Other cities’ bike lanes bring bonuses

Charleston City Council will decide Tuesday whether to proceed with the permanent conversion of a lane of traffic on the T. Allen Legare Jr. Bridge over the Ashley River. The lane was closed off earlier this year to test how it would affect traffic.

Creating a bike and pedestrian lane on the T. Allen Legare Jr. Bridge has been debated mostly in transportation terms, but a new document released Friday says it could play a key role in revitalizing West Ashley — a top city goal.

The document from the city’s Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability outlines several economic benefits of a new bike-ped lane — besides giving people their first safe way to walk or bike across the Ashley River.

The city released the report just days before City Council is scheduled to take a vote on whether it wants to move ahead on the $2 million project that would close a lane of the bridge from West Ashley to downtown in order to add the bike lane. That Tuesday vote is expected to very close, with those on both sides predicting victory late last week.

“The path will connect citizens to jobs without the use of a car, increase neighborhood desirability, improve retail business, bring increased tourism to West Ashley and make Charleston a more attractive city for the next generation of innovative business owners and employees,” the paper concludes.

City spokesman Jack O’Toole said the report was designed to answer a basic public policy question.

“In this case, the question was, ‘In addition to the obvious improvements in mobility and public health, what direct and measurable benefits will the pedestrian bike lane create for West Ashley redevelopment and quality of life?’” he said. “And as you can see by reading the report, the answer is ‘a lot.’”

The new bike-ped lane — which would be built in one of the bridge’s four current traffic lanes — would connect up with the city’s West Ashley Greenway, a linear park and path on a former railroad bed that parallels Savannah Highway. As a result, the Ashley River bike-ped lane could see twice as much use as the popular bike lane on the Arthur Ravenel Bridge, the report says.

So far, the proposed lane has mostly been talked about in terms of its impact on morning commuters coming from West Ashley into downtown.

Recent field tests blocked off the Legare bridge’s southernmost lane and measured its effect on traffic. They found it did have an effect during the morning rush hour, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., when the lane’s loss slowed traffic by about a minute.

But the planning department report provides other, different facts to consider, such as how bike and pedestrian facilities raise property values. It cited six studies to that effect. It also noted that 73,636 jobs are accessible from a 20-minute bike ride of the bike path. And it cited other studies showing how bike lanes can positively impact retail sales, tourism and talent recruitment.

But it’s unclear how many minds — and votes — the new document may sway.

City Councilman Dean Riegel, who represents part of West Ashley and is opposed to the bike lane, said he thinks the report puts council members in a precarious spot. The revitalization of West Ashley is one of council’s top priorities, he said. Now, the city administration has released a report connecting support of that effort to support of the bike lane.

Riegel said he doesn’t think the two are connected.

“I seriously doubt that the bike lane is going to help the area around Citadel Mall become successful in the near future. Bike lanes just don’t do that, he said. “This has not changed my mind.”

He also questioned Mayor John Tecklenburg’s motives for releasing the report late on a Friday afternoon without giving council members a chance to read and digest it.

It was a smart move in their effort to promote the bike lane, he said, but he doesn’t think it’s going to work.

Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.