foggy morning (copy)

Fog begins to clear on the Northbridge in West Ashley on Jan. 17, 2017. Michael Pronzato/ Staff

The death of a bicyclist on Saturday near the North Bridge between West Ashley and North Charleston is tragic, but not shocking. Really, it is astonishing that injuries and fatalities involving pedestrians and bicyclists aren’t more common in that area.

The only safe way to get from West Ashley to North Charleston or vice versa is in a motor vehicle. That shouldn’t be the case.

Many Charleston area roads are dangerous to people traveling on two wheels or two feet. But the North Bridge is particularly risky.

Cars travel at 55 miles per hour or faster in six lanes of traffic. A narrow, raised median is dotted with posts to keep people from walking or riding across it. There are no sidewalks, or even the narrow maintenance paths found on some other bridges.

And yet cyclists and pedestrians regularly cross the bridge, risking their lives in the process.

According to Charleston police, the cyclist killed early Saturday morning was traveling north in the raised median just before the inclined portion of the bridge when he fell into the roadway and was hit by a pickup truck. The victim was knocked into the southbound lanes and struck by a garbage truck. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

But the kicker in the initial report is a single line that sums up how bicyclists and pedestrians are too often treated in the Charleston area:

“The cyclist was illegally in the roadway.”

That’s probably true. Signs warn that pedestrians and bicyclists are prohibited from using the median on the North Bridge.

But there aren’t any reasonable alternatives.

“There is no legal, lawful way for a bicyclist to travel over that bridge,” explained Lt. Matthew Wojslawowicz of the Charleston Police Department. “Where he was, he shouldn’t have been.”

The design of the North Bridge and the nearby interchange at I-26 and Cosgrove Avenue in North Charleston would make building a safe bicycle and pedestrian path a challenge. But such a gaping hole in the region’s non-car infrastructure cannot continue to be ignored.

And it’s not the only dangerous bridge in the area.

A much-studied effort to convert a lane of the T. Allen Legare Bridge between West Ashley and downtown Charleston fell through last year, for example. City officials recently submitted a grant request for federal dollars to build a dedicated bike and pedestrian bridge.

That’s an ideal solution, but one that leaves bicyclists and pedestrians at risk while waiting for funding feedback and during construction. City and county leaders should be prepared to move forward with the project with or without federal help. It’s urgent.

There’s also no safe way to get on or off of James Island without four wheels. The James Island connector has been officially closed to bike traffic since 2012, after a man was flung from the bridge and killed.

The Wappoo Cut bridge has only maintenance paths.

Lt. Wojslawowicz said the police department is working with city transportation officials to help prevent future accidents.

“Hopefully we can open up a better dialogue and see how we can work together to make things better,” he said.

That’s critical.

Solving the Charleston area’s traffic problems will require, among other things, shifts in culture and infrastructure so that not all trips necessarily involve cars. Unsafe bridges and roads are a major barrier to that transformation.

The consequences are not abstract. People are dying. And unsafe infrastructure is a primary culprit.

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