Advance safe biking to beach

Dr. Lance Davis starts his morning commute on Ben Sawyer Boulevard, though usually on the sidewalk, to avoid traffic such as the big truck behind him. (David Quick/Staff)

Ask residents of Sullivan’s Island whether they would prefer summer beach traffic jammed into their neighborhoods in search of parking, or people coming on bicycles from Charleston for a morning dip.

Ask the same of people who live on the Isle of Palms.

Almost assuredly bicycles would win by a mile.

Or perhaps even 1.74 miles, as in the 1.74-mile stretch between Coleman Boulevard and Sullivan’s Island.

That’s where yet another road project has been planned that doesn’t accommodate safe bicycling.

The S.C. Department of Transportation is scheduled to repave the Ben Sawyer Causeway early this summer, but instead of adding a designated bike lane, plans call for 14-foot-wide shared lanes on both sides of the road.

They would be marked by road signs and markings on the pavement (called sharrows) indicating motor vehicles and bicycles should share the space.

Unfortunately, that plan promises to be dangerous, according to Kurt Cavanaugh, executive director of Charleston Moves, a bicycling advocacy group. Cars go too fast on the causeway for sharrows to work.

Also unfortunately, work was planned without conferring with Mount Pleasant officials, who have been working to make their town more bike-friendly.

Christy Hall, S.C. secretary of transportation, said she has asked DOT engineers to review the situation with the possibility of four-foot bike lanes banking the causeway.

The DOT has committed to adding bicycle lanes to all projects where it is feasible. And engineers have said the road’s 62-foot width is not enough to make bike lanes feasible.

In many instances, providing bike lanes is complicated by buildings on either side of the road. The causeway crosses an expanse of marsh.

But don’t DOT officials talk with Charleston Moves and Mount Pleasant officials? Perhaps they have other ideas. Maybe widen the causeway?

Initially experts said there would be no way to provide a bike lane over the Ashley River via existing bridges, but they eventually came up with the idea of using one lane of traffic for bikes. Testing for such a lane on the Legare bridge has been promising.

But that idea has also met with resistance from wary commuters.

By comparison, bike lanes on the Ben Sawyer Causeway would not involve reducing lanes for automobiles at all.

Mr. Kavanaugh said the problem locally is often not narrow streets but “misallocation of space.”

In the case of the Ben Sawyer Causeway, it is particularly important to get it right.

Charleston Moves has been working with municipalities and other local governmental bodies toward establishing bike lanes from “Battery2Beach.” The causeway is a vital link.

And the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission is promoting “People2Parks,” which encourages visits to area parks by way of bicycle or on foot.

The DOT and the billions of dollars it needs to repair, maintain and augment roads and bridges throughout the state have been a source of intense legislative debate.

The agency needs to tackle each project in a way that earns respect from lawmakers.

That includes searching for ways to incorporate bike lanes wherever reasonable.