Charleston County Council has been the only thing standing in the way of a safe route for bicyclists and pedestrians to cross the Ashley River in the short term. A thoroughly vetted plan to convert one lane of the Legare Bridge for non-car traffic was senselessly voted down in August.
The Council’s Finance Committee, a committee of the whole, partially redeemed itself on Thursday, however, with a vote to spend $3 million on a dedicated bike and pedestrian bridge. County Council will consider the plan again next Tuesday. It deserves support.
Charleston City Council is also expected to vote on whether to commit $1.5 million in city funds for the new bridge. They, too, should give it the go ahead.
And Charleston Moves, a local bicycle advocacy group, has pledged to try to raise $1.5 million from private sources as well.
Combined county, city and private momentum can advance a vitally needed piece of infrastructure.
A separate bridge would be an ideal way to connect West Ashley and the Charleston peninsula for those on two feet or two wheels. It wouldn’t have any impact on car traffic and would be the safest possible way to move people over the river.
But it’s hardly a quick fix. Major infrastructure projects like a new bridge can take a decade or longer to build, meaning that it could be years before the estimated $18 million in necessary funding is even accounted for, even if the federal government gets involved.
In the meantime, bicyclists and pedestrians will be left to cross the Ashley River on a dangerous maintenance path. At least three people have been seriously injured on the bridge just this year.
The best plan would be to proceed with both the lane conversion and the dedicated bridge, knowing that the former is a temporary workaround and the latter is a long-term solution. In fact, the traffic impacts from losing one of the four lanes on the Legare Bridge wouldn’t peak for about 10 years, according to projections, which would coincide perfectly with the timeline to build the bike bridge.
But that approach seems unlikely given County Council’s demonstrated determination to abandon the bike lane project.
It also is worth pushing ahead with a study on how to safely accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians on the James Island Connector. County Council proposed that plan when it voted against proceeding with the lane conversion.
It’s possible that the James Island Connector could serve as a stopgap solution as well while work goes forward on the new bridge.
Regardless, the county, city and state must do everything possible to speed the dedicated bike and pedestrian bridge effort along.
It’s unfortunate that simple, straightforward plans to move bicyclists and pedestrians across the Ashley River have proven elusive for so many years. But it’s encouraging that the county finally has spoken in favor of moving ahead with a worthy project.
Build the bridge.