As James Island’s food-and-beverage scene grows increasingly dynamic, concern is mounting over the deadly highway which bisects it.
More than 100 people on Tuesday night crowded into the Harbor View Elementary School gym to express their frustrations with the perceived slow pace of safety upgrades along Maybank Highway, particularly in the high-traffic area between Terrace Theater and The Charleston Pour House.
“People get drunk and run across in the dark,” Dakota Hadley said during the public comment portion of the meeting convened by the Charleston County and city of Charleston planning departments. “It’s insane.”
At the meeting, planners shared results from a community survey conducted late last summer. More than half of the 827 James Island residents who responded said they never walk on Maybank Highway because it doesn’t feel safe. Many of them suggested installing buffers, medians and crosswalks.
Planners assured the audience that they would take their suggestions into consideration as they develop recommendations. County Planning Director Joel Evans said the city and county hope to produce a proposal with identified funding sources by year’s end, following a second round of public workshops.
“I’m not hearing you address anything that can be done in the immediate future,” Steve Fuerth said after listening to Evans outline the “iterative process.”
“Like putting in crosswalks,” he continued, building to the first applause line of the evening. “All it takes is a man with a paintbrush!”
According to Eric Adams, Charleston County deputy director for engineering, simple-sounding solutions are complicated by overlapping jurisdictions. The city has policies to uphold, the county controls the relevant sales tax and the state owns the road. In other words, the county can’t erect so much as a light post without first getting S.C. Department of Transportation’s approval.
Still, Adams stressed, “We want to see some action.” His office recently forwarded accident statistics to DOT “to try to up this on their radar.”
Two pedestrians have been fatally hit by cars on the James Island stretch of Maybank Highway since 2016, Capt. Roger Antonio of the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office says. The most recent was David Massie, a 36-year-old chef. Massie was struck by a car while walking home from The Pour House on Jan. 29, and died of his injuries on Feb. 12.
Massie’s sister, Natalie Massie Gregory, attended Tuesday’s night meeting.
“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” she wrote in a Facebook post summarizing the event for friends and providing officials’ contact information. “The state has already identified this as a problem area, but has not done anything about it. Demand it! A crosswalk costs less than a day David spent in the (surgical trauma intensive care unit).”
David Schuttenberg, whose new restaurant is alongside The Pour House, says he would welcome a crosswalk as a business owner. But the Kwei Fei chef questioned whether an existing crosswalk isn’t adequate.
“I can look one block to my left and there’s a crosswalk that’s signed,” he says. “It’s not convenient, and I have been guilty of crossing the street directly. But at the end of the day, it’s only one block.”
Schuttenberg points out there are 100 parking spaces behind Kwei Fei, so car owners presumably shouldn’t have to cross the street by foot. Beyond that, he struggles to reconcile customers’ interest in walking directly from dinner to a movie, or vice versa, with how much it would cost taxpayers to create a new crosswalk.
“It’s sad that a bad judgment call can cost you your life,” he says, reiterating that he identifies as a pragmatist. “But cars can slow down and people can walk to the crosswalk.”
Yet advocates for additional safety measures maintain that’s unlikely to happen on Maybank without some kind of intervention.
“I too am tired of having to go to funerals because our roadways are not safe,” Charleston Transportation Director Keith Benjamin said at the meeting.
Johns Island residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on the Maybank project on Feb. 28 at St. Johns High School. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. For more information, go to charlestoncounty.org.