have to agree, but you cannot question Gilliard's sincerity. He truly cares about his community, and people in general - a refreshing quality for a politician.
"We should not put a price on life," Gilliard says. "One life is one too many."
It's hard to argue with that.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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