I don’t own a bicycle. I haven’t ridden one in a long time. I can and do walk to a few places from home, but mostly I drive. I commute up and down I-26 every weekday along with what seems like half of the metro population.
So, technically, it makes little difference to me that there’s no safe way to get across the Ashley River on a bicycle. Or to get onto James Island on one. Or travel along main roads like Ashley Phosphate or Rivers Avenue on one.
After all, why would I care?
At least that’s the logic of many Charleston area residents who have opposed straightforward and inexpensive improvements to bicycle infrastructure such as converting one lane of the T. Allen Legare Bridge for cyclists and pedestrians. Similar efforts have been stymied for roughly a century, as Post and Courier reporter Robert Behre explained on Friday, in no small part due to opposition from motorists.
If it’s not going to make their car commute better, then it must be going to make it worse.
And in a sense, that’s not entirely wrong. In the case of the Ashley River bridge bike lane, “worse” would have potentially meant a few extra seconds behind the wheel each day. Perhaps not surprisingly, a 2015 poll found that about two-thirds of Charleston voters opposed the idea.
But that kind of thinking is flawed. Commuting is not a zero-sum game.
A person on a bike could otherwise commute in a car. A person in a car could otherwise commute on a bus. Two people in two cars could otherwise commute in one car. Some people could just work from home and not commute at all.
The point is that options benefit everyone, even when we don’t take advantage of them ourselves. And right now, there are not enough options that are realistic, safe and efficient.
I could bike to work, for example, in about 30 minutes. It’s about a six-mile ride. Certainly doable. And it would be great exercise. But there’s no safe way to get across the Ashley River between West Ashley and downtown Charleston.
Walking six miles would take about two hours each way so that’s probably out of the question.
CARTA’s new app — which is pretty impressive and worth a download — estimates it would take about an hour to an hour and a half on a combination of buses to get to the office, so that’s not very practical either.
And, unfortunately, examples like mine are more common than not. But presumably, there are also lots of other people out there who would love to have more options.
It would be pretty nice, for instance, to hop on the bus rapid transit rather than drive on I-26 in the morning. Although with no safe way to get across the North Bridge without a car, park and ride would be the only reasonable option.
Biking, particularly on nice days, would be great if there was a safe way to get downtown.
What if living downtown was affordable and walking was an option? If people could live closer to where they work, we’d solve many of our commuting problems. Unfortunately, our urban planning models for the past few decades have made that difficult.
And rather than addressing that root cause — people living many miles from where they work — we’ve invested much of our time and money for too many years trying to figure out how to make traveling that distance faster and more convenient. That’s why all God’s children cram their cars onto I-26 each morning.
The housing problem is going to be complicated to solve. And it’s going to take a long time.
But in the meantime, we can at least make sure that as many people as possible have access to as many options as possible to get around town. One of the first things we could do is build a safe way to get across the Ashley River in anything other than a car. If even a few people took advantage of alternatives to driving, it would benefit everyone else.
I may not own a bicycle — yet. But I really would like to see more and better bike lanes.
Ed Buckley is an editorial writer with The Post and Courier.