Ben Sawyer cyclists say shared lanes not enough Urging bike lanes as part of paving project

Dr. Lance Davis starts his morning commute to downtown Charleston on Ben Sawyer Boulevard, though usually on the sidewalk, to avoid traffic such as the big truck behind him. He says he uses a bike lane when one is available.

MOUNT PLEASANT — The S.C. Department of Transportation’s plan to repave a busy 1.74-mile stretch of Ben Sawyer Boulevard, which basically connects Coleman Boulevard to Sullivan’s Island, does not include a lane designated specifically for bikes, but advocates are asking for them.

Andrew Leaphart, the department’s chief engineer for operations, said the “existing geometry of the road — 62 feet wide — confines what we can accommodate, so there will not be a designated lane.” Instead, he said, there will be larger, 14-foot-wide shared-use lanes on the outside in each direction.

Signs and road markings, often referred to as a “sharrow,” will be installed similar to what exists on Chuck Dawley Boulevard. The markings occur in four locations on Dawley.

The Transportation Department resorted to sharrows and signs after bike commuter Burton Rhodes raised the issue of bike lanes during a repaving in 2012. Repaving roadways often offers a chance to tweak lane widths and consider traffic patterns and trends. Ben Sawyer is scheduled for repaving in early summer.

The use of sharrows falls short for many bike and pedestrian advocates, and they hope to change plans for Ben Sawyer.

Kurt Cavanaugh, executive director of Charleston Moves, said that sharrows are inappropriate for Ben Sawyer Boulevard because of the speed of traffic.

“When 100 percent of the streetscape is striped for people driving cars, you get cars. It’s inherently dangerous,” he said. “Mixing Ben Sawyer Boulevard speeds with nothing more than a useless ‘Share The Road’ sign puts those riding bikes in a perilous position.”

“Our streets are not too narrow for bike lanes,” he added. “The issue isn’t narrow streets. It’s a misallocation of space.”

On April 15, Cavanaugh sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Christy Hall asking for 4-foot bike lanes as part of the resurfacing project. The letter was copied to Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page and Town Council members.

Cavanaugh wrote that this section of Ben Sawyer includes several vehicular lanes, a middle left turn lane, but no bicycle lanes.

“Summer is approaching and many people, residents and visitors alike, choose to forgo their car and ride a bike to the beach at Sullivan’s Island,” he wrote. “Fewer people driving to the beach results in reduced congestion during our peak season.”

Cavanaugh said that bike lanes on Ben Sawyer would help bridge the gap between current and future bike lanes on Coleman Boulevard and the newly expanded bike and pedestrian path on the Ben Sawyer Boulevard causeway and bridge.

He added that Ben Sawyer also is identified as a critical segment in two bicycle plans: Charleston Moves’ “Battery2Beach” and the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission’s “People 2 Parks.”

Hall told Cavanaugh that she has asked the engineering team to review the request.

Earlier this week, Page said she was “not done with the conversation” about bike lanes on Ben Sawyer, which is not part of the extensive Coleman Boulevard revitalization plan but probably should’ve been. Page, longtime owner of Page’s Thieves Market on Ben Sawyer Boulevard, is familiar with the often-hurried traffic there.

Mount Pleasant Transportation Director Brad Morrison said the town was caught off guard by the DOT resurfacing plan.

“We always ask SCDOT to provide their potential resurfacing lists so we can review them for potential addition of bike facilities,” he said.

“Additionally, we are typically invited to a preconstruction meeting where this issue would have been raised and discussed, but are unaware of any such meeting. Honestly, we were a little surprised at the notification and schedule. Nonetheless, the department was informed again of our desires.”

While Charleston Moves is asking for separate bike lanes, Morrison said he is not sure they are possible given the width of the roadway.

“As such, we have minimally asked SCDOT to consider the ‘Chuck Dawley’ treatment approach.”