MOUNT PLEASANT — It may be time to add "the town with no serious problems" to Mount Pleasant's assorted nicknames.
Will Haynie, the new mayor of South Carolina's fourth-largest city, has said the only thing residents seem to want to talk about with him is a controversial plan to put medians down the middle of a less than 1-mile section of Coleman Boulevard.
“I hear about it everywhere I go, throughout the town," he reiterated at a Town Council meeting Tuesday, where the full council ended up in a closed-door meeting to receive legal advice on median-related issues. Last week, council's Transportation Committee did the same thing.
Coleman Boulevard, between Shem Creek and Pherigo Street near Chuck Dawley Boulevard, is getting an $18.2 million makeover and significant drainage system improvements. The road work includes plans for a center median to replace a center turn lane, plus on-street parking and a bike lane.
The concept dates back a decade to the town's plan to revitalize Coleman Boulevard, seen by some as the "main street" of the town with no downtown. But the Coleman revitalization plan took a bad turn, in public opinion, when the first thing it produced was a large and much-criticized apartment complex along the road called "The Boulevard."
It didn't help that a median was installed on a short stretch of Coleman Boulevard directly between The Boulevard apartments and a shopping center with a Starbucks across the street — with no crosswalk to serve the inevitable pedestrian traffic.
“Back then they painted it (the revitalization) as a thing where people would move in and it would be a walking community," said Councilman Gary Santos, the only current member who was serving when the plan was approved. Santos had voted against it.
"There’s not a lot of walking, and I don’t see anyone biking there," he said Tuesday.
Now, although the Coleman Boulevard road work is underway, opponents who see the medians and on-street parking as a misguided concept that will slow traffic, and inconvenience residents and businesses, are hoping the new Town Council and mayor will make changes.
Resident Barry Wolff said on-street parking will create traffic problems “in a society where we really don’t parallel park anymore.” George Brewer, a partner in the Moultrie Plaza shopping center on Coleman, said every business owner he knows is opposed to the medians. The Save Shem Creek group also opposes the medians.
Town resident Pat Sullivan reminded council members that the town's transportation officials have said replacing center turn lanes with medians dramatically reduces accidents involving pedestrians. That's because eliminating so-called "suicide lanes" eliminates lots of potential paths a driver can take.
On Tuesday, as in the prior committee meeting, council members emerged with the legal staff and took no action to change the Coleman Boulevard work that's underway. Instead, the council voted 8-0 to send the issue back to the committee level for further study.
Councilman Joe Bustos said he hopes the full council can learn "that which we do not know" about the project and the town's options. Existing contracts, federal and state permitting rules, a large price tag all complicate the issue.
"It's a real Rubik's Cube," Haynie said.