T. Allen Legare Bridge

A bicyclist (far left) without benefit of a bike lane crosses the T. Allen Legare Bridge over the Ashley River. Wade Spees/Staff.

Bicyclists were elated Tuesday when Charleston City Council voted in favor of a plan to convert a lane of the northbound U.S. Highway 17 bridge over the Ashley River to bike and pedestrian use.

The group voted 7-6 in favor of sending a letter to Charleston County Councilman Elliott Summey reaffirming the city’s intentions to proceed with the $2 million conversion of one of the four lanes on the T. Allen Legare Bridge.

Hundreds of people turned out to comment on the bike lane, and the majority of them supported the plan.

Councilman Mike Seekings said that if the city didn’t support the plan, “it says we’re not ready to join the 20th century, much less the 21st century.”

Lava Salon owner Jeff Richards said he and other Avondale business owners strongly support the bike lane. “It’s not a perfect solution,” he said, “but I support it.”

But others, such as West Ashley resident Tommy Harken was among those opposed. He said he rides his bike about four times a week. “I would like to see a bike lane across the Ashley River, but the one proposed now is inappropriate,” he said. The areas around the bases of the bridge are congested and dangerous, he said, making the plan unsafe.

The project will be paid for with money from Charleston County’s half-cent sales tax.

City Council approved the idea for the lane conversion by an 8-5 vote two years ago. But some council members were considering taking another vote on the issue.

Charleston County recently completed a test study measuring the impacts of converting one of the bridge’s four lanes from automobile traffic to pedestrian and bike use. That study found the change will delay traffic on Folly Road for about a minute during the peak of the morning rush hour, and will delay others crossing the bridge from West Ashley only seconds.

But many James Island residents said their delays were much longer during the month-long testing period, when a lane of the bridge was closed to traffic.

City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, who represents part of James Island, said she is a strong supporter of health and fitness, and she wants people to be able to walk and bike across the Ashley River. But she had to vote against the lane-closure plan, because many of her constituents who drive into downtown called her during the testing phase with stories of long delays on Folly Road and Maybank Highway. “They said it’s a one-minute delay,” Wilson said, “but that’s not what I’m hearing from my district.”

Wilson, a long-distance swimmer, said it was one of the most difficult decisions she’s had to make in her years on council. “This just killed me.”

But Councilman Peter Shahid, who voted in favor of the bike-lane plan, said it’s important to give bikes and pedestrians access to the bridge over the Ashley River. “What we have now denies public access to the Ashley River bridge.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.