The good news is more people are riding their bikes in downtown Charleston. The bad news is that parking a bike can be as challenging as parking a car.
Charleston City Council in the fall approved a one-year pilot program that prohibits people from locking their bikes to trees, signposts and parking meters on King Street between Calhoun and Spring streets. Instead, cyclists can park in designated racks placed in the street where previously the city had operated metered spaces for cars.
City officials encourage more bicycle use throughout the city, but managing that use, especially on the narrow downtown streets, can be tough.
Council took action because business owners had complained about parked bicycles blocking the narrow sidewalks in front of their shops, and pedestrians at times had to step around and over bikes that had fallen down.
Charleston City Councilman Keith Waring said council hasn't reviewed the plan, so he's unsure if it will continue after the year is up. Council members are waiting to get data and feedback. "You put out a new policy, if it doesn't work, you adjust," he said.
Charleston Police spokesman Charles Francis said the city has confiscated 186 illegally parked bikes since November on that particular stretch of King Street.
Bicycle owners must pay a $45 removal and storage fee to get their bikes back.
Charleston Police Sgt. Heath King said the plan is going well. "There's a definite, positive, noticeable change," he said. "The sidewalks are a lot more open, and business owners love it."
Police monitor the area at random intervals looking for illegally parked bikes, he said. If they see just one bike locked to a parking meter, they often simply try to find the owner. But if there are several illegally parked bikes, they will call for a truck, cut the locks and confiscate them, he said.
The police and the city spent a lot of time getting the word out before they launched the plan, he said, including a social media blitz. Now, there are signs on the bike racks letting people know where it is illegal to park their bikes, King said.
Tom Bradford, director of the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group Charleston Moves, said his group is pitching in to prevent bike parking from becoming a problem on Saturday mornings around the Farmers Market in Marion Square.
The group brings in a bike corral that it sets up in Marion Square. Bikers can check their bikes while they shop, and volunteers from Charleston Moves watch them to make sure they are safe.
"There's a lot of pressure at the market for bike parking," Bradford said.
"The use of bicycles is exploding in the city," he said. So far, he said, the city is doing a fair job of ensuring there are places to park bikes. "We hope the city keeps up with the demand."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.