Charleston City Council didn’t just endorse a new bike lane over the Ashley River Tuesday.
By voting for the project, it took a bold step toward addressing traffic congestion and parking problems, and it promoted healthy lifestyles for residents.
It also displayed extraordinary persistence to achieve, finally, a safe way for bicyclists and pedestrians to cross the Ashley River: The debate has been going on for more than 20 years.
Of course, this decision is not likely to silence the critics. They have decried the plan as foolish and insisted that it will exacerbate already troublesome traffic. Even when Charleston County produced data showing that commutes at peak travel times would take only about a minute longer — or less — they balked.
And even when the city’s research showed that a bike lane over the Legare bridge would benefit businesses on both sides of the river, they have doubted.
Clearly people who live west of the Ashley and on James Island are rightly frustrated by traffic. They have seen other road projects fail to make things much better. And they have not seen where people bicycling to work has helped. This project, however, should make a difference.
Plenty of cities across the U.S. and abroad have seen the positive results from providing safe, accessible ways for people to leave their cars at home and use a bike.
City Councilman Mike Seekings has been advocating for the bike lane since he was elected in 2009, and cycling enthusiasts with Charleston Moves have taken a leading role on the issue. The community’s concerted efforts paid off in a squeaker: Six members opposed it. Mayor John Tecklenburg and six members — Mike Seekings, Rodney Williams, William Dudley Gregorie, Robert Mitchell, James Lewis and Peter Shahid — supported the project.
It isn’t just bicyclists who are pleased. West Ashley merchants see the bike lane as an appealing way for people to access their businesses.
Further, young professionals expect the communities where they live to be bikeable. And they choose where to locate their businesses accordingly.
On another level, people who are unable to afford a car often rely on bicycles to get to work. When the bike lane is complete, it will make that journey safer and more feasible for them.
Sadly, that won’t be soon. The county estimates the design phase will take 18 months and construction four to five months.
And Mr. Seekings correctly says that making Charleston bike friendly won’t be fully accomplished until there is safe passage over the north Ashley River bridge between West Ashley and North Charleston — and across Wappoo Creek between West Ashley and James Island.
But at least the first step is under way, and money is already allocated for the project from the last half-cent sales tax increase.
Many will not be convinced of the bicycle lane’s value until they witness its benefits. But this project will prove to be a move that everyone can celebrate.
There was stiff resistance to adding a bike lane to the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge during its planning. But the success of that decision is evident. Walkers, runners and bicyclists use it at all times of day and night.
The Ashley River bike lane stands to be even more useful. It has a gentler incline. According to data produced by the city, 13,294 people in West Ashley live within 20 minutes of the Legare bridge. And 73,636 jobs on the peninsula are within a 20-minute bike ride from the bridge.
Sometimes good things take a lot of effort — even 20-plus years’ worth of effort. And the bike lane should be a very good thing.