A bridge across the Ashley River where accidents have claimed the lives of pedestrians and bicyclists could soon become more safe.
Charleston Moves, a nonprofit that advocates for improved mobility in the region, is working with North Charleston and Charleston County on creating safe access for walkers and cyclists at what's known locally as the "North Bridge," which serves as the main connection between North Charleston and West Ashley.
Katie Zimmerman, executive director of Charleston Moves, said she often sees cyclists riding on the bridge's raised, concrete median.
“We’ve had deaths occur," she said. "Something needs to be done.”
Officials have long planned to improve mobility on the bridge — formally the World War II Memorial Bridge — which spans nearly a half-mile on S.C. Highway 7 between the intersection of Interstate 26 and Cosgrove Avenue in North Charleston and the crossing of Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Poston Road in West Ashley.
Charleston County considered the project years ago, but the effort was not feasible at the time, county spokesman Shawn Smetana said.
Things now seem to be picking up since Charleston Moves met informally with a S.C. Department of Transportation staff member months ago to discuss ways to make the commute safer. Those thoughts include possibly establishing a reversible lane, which has been done in other states like Georgia, but not yet in South Carolina, Zimmerman said.
Also being considered is a stand-alone bike and pedestrian bridge similar to the $22 million one planned farther south at the peninsula, also nearly a half-mile across.
"We might just need to do a separate bike-pedestrian bridge," Zimmerman said. “We’re still at the beginning stages."
Charleston Moves met about efforts to improve mobility with North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey in November. The nonprofit also plans to meet soon with Charleston County Council about having an engineering study conducted, which Zimmerman hopes would begin sometime this year.
She said funding resources could include federal grant money and funds that municipalities set aside as a matching portion for the grant. This is what Charleston County and the city of Charleston did in the case of the pedestrian and bike bridge that will cross from the Charleston peninsula to West Ashley, Zimmerman said.
Summey, who praised the idea of improving mobility across the Ashley River last week in his 2020 State of the City Address, said more people than ever before are using bikes as a means of transportation in the city.
The mayor hopes to work with the city of Charleston and DOT on improving the safety of the state-owned road.
“One life alone is bad enough to lose," he said.
The bridge, which has narrow maintenance lanes that force people to walk and ride on the raised median, has long been a safety hazard for those using different forms of transportation.
Charleston Moves hosted the Ride of Silence last year when more than 200 people rode in honor of Tommy Dixon, a local resident who was killed in 2018 while riding his bike on the connector. A bike also sits at the intersection of Azalea Drive and Cosgrove Avenue to remember Jae Bellamy, who was killed in a hit-and-run, Zimmerman said.
Mobility improvements are taking place elsewhere in the region.
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded Charleston an $18.1 million BUILD grant for a stand-alone bicycle and pedestrian bridge that would be built just south of the twin U.S. Highway 17 drawbridges.
But Charleston Moves said it is pushing for a comprehensive look at the mobility of other crossings in the region, including the James Island connector.