Bridging the bike-access gap

Both Charleston County and the city of Charleston recently made important decisions to facilitate biking across the Ashley River. In this photo, car and bike traffic head into West Ashley over the Ashley River Memorial bridge in May.

A healthier, safer and cleaner experience is in the works for the Lowcountry. Both Charleston County and the city of Charleston recently made important decisions to facilitate biking across the Ashley River.

There is every reason to anticipate that both will prove successful, just as the bike path over the Cooper River bridge has.

And there is ample reason to celebrate, albeit guardedly.

The county, by designating a lane on the T. Allen Legare Bridge that goes from west of the Ashley to the peninsula, will make it safe for people to commute to work or school on bicycle.

Employees at the Medical University of South Carolina who live west of the Ashley will be able to leave behind their cars and the exhaust they produce, get some exercise, save some money and see a beautiful river vista on their way to work.

The city, by agreeing to spend $75,000 to study how the James Island connector can be made safer for bicycling, is moving toward providing similar opportunities for people who live on James Island.

As it stands now, people bicycle illegally on the connector. And people who bicycle on the narrow sidewalks of the Ashley River bridges do so at their peril.

Both projects have been difficult to get off the ground because converting existing bridges and roads so that cars and bicycles share space safely is costly and complicated.

The city study will look at crash data, lane widths, speed limits, age restrictions, safety equipment and signage to make the connector safe. It has been off-limits since July 2011 when anesthesiologist and cyclist Mitchell Hollon was hit and killed by a work van on the connector.

Surely engineers and designers will be able to come up with a suitable plan.

The county’s work is farther along. Charleston County Council approved the Ashley River bridge plan along with three other major projects. Its estimated cost will be about $2 million.

The county needs another $1 million — and then 12 to 18 months to do the work.

This design was chosen after several other ideas didn’t work. One was to attach a cantilevered lane to the bridge. Another involved building an elevated bike path across the marsh on the west side of the Ashley.

The present plan has been criticized by motorists who say traffic is already bad at rush hour, and limiting traffic to three lanes will make it worse. But the DOT agreed to the plan. And the bridge from the peninsula to West Ashley, which is three lanes, logically bears the same amount of traffic that its partner bridge does, and does so efficiently enough.

If both projects are done — and done well — they could go a long way to accommodating motorists who are uneasy sharing the road with bicycles.

And they could transform biking from a sport to a bona fide form of transportation — something that is happening in cities across the country and around the world.

But the only way to convince people that both projects are worth the money and effort is to complete them. Build it, and they will come.

Meanwhile, patience will be a little easier to come by because the city and the county have taken key steps to make Charleston more bike friendly.