Cyclists decry lack of lanes on Maybank

Cars travel down Maybank Highway toward Old Folly Road on newly repaved roads Monday. Cycling advocates are frustrated that the roads have not been striped to allow bicyclists to travel safely.

Grace Beahm

Charleston cycling advocates voiced exasperation Monday at the state's unwillingness to stripe bike lanes on a newly repaved stretch of Maybank Highway, and they say it's proof that the S.C. Department of Transportation needs a housecleaning.

The issue goes well beyond the four-lane artery on James Island but reflects on the state's inability to provide for those who want healthier, less environmentally damaging ways to get from one place to another, they say.

The reaction from Coastal Conservation League director Dana Beach was representative.

"How much can you bang your head against this wall? In a democratic society, we've done all we can do," Beach said. "The answer is simply to remove these guys from DOT. ... They are still entrenched in the same automobile-dependent, authoritarian, fascist approach to road building."

The issue emerged as the DOT resurfaced Maybank between Folly Road and the Stono Bridge. Cycling advocates pushed for bike lanes on the widest stretch, roughly a mile between Folly and the Charleston Municipal Golf Course.

DOT traffic engineer Mark Nesbit said there simply wasn't enough room on Maybank to stripe a bike lane.

Striping a four-foot-wide bike lane -- one foot narrower than the accepted standards -- would have been possible, but Nesbit said that would be more dangerous than having no lane at all because it would have given motorists and cyclists a false sense of security.

"It's not a matter of money," he said. "If we had the roadway width for the bike lane, we would have marked it. No question."

Tom Bradford of Charleston Moves noted bike backers collected about 2,000 signatures, including Charleston Mayor Joe Riley's, to urge the state to add bike lanes to Maybank.

"We have taken the gloves off today because we think the public needs to know the fight that we're going through to get DOT to understand what's going on in our cities," he said.

Rachael Kefalos, director of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition, noted the state's bicycle friendly ranking recently slipped to 33rd in the nation, down from 26th last year and 15th in 2008. The ranking, put out by the League of American Bicyclists, analyzes each state's laws, policies, infrastructure, enforcement, planning and education efforts on cycling.

"Locally here in Charleston, the issue may be Maybank Highway, but from my perspective on the statewide level, it's Maybank Highway happening in 46 counties across South Carolina," she said. "How much longer must we wait before transportation officials in South Carolina realize the value and importance of bicycling?"

While there are no bike lanes, the outer lanes on Maybank have been widened from 12 feet to 14 feet, and that meets the standard for a "shared-use lane" that cyclists and motorists can use, Nesbit said.

"A striped bike lane would give both the motorist and the bicyclist a false sense of security that if they stay on their side of their line, the (other) person is not going to encroach on them," he said. "We don't know that that's actually going to be the case."

Beyond Maybank Highway, cycling advocates expressed dismay that the new Ben Sawyer Bridge sidewalk isn't safer for cyclists and that the Northbridge is still unsafe for cyclists.

On the other hand, Charleston County's $6.8 million Glenn McConnell Parkway project includes a five-foot-wide concrete sidewalk along Magwood Drive and pedestrian signals at Glenn McConnell and Magwood.

Peter Wilborn, a lawyer involved with the website and who trains police officers in issues of cycling enforcement, said the issue is ultimately one of safety.

He noted North Carolina has 40 DOT employees who focus on pedestrian and cycling issues. "In South Carolina, there's one," he said. "What is so desperately discouraging is that after the success of the (bike and pedestrian lane on the) Ravenel Bridge, they cannot paint a simple stripe on the road. Didn't they get the point that this is something we desperately need and want?"

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or rbehre@post