Credit should be given where it’s due, and Charleston County Council did the right thing Tuesday when it voted to restore funding for a safe crossing along the West Ashley Bikeway at Highway 61.
That’s a welcome shift from a Finance Committee meeting the previous week in which several council members were downright dismissive of the planned, budgeted project.
At that earlier meeting, Councilman Brantley Moody wondered why bicyclists and pedestrians couldn’t just walk more than a quarter-mile out of their way to use a nearby crosswalk.
“Putting a flashing light [at the Bikeway and Highway 61] would kill traffic in West Ashley. ... I can’t imagine what scenario led us to put that on the list,” he said.
“There is nothing to indicate that any activity would come across the road there for a motorist,” Councilman Vic Rawl said, as a justification for blocking a project that would indicate that activity would come across the road.
“Where’d this project come from? The city of Charleston?” wondered council Chairman Elliott Summey.
Charleston City Council members, incidentally, should take that as a high compliment.
After residents made phone calls, sent emails and showed up to speak in favor of reinstating the funding for a safe crossing, County Council was at least more willing to take the project seriously a few days later during their Tuesday meeting.
It’s worth noting that showing up — literally or figuratively — made a difference. Paying attention to local government, as tedious and frustrating as it can sometimes be, is crucial.
Councilman Teddie Pryor, whose district includes the Highway 61 intersection in question, called on Thursday to restore funding for the crossing with the caveat that community members would have six months to coordinate with the state Department of Transportation on a more acceptable solution.
It’s an open question what that might mean. And given DOT’s relentless refusal to make any changes that would even slightly hamper the recklessly rapid movement of cars on the state’s roads, the odds for bicyclists and pedestrians are long.
So, sure, credit is due. But council members don’t get full points for a good decision that was made necessary only to reverse their own bad one. And points should be further subtracted for putting conditions on final approval of the needed safety improvements, which could prove difficult or impossible to satisfy.
The final grade is passing, but barely.
The back and forth over this single project was out of proportion to its complexity and cost — about $250,000 out of more than $80 million in county funds budgeted for transportation projects this year.
But it speaks to a larger problem. Bicyclists and pedestrians have to fight bitterly for even the most minimal and obvious needs, whereas road “improvements,” which often end up making traffic worse, are more typically treated as foregone conclusions.
It’s a privilege to be able to survive crossing Highway 61 on two wheels or two feet. It’s a right for motorists to speed down that road without a care in the world.
The justification for this caste system usually has something to do with the supposedly small number of people who get around Charleston without a car. That’s about 6% of the county population according to 2017 Census Bureau data and about 10% in the city.
Boosting that percentage is a much cheaper, more realistic and more sustainable way to achieve a functional transportation system than building tons of new and wider roads.
But that won’t happen without adding some basic safety features and connectivity, which is exactly what a Bikeway crossing would do.
Of course, some council members are correct that a flashing light isn’t a particularly great way to protect vulnerable people crossing a wide, high-speed highway. We have six months to come up with something better.
Council’s response at that point will be telling. Are they looking out for all Charleston County residents? Or just the ones in cars?
Ed Buckley is an editorial writer with The Post and Courier.
This column has been updated to correct the attribution of a quote to Charleston County Councilman Brantley Moody.