St. Andrews Boulevard in West Ashley may never be the safest place to ride a bike, as cars rush by at 40 miles an hour or more, but new bike lanes should make the road safer.
The bike lanes, a small step by themselves, are just the latest in a long list of initiatives aimed at making the Charleston area more accommodating for cyclists. Mayor Joe Riley described them as the latest piece of the puzzle, while announcing the initiative along with county and state officials Tuesday.
The announcement comes at a time when pedestrian and bike safety are on many people's minds because of recent tragedies. On Sunday night, two women and a girl were hit by a car while walking along Main Road on Johns Island, and last month Charleston community leader and avid cyclist Edwin Gardner died from injuries suffered when his bicycle collided with a car downtown.
Tom Bradford, director of the cycling advocacy group Charleston Moves, said the St. Andrews Boulevard bike lanes are a small but important step that will make it clear to motorists that people on bikes are meant to be there.
"Absent that lane, it's far less safe," Bradford said. "We'll take any incremental improvements."
With an initial price tag estimated at $133,000, the plan calls for painting bike lanes on both sides of the boulevard, in most cases between the driving lanes and the parking lanes,
from approximately Sycamore Avenue to Wesley Drive.
The Charleston Transportation Committee, made up of municipal and county representatives who decide how to spend state gasoline tax money for pedestrian and cycling projects, approved the plan Monday night. City Transportation Department Director Hernan Pena said a final design plan needs to be created, and the city and county need to decide which will handle the project.
"We just agreed to the concept last Thursday," he said.
Jim Armstrong, Charleston County's director of transportation development, said the bike lanes will be a short-term way to address bike safety.
In a few years, the boulevard will be repaved, and bike lanes could get a more thorough treatment then, he said.
Many local roads and developments created during the past several decades didn't provide for pedestrians and bicyclists, and there are many reasons why. Bike lanes and sidewalks add to construction costs, the Lowcountry heat limits interest in bike commuting, and late-20th century aesthetics favored suburban developments with little connection to the surrounding community.
Today, urban planners and developers sing the praises of walkable, bikeable communities, where it's possible to venture out of a subdivision without being in a car. Some municipalities now require that new road-construction projects provide for bike traffic, and growing numbers of people are demonstrating the popularity of bike routes and multi-use paths by using them, and pressing their local officials for additional accommodations.
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is a well-known example of a situation where a bike and pedestrian path was created due to public demand, resulting in a popular new place to walk and ride. The popularity of the path across the bridge helped spur development of Mount Pleasant's Waterfront Park, and prompted Charleston to create a parking lot on the city side of the bridge and construct a multi-use path along East Bay Street as a connection to the bridge.
Mount Pleasant has since decided no major roads will be built without bike lanes, and the town is participating in an effort to develop a bike-suitable route from The Battery in Charleston to the beach on Sullivan's Island, an initiative of Charleston Moves.
Charleston got an earlier start on bike-friendliness, developing extensive bike paths in West Ashley and other parts of the city, and demanding sidewalks and connected streets in new subdivisions.
"We do have a comprehensive plan for connecting all parts of the city with bike paths and designated bike lanes," said Tim Keane director of the city's Department of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability. "Over the next few years, there will be a tremendous amount of investment in the Greenway, and there has been a great deal of investment in the Bikeway."
The Greenway and Bikeway are parts of the city's West Ashley bike-route network.
Recently, Charleston County has played a large role in bike-related projects, managing the construction of bike and pedestrian paths and lanes as a part of the road projects funded by the half-cent sales tax.
Even the latest plan to complete the Mark Clark Expressway calls for a bike and pedestrian path.
The initiatives account for a small part of the money set aside for road-building, but they are not inexpensive.
The city's half-mile-long path along East Bay Street cost more than $1 million. Adding a cantilevered bike path to the T. Allen Legare Jr. Bridge over the Ashley River could cost more than $5 million.
"From our standpoints, these bike and pedestrian improvements are not enhancements; they are basic parts of infrastructure, and not extras," Keane said. "We really want to make riding your bike a real choice -- a realistic, safe, comfortable transportation option for more people."
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or email@example.com.