Folly Road Sidewalks (copy)

A man walks on the side of Folly Road last year where there are no sidewalks. Brad Nettles/Staff/File

Pedestrians and bicyclists are five times more likely to get killed on Folly Road than they are on Coleman Boulevard.

Drivers are more at risk on the James Island road, too.

State and local collision data show 1,122 accidents on Folly Road between 2014 and 2017 — more than twice as many as on Mount Pleasant's Coleman Boulevard in that time.

The data looked at Folly between the James Island Connector and Sol Legare Road, and at Coleman from the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge to Ben Sawyer Boulevard.

In total, eight people have died on Folly Road since 2014; five of them were on foot or on a bike.

On Coleman, one person died in a vehicle crash in 2015.

While Coleman is about half the length of Folly, both are four-lane roads that handle similar traffic volumes. They're both gateways with bustling commercial areas and they're also thoroughfares for people traveling between downtown and local beaches.

Both are also undergoing revitalization efforts to make them safer and more appealing. 

In terms of safety, Folly has a lot of catching up to do. Coleman already has more sidewalks, street lights, marked bike lanes and signalized crosswalks.

Its speed limit is 35 mph, compared with Folly's, which is either 40 or 45 mph, depending on the segment.

Folly Road has bike lanes in some stretches, but the only thing separating them from heavy traffic is a painted line. Sidewalks are also spotty, and many don't connect to crosswalks.

Michael Keck, owner of Mike's Bikes, said the chilling data backs up what he's known for a long time. His two shops are on Coleman Boulevard and Folly Road, and he lived in Mount Pleasant's Old Village for 20 years before moving to Folly Beach two years ago.

"Folly is horrible compared to Coleman," he said at his James Island storefront. "In Mount Pleasant, we rode our bikes everywhere. ... I'd never ride my bike on Folly Road."

He said walking or driving on Folly Road is just as unnerving. Some mornings, the shop's staff goes to Sweetwater Cafe or another restaurant across Folly for breakfast before work.

"It's like taking your life into your hands," he said.

Several others working along Folly Road last week shared similar stories. Three could reel off a number of accidents they've witnessed just in the past few months. 

Solutions are on the way, some more quickly than others. 

Next month, Charleston County expects to wrap up its Camp and Folly improvement project that was planned a decade ago. The upgrades include more turning lanes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks and better drainage.

The town of James Island is working on adding more sidewalks in the surrounding area.

The county also added a traffic light and crosswalks at South Grimball Road.

Katie Zimmerman, executive director of the cyclist and pedestrian advocacy group Charleston Moves, said the efforts are headed in the right direction. 

The Rethink Folly Road plan, developed in early 2016 by Dover, Kohl & Partners with the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, was designed to revitalize the island's commercial strip by making more room for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation.

Zimmerman is on the committee tasked with carrying out the plans. So far, it has mainly focused on how to fill the gaps between sidewalks and bike lanes. 

But another measure aimed at improving road safety didn't get very far.

At the February meeting, the group approved a resolution requesting the speed limit be reduced from 40 to 30 mph from Ellis Oak Drive to South Grimball, and from 45 to 35 mph for the rest of the road.

Josh Johnson, the traffic engineer for the regional office of the S.C. Department of Transportation, told the committee the request wasn't likely to be approved. The speed limit on the Ellis Oak stretch was just recently reduced to 40 mph following a different request.

"We have studied just about every section of Folly Road over the course of the last several years just through various requests. Most of them have been confirmed as appropriate as signed," he said. 

A lot of factors are taken into account when setting speed limits, he said, including traffic volume and "the comfortable travel speed."

"What you find is, you lower a speed limit, and what you get is a higher rate of noncompliance because it’s very difficult for law enforcement to enforce it all the time," he said.

Zimmerman said DOT's control over such decisions is problematic. 

"These are life and death problems that are going to continue until the DOT steps up and actively listens to and incorporates what local communities are saying," she said.

Johnson said the department participated in the Rethink Folly planning process and is supportive of its vision. He said the speed limit could be lowered as more sidewalks and bike lanes are implemented.

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.