In a recent commentary in these pages, our friend Don Sparks highlighted several important strategies that the city of Charleston must implement to address vehicular parking if we are to be an affordable, successful and equitable community. He rightly pointed out that, “reduc[ing] the number of cars in the first place ... is vital in solving the parking problem.”
The great news is, the city’s newest parking study — unanimously endorsed by Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Council — is chock full of recommendations to reduce the number of cars coming to, through, and from the peninsula. Directly from the plan itself: “… The optimum solution for parking and mobility is not likely one that encourages more driving trips. … The solution should find an appropriate and equitable mix of transit, shared mobility, and auto trips. …”
One of the best ways to reduce the number of cars, and therefore the requirement of parking facilities, is to install safe and connected spaces for people to travel on foot, by bicycle and on public transit. Implementation of the downtown bike plan, construction of bicycle and pedestrian connections across the Ashley River, retrofits to major commuter corridors off the peninsula, and installation of Lowcountry Rapid Transit are all keys to solving the over-abundance of cars on the roads and associated parking. The recommendations in the new parking study, which Charleston Moves supports, are based on a solid foundation of data collection, focused on local trends.
The next imperative step is action. Charleston County leads the state in bicycle and pedestrian injuries and deaths. In the past two weeks alone, one citizen crossing the James Island Maybank Highway corridor on foot has been killed, and another struck while biking near Courtenay Drive is in the intensive care unit. This is unacceptable. The people of Charleston have the right to walk and bicycle without putting their lives at risk. The South Carolina Department of Transportation is aware of dangerous locations and, still, little action is taken to install safe and connected infrastructure. With the newest parking study, we have yet another document that outlines the need for complete streets, and even better, a major funding source identified.
To those ends, the new parking study includes the improvement of transit, bicycle and pedestrian services and facilities. It calls for the immediate identification of peninsular locations and amenities for transit landings, and adoption of a target for zero fatalities involving road traffic, leveraging parking revenues to fund portions of the program. Safe and connected infrastructure is the most equitable way to get closer to such a target.
Revenue from existing parking facilities can and should be used now for bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure. The current parking meter ordinance allows it. The new parking study recommends updates be made to the Parking Enterprise Fund to add mobility as part of the spending program, including immediate development of a plan to utilize it.
The study also delves into parking codes, suggesting several improvements. Boldly and rightly, it calls for the immediate removal of a minimum parking requirement. The data shows that instead of a parking supply problem, we have a parking allocation problem, and outlines solutions to unlock many underutilized spaces existing on the peninsula.
We are confident that the city of Charleston will begin implementation of the most pressing policy changes soon, accommodating safety, mobility choice and affordability. That action will require cooperation from Charleston County and DOT.
Many citizens have said repeatedly that they would choose to walk, bicycle, or use public transit if those options were safe and connected. We cannot continue to lose precious citizens to dangerously designed streets and an overwhelming number of cars. Now that we have the blueprint and funding sources, it is well past time to get to work.
Katie Zimmerman is executive director of Charleston Moves.
W. Andrew Gowder Jr. is the group’s board chairman.