As South Carolina continues to grapple with a high number of bike and pedestrian deaths, a Charleston area lawmaker is pushing a bill to require the S.C. Department of Transportation to build "complete streets" designed for many ways of getting around.
The bill will get a House hearing Tuesday around 1 p.m., shortly after the Legislature adjourns.
State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-North Charleston, said he was motivated to file the bill because of some high-profile fatalities locally.
"As we look at the designs of our streets, they’re not pedestrian friendly. They're not bike friendly. They’re friendly only for cars,” he said. "We’ve got to be a bit more intentional on how we design them."
His bill would add only a sentence to the role of the S.C. Department of Transportation, saying it "shall implement a 'complete streets' policy with the goal of improving publicly funded highways in urban areas to provide safe and efficient accommodation for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders."
The bill has backing from Charleston area transit advocates, including Katie Zimmerman, director of Charleston Moves. The Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit Inc. is organizing a bus to travel from Charleston to Columbia for Tuesday's hearing.
Zimmerman noted the DOT Commission passed a resolution favoring complete streets in 2003, but that has not resulted in many changes on the ground, with the possible exception of the highly popular bike-ped lane on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which opened a few years later.
She said the 2003 resolution "is so pointless, and they clearly haven't ever relied on it."
Meanwhile, the state has bolstered its reputation as one of the most dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.
Pendarvis noted DOT plays a big role in bike-pedestrian safety because most roads in South Carolina are state roads.
Keith Benjamin, director of Charleston’s Traffic and Transportation Department, has noted he doesn't have the authority to lower speed limits or to add new traffic lights or crosswalks on most roads.
While the bill has attracted some bipartisan support, its chances of passing this year are uncertain. April 10 is the crossover deadline by which the House must approve a bill so the Senate may consider it this session.
It's also unclear what the fiscal impact might be were the bill to pass. Both Pendarvis and Zimmerman said the notion of "complete streets" can vary widely, depending on the particular location and context of a street.
"You don't just slap a bike lane everywhere and anywhere," Zimmerman said.
However, some lawmakers could argue that requiring still more spending on bicycle and pedestrian safety, such as new sidewalks and bike paths, would reduce the dollars available to build new roads and widen existing ones.
DOT officials didn't respond to emails Monday seeking comment on the bill.