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Commentary: Here's one of Greenville County's greatest safety issues. Let's fix it.

John McBurney

John McBurney

For years, cycling advocates have called for new stoplights where Greenville County's popular Swamp Rabbit Trail crosses the busy West Blue Ridge Drive, also known as S.C. Highway 253. Now voters have joined them.

During the June 28 County Council runoff election, District 19 voters sent a clear message that they agree with Bike Walk Greenville and others concerned about the safety at this intersection, where thousands of bikers, joggers and pedestrians venture across these busy streets, particularly on weekends when the weather is nice.

Benton Blount, whose campaign centered on building a bicycle-pedestrian bridge at this crossing, defeated Council Chairman Willis Meadows, who has blocked any action addressing the problem for years. A stoplight is urgently needed without further delay.

In 2018, the South Carolina Department of Transportation approved the installation of stoplights at the Swamp Rabbit Trail crossing at both Sulphur Springs Road and S.C. 253. There is now a traffic signal at the Sulphur Springs crossing, but Mr. Meadows still opposes a traffic light for the more dangerous S.C. 253 intersection. He says a stoplight would inconvenience motorists, and he has said repeatedly that the convenience of motorists is more important than the safety of trail users.

Almost 14,000 motor vehicles travel S.C. 253 each day, and the Swamp Rabbit Trail has counts of more than 8,000 people on foot or bikes during the weekends. A center refuge island on West Blue Ridge, where trail users often pause while crossing, is dangerous, as evidenced by a history of motor vehicles plowing through the median. Some motorists, who have the right of way, stop for trail users, while others do not.

Traffic crashes are commonplace there. There have been no fatalities, but it is likely only a matter of time. On its Facebook page, Bike Walk Greenville has received hundreds of comments regarding the unsafe conditions at this crossing.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail is part of the reason that Greenville is a desirable place to live. More than just recreation, it enhances the continued growth of downtown as well as the economic transformation of Travelers Rest and the proposed redevelopment of the Union Bleachery site. While the Union Bleachery developer plans a new pedestrian bridge over S.C. 253, using a small portion of the tax increment funding approved by County Council earlier this year, it's unclear when it will be built. Sadly, the complexity of building this new bridge means we are years away from this much-needed, long-term solution.

The Transportation Department is ready to install a traffic signal. The county has the funding, but the agency tells us that Mr. Meadows refuses to let it proceed.

While conversion of the current flashing lights to stoplights is only a stopgap measure, it is urgently needed to reduce the risk of injury or death. With the election now behind us, we should not have to wait another six months for the new council to act. We ask County Council and departing Chairman Meadows to do the right thing and tell DOT to install the traffic signal now.

John McBurney, M.D., is board vice chairman with the advocacy nonprofit Bike Walk Greenville. He lives, works and bikes in Greenville.

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