Bike plans rolling? Progress reported on connector, Ashley River projects

Car and bike traffic heads into West Ashley over the Ashley River Memorial Bridge recently. A plan would close one of the northbound lanes of the nearby T. Allen Legare Jr. Bridge to all vehicles while opening it up for cyclists and walkers.

Grace Beahm

The effort to open two of Charleston’s most popular bridges to bicyclists is moving forward. And while both projects — covering the James Island Connector and the lower Ashley River bridge along U.S. Highway 17 — are still many months away from becoming realities, there is progress to report.

Here’s an update:

Goal: To create a biking route into downtown Charleston from Folly and Harbor View roads, and from West Ashley.

Status: City of Charleston officials are gathering statistical data on traffic counts, speed averages and peak volume times, especially at the bridge’s merge points where bikers would cross paths with cars.

Officials hope to present a contract proposal later this month to City Council to hire an engineering consultant who would examine the best ways to make the bridge safe for bike travel.

Once a contract is signed, the study should take less than six months to complete. Recommendations could include safety improvements and more signs.

Goal: To close off one of the northbound lanes of the T. Allen Legare Jr. Bridge on U.S. Highway 17 into Charleston to vehicles while opening it up for cyclists and walkers.

Status: Also in the study phase. One of the biggest issues of concentration now is what type of barrier will go up separating bikers and pedestrians from the faster-moving vehicular traffic.

One idea is a sturdy guardrail measuring about 32 inches tall.

Tom Bradford, director of the pro-wheels group Charleston Moves, is encouraged by the progress of both projects but concedes it’s “quite frustrating that somebody can’t flick a switch.”

Once cycling is allowed on each span, though, Bradford anticipates them becoming as popular as the walking, jogging and biking lane on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River — an option that almost didn’t happen.

“But look where we are at today,” Bradford said. “Unanimously, everybody claims credit for it and everybody loves it,” he said.

Bradford expects the new biking paths will spark a housing and recreational boon, especially West Ashley as young families, workers and students respond to the new ease of getting into downtown.

“Many people just can’t wait to cross that river,” he said.

City of Charleston Traffic and Transportation Director Hernan Pena reiterated that bicycling is officially against the law on the James Island Connector, even as the habit remains both popular and largely unenforced.

For biking to be allowed in the future, City Council will first have to pass an ordinance and hold a public hearing.

Meanwhile, someone has been painting the outline of a bicycle on the concrete wall where popular anesthesiologist and cyclist Dr. Mitchell Hollon was killed by a work van in July 2011.

Cleaning crews respond by scrubbing the graffiti away.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.