To many, the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is more than just a bridge. Many people view it as an emblem of modern Charleston and a part of enduring memories of the the Holy City.
Out-of-towners and locals say it’s a great place to get some fresh air, to bike across, to sail under or to simply admire the view. People recall memories of time with loved ones or proud moments crossing the finish line of the Cooper River Bridge Run.
Many Charleston-area residents see the new bridge as something that has made a major impact on the city over the last decade. They say it has helped businesses thrive, added new dimension to the skyline, and reshaped the way we think about transportation, infrastructure and exercise.
The following are accounts from residents and tourists of their experiences and relationships with the bridge over the years.
Don Mounce of North Charleston is an avid fisherman who loves to fish on the pier of the Ravenel Bridge, now that he’s retired from the military.
“I’m glad they put the bridge in. That helped make this pier,” he said, while dropping his fishing net into the water. “I come here a few times a week to do some fishing. Sometimes I catch some big ones.”
This past April, Mounce set the Mount Pleasant Pier record by catching a 5-pound, 6-ounce spotted sea trout that was 23.5 inches long. But as a resident for over three decades, Mounce also remembers the old bridges.
“I ran the bridge back when they had the run on the old bridge when my father was alive,” he recalled. “He liked to run because he had a heart attack and started walking and running.”
Mounce, with his father, has run the Bridge Run three times, but not on the Ravenel Bridge.
“I kind of gave that up,” he said.
Sure, many downtown residents can survive fine without a car. They walk or bike to their jobs or classes in the downtown bubble.
Kyle Wentz refuses to let his lack of a car tie him down. Wentz works at Trek Bicycle Store in Mount Pleasant and, thanks to the Ravenel Bridge, pedals to work. The roomy bike lane makes his commute easy and speedy, with the occasional dodging of a pedestrian in the wrong lane, he said with a chuckle. Even the weather doesn’t stop him — he goes rain or shine.
“I actually just got a cool view of some lightning,” he said.
Though grateful he can bike to work, Wentz said it is difficult biking to West Ashley and James Island because those bridges lack spacious bike lanes.
“When the bridge was originally built, I think we all thought it would just be a place that would get us from one side of the river to the other quicker,” she said. “But what’s emerged has been a pattern of all ages and sizes using the bridge for exercise daily, as much as they do in other parks around the city,” she said.
Yarbrough believes that the bridge has influenced people’s thinking about exercise because drivers can’t avoid seeing people using the bike lanes and walkway. With a park or a gym, the exercise is hidden away.
“It’s started a new dialogue,” she said. “So with every bridge, every new road, everything that’s built in our infrastructure, there is this conversation about how do we use it for biking, walking, for getting us places safely and getting us more exercise in our community.”
Yarbrough, who lives on Johns Island, dislikes that she can’t walk or bike downtown safely the way Mount Pleasant residents can on the Ravenel.
She describes driving over the former Cooper River bridges as “probably my worst nightmare.” Yarbrough made a point of attending the Ravenel’s opening ceremony.
“I remember being downtown for the fireworks and the celebration, what a huge deal it was for our community,” she said. “It’s amazing to see our community come together in a positive way like that ... And I’ve seen it every day since then just with folks using it and being a part of it.”
She’s excited to talk about the “icon” that she feels has helped evolve her city in a positive way.
“It’s just amazing how our city has kind of emerged in the last 10 years in how do we get from one place to another (because) there’s always a new way,” she said. “It’s great that the bridge has helped get us to that place.”
Dale and Sue McCormack have been visiting Charleston from Louisville, Ky., for the past five years. Dale is a 26-year veteran of the Louisville Metro Police Department, and Sue sells jewelry and works as a school monitor part-time.
“The first time I saw the Ravenel Bridge, I’m not gonna lie, I was almost on the floor board,” Sue said. She explained that she has a “terrible fear of bridges.”
However, Sue recently faced a fear much more menacing than the Ravenel’s decking and cables. She was diagnosed with cancer a few years back and was told she was cancer free 22 months ago.
“If God can take me through that, he can certainly get me across a bridge,” she said.
Dale appreciates Sue’s confidence in crossing the bridge now.
“I like this bridge because it’s the only one my wife doesn’t freak out on when we cross it,” he said with a laugh.
Ross Jet moved to Charleston three and a half years ago and opened Black Tap Coffee on Beaufain Street in downtown Charleston.
“The Ravenel Bridge is the only bridge I’ve known in Charleston,” he said, explaining that he never saw the former bridges.
