Strip of Rutledge Ave. goes 2-way today

Charleston traffic and transportation employees Richard Guerry (left) and Brandon Jones put the finishing touches Wednesday on new traffic lanes on Rutledge Avenue, a portion of which will convert to two-way traffic today.

Ask residents of Charleston's Harleston Village neighborhood about Rutledge Avenue and they'll tell you it's a dangerous speedway where wrecks are frequent.

"This is the Daytona 500," said Miels Smith, who has lived in a condo at Rutledge Avenue and Bull Street since 1991.

Smith is among those who hope the situation will improve this morning, when the city converts a section of Rutledge between Calhoun and Broad streets to two-way traffic. Instead of two southbound lanes, there will be one lane each way, with on-street parking remaining on both sides.

Supporters of the plan, including city officials, believe the change to two-way traffic will reduce speeding, just as a similar conversion did several years ago on Wentworth and Beaufain streets.

"This is going to be a whole lot better," Smith said. "It's just going to take some getting used to."

Matthew Brockbank has lived on Rutledge near Wentworth for more than a decade, and said the side-view mirror on his car has been knocked off three times when it was parked on the street. He's not convinced the change to two-way traffic will help, however.

"It's already hard to see when I come out of the driveway," Brockbank said. "Now I'll have to look both ways."

On Wednesday, the city was making final preparations for the change.

"We've been working in the area for the past two months, adding new traffic signals and signs, pavement markings and parking areas," said Hernan Pena, Charleston's director of transportation.

Changes include new stop signs on Rutledge at Bull and Montagu streets, where southbound traffic previously did not have to stop.

Pena said the city spent about $65,000 on a study and $12,000 on materials to make the change. Ashley Avenue, which is parallel to Rutledge and runs one-way northbound, also will be converted to two-way traffic between Broad and Calhoun.

"We will wait about three weeks, and May 1 is the tentative date for Ashley Avenue," Pena said. "We think it's important that the general public gets used to one change at a time."

The change to two-way traffic is part of a trend in downtown Charleston that began when Wentworth and Beaufain were converted to two-way streets. After sections of Rutledge and Ashley are converted, the city will continue planning a similar change for Spring and Cannon streets, and will then study Coming Street.

"We brought speeds down (on Wentworth and Beaufain) from 35 or 36 miles an hour to 26 to 29 miles an hour," Pena said. "The neighborhood loved it, and the traffic was distributed so that one street did not carry all of the load."

The city had planned to extend the two-way conversion of Rutledge to the end of the peninsula at Murray Boulevard, but the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association objected, so Rutledge will remain one-way below Broad Street. Rutledge already is two-way above Fishburne Street.

The changing of several streets from one-way to two-way traffic essentially reverses a 40-year-old experiment. Most of the streets involved were switched to one-way traffic in the 1960s in order to reduce traffic delays, but it is the speed of the traffic to which neighborhoods now object.