Folly Road Sidewalks

A man walks on the side of Folly Road Sunday, September 24, 2017. Sidewalks and bike lanes along Folly Road are spotty. In many areas, they're nonexistent. So far this year, at least two pedestrians have been killed on parts of the road without sidewalks. Brad Nettles/Staff

Two years after a $500,000 study was developed to envision a new future for James Island's main corridor, efforts to transform Folly Road into a complete street remain on the slow track.

The "Rethink Folly Road" initiative was designed to revitalize the island's commercial strip by making more room on the street for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation. But the steering committee tasked with implementing the plan has met only a few times and still doesn't have all its members.

The group — including elected officials from the town of James Island, Charleston, Folly Beach and Charleston County — met Sept. 14 to consider new appointments, but some proposed members hadn't been contacted and couldn't be confirmed.

One meaningful discussion it did have was about paving a continuous pedestrian path along Folly Road, from the Ellis Creek bridge to Grimball Road. 

Whether it will be a sidewalk or a multi-use path isn't clear. There also isn't a timeline or a budget for building it. 

"I’m anticipating in October we will have more conceptual proposals," said James Island Mayor Bill Woolsey, who chairs the steering committee.

Current sidewalks and bike lanes along Folly Road are spotty. In many areas, they're nonexistent. So far this year, at least two pedestrians have been killed on parts of the road without sidewalks.

Carolyn Sotka, a James Island resident, said she's ready to see a safer Folly Road.

"We have all these new restaurants, and you have people crossing the road in the middle of the night. It’s just not safe," she said.

There has been some progress, such as Charleston County's ongoing project to upgrade the intersection of Folly and Camp roads with turning lanes, bike lanes, sidewalks and better drainage. But that improvement was planned more than a decade ago, well before the Rethink Folly Road plan.

Meanwhile, another measure aimed at creating a cohesive plan for the road's future was delayed by at least a month. The city's Planning Commission deferred a decision Sept. 20 on an overlay zone for Folly Road. The county and the town already had approved the overlay four years ago.

The proposal, revived by Mayor John Tecklenburg earlier this year, would lower residential densities and limit building heights.

"The commission was receptive to the proposal, but after a thorough discussion, they felt they needed more time to consider the details," said City Planner Jacob Lindsey.

James Island resident Lindsay Hamrick said she didn't see any reason for further delay.

"They say they didn’t have time to review it, I say they had four years to review it," she said. "Nothing has changed or improved or shown any promise of improving in the immediate future for James Island in four years." 

She was among a group of islanders who successfully petitioned the city in April for a six-month building moratorium to come up with a better plan for the commercial areas, especially Folly Road.

"The whole reason for this moratorium was to give city staff enough time to re-evaluate the Folly Road overlay and collaborate with our other municipalities on a clear vision (for James Island)," she said. "We only have six months, and we're almost four months in."

Lindsey said the commission could approve the overlay next month, which could send it to City Council by November.

City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson, who also serves on the Rethink Folly Road steering committee, said she doesn't think the process to improve the area has been too slow.

"The plan from A to Z could easily take 20 to 25 years, as properties turn over and are redeveloped," she said. "What we want to do is get the transportation element going as fast as we can to get some multi-use paths, safer crosswalks, and procure what we can as we get funding."

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Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

Abigail Darlington is a local government reporter focusing primarily on the City of Charleston. She previously covered local arts & entertainment, technology, innovation, tourism and retail for the Post and Courier.