Jet thinks the structure’s height is its important feature.
“I think the bridge definitely provides a pretty fixed point to our cityscape,” he said. “It provides a nice vantage point to our city since you can’t really get up high on many spaces in the city.”
His favorite memory of the bridge was one “epic” bike ride where he reached the peak of the bridge around midnight.
Carmen Ketron of Charleston works as a farm educator for the Medical University of South Carolina’s Urban Farm, a small educational garden in the heart of MUSC campus.
She remembers seeing the bridge for the first time in 2007.
“I was just awestruck,” she said. “I hadn’t seen anything like that in South Carolina. I’m from Virginia, where we have nothing but industrial roadways. But that was just so pretty and fun and new.”
She recalls seeing a picture of one of the old bridges at a local auto-parts store. “Oh man, it was ugly,” she said. “I’m glad we have a new and exciting landmark. It’s not just a roadway, it’s almost like a monument. It’s the new and improved Charleston and how we are going to be excellent.”
Kirian, 9, and Rachel, 6, are two young friends who live in Mount Pleasant. Kirian is a student at James B. Edwards Elementary while Rachel is a student at Mount Pleasant Academy.
They often go to Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park to play on the popular, bridge-inspired playground located directly under the span.
Kirian says she likes the bridge because “it’s attractive and it’s fun to be around. And it’s just very pretty.”
“What I like about the bridge is that you get to find cool shells,” said Rachel.
Jack Talton graduated from the College of Charleston last year. After travelling for a year, he moved back for the summer and works with Golden Sun Taxi service on Folly Beach.
He’s happy the bridge was built before he moved to the Lowcountry.
“I heard like urban legends before I came down to Charleston about (the old bridges),” he said. “People would talk about this rickety old Cooper River Bridge.”
As an active sailor in the Charleston Sailing Association, the aesthetics of the Ravenel Bridge proved to be important for him. “My fondest memories are 100 percent sailing underneath it on nice sunny afternoons,” he said.
Talton, who also frequently travels the bridge to get to the beach on Sullivan’s Island, says he and his friends consider the structure to be an iconic landmark.
“Everyone I know has a picture of driving on the bridge.”
Lauren Rogers is originally from Goose Creek but now lives in Mount Pleasant and works at South State Bank in North Charleston.
“I walk the bridge sometimes with my girlfriends to get out and enjoy the scenery, which is great especially at sunset,” she said.
Rogers was there for the opening day of the Ravenel Bridge, when people walked the span before it opened to motor traffic.
“That was really cool. ... It seems like that was forever (ago). But it’s great now to just enjoy it and see everybody at the park and all that good stuff,” she said.
John Cameron, executive director of the Charleston Branch Pilots Association and a Coast Guard retiree, speaks fondly of the Ravenel Bridge.
“The height of the bridge is its most important feature,” he said. “The Ravenel is more than 30 feet higher than the old (Cooper River) bridges.”
He hasn’t seen a vessel that couldn’t fit under the Ravenel, though occasionally the Don Holt Bridge, which also spans the Cooper, is too short. Some vessels have to wait until low tide to cross under it but they can pass under the Ravenel on either high or low tide.
Cameron also likes the Ravenel Bridge for personal reasons. As a Mount Pleasant resident, he was able to start riding his bike over the bridge to work on the peninsula. It takes him only 25 minutes.
While wearing a Bridge Run T-shirt, Davis explained that her father ran in the first Cooper River Bridge Run. She also started running it through high school and college and has run over the Ravenel in the Bridge Run four times.
“I’ve loved running it over the years. It’s gotten really popular and really crowded,” she said.
As a kid, she recalls the old bridge as a sign that she had arrived in Charleston.
“That was always the kind of defining (moment). I knew I was in Charleston when I came over the bridge,” she said.
Visitors from all over come to check out Charleston and the scenic bridge that accompanies it but they can get an unexpected surprise from the Ravenel Bridge.
The Julius family came for a vacation from Germany in May. Though they appreciated how pretty the Ravenel Bridge is compared those back home in Germany, they weren’t prepared for the bridges’s powers to inconvenience.
On their way into town on May 26, a tanker carrying diesel fuel collided with another car and shut down the bridge for eight hours. This prevented the Julius’ from getting to Mount Pleasant, since they were staying at Patriots Point.
However, the family didn’t let the inconvenience stop them from having a good time. They waited out the bridge closure with a dinner downtown.