Downtown Charleston may be a great place to ride a bike, but it can be a tough place to park one.
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 along the narrow sidewalks 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. Now the group might be asked to extend the ban from Calhoun Street to the Market.
Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said the bike parking ordinance on upper King Street has been successful, so he is considering asking City Council to extend it. He's currently looking for adequate bike parking on King Street south of Calhoun Street, he said. He's not going to make a request to extend the ban until he can find sufficient bike parking.
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 to prohibit bike parking on a portion of upper King Street 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.
Tom Bradford, director of the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group Charleston Moves, said, "As long as they live up to their word to find adequate bike parking, I guess we would have no objection." But, he said, "the devil is in the details."
He doesn't think the bike parking ban on upper King Street is going that well. "There are overcrowded bike racks and an insufficient supply of bike parking," he said, especially in the afternoons and evenings when the College of Charleston is in session.
Stephanie Hunt, chairwoman of the Charleston Moves board, said bike racks also must be highly visible to bikers.
And, she said, cyclists bring a lot of business to downtown shops. "Twelve bikes parked where one car was parked means 12 more shoppers," she said.
Charleston Police spokesman Charles Francis has said the city has confiscated 186 illegally parked bikes since November on upper King Street.
Bicycle owners must pay a $45 removal and storage fee to get their bikes back.
Charleston Police Sgt. Heath King has said police monitor the area at random intervals looking for illegally parked bikes. 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.
City Council Chairman Bill Moody said he's not sure when the plan to extend the bike parking ban will come to council for approval. But he thinks there's a need to restrict bike parking in some parts of the city. "The problem with bikes is that they fall down and they create an obstacle on the sidewalk, he said.
"We don't allow cars to park on the sidewalk," he said, "but we need to provide parking for bikes like we do for cars."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.