Charleston area residents want better connected streets to help cut down on traffic congestion. They just don’t want those connections anywhere near their homes.
That contradiction has blocked several sensible efforts to help people travel around Mount Pleasant, North Charleston and other parts of the region, as The Post and Courier’s David Slade reported earlier this month.
Certainly, it’s understandable that homeowners in residential neighborhoods don’t want to suddenly live across from a freeway. But that’s hardly what’s being proposed in most cases.
In Mount Pleasant, for example, resident opposition recently shot down a proposal to route some traffic off of congested Highway 41 and through Park West and Dunes West. The plan involved turning Bessemer Road into a 5-lane road, which was almost certainly more than necessary.
But Bessemer Road isn’t exactly residential as it is. Few if any homes have yards or driveways that connect directly to the road. It’s already a thoroughfare of sorts, just one that’s being tremendously underutilized.
And in other cases, existing connections have been made less practical through the use of speed bumps or even signage that makes through traffic illegal.
The logical consequence is a lot of traffic on a handful of large roads.
Think of it like a sewer system. Tiny neighborhood roads empty onto larger side streets, which flow onto main roads and highways or freeways like I-526 and I-26. Only cars don’t act like water. They clog up the pipes and cause the whole system to fail.
A grid setup would be the ideal alternative. Rather than forcing all traffic onto a series of increasingly larger roads, a grid gives drivers options to get from one point to another. And the more blocks in the grid, the more options are available.
It’s not just a few choices.
Based on a formula touted by Charleston-area developer and former chairman of the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank Vince Graham, a three-block by three-block grid offers drivers 20 different paths from one side of the grid to the other.
Scale it up to a 10-block by 10-block grid, and there are thousands of possible routes. If there’s bad traffic on one street, there are several thousand ways around it.
But Park West, which is home to more than 6,000 people, has only about seven ways in and out of the neighborhood, and that’s counting some pretty indirect routes. Nothing really connects to anything, meaning that even getting to a neighbor’s house might require a trip in a car.
And after commuters take one of the seven or so ways out of Park West, they all end up on one of just two roads — Highway 41 or Highway 17. There is no mystery as to why those roads are congested.
Yet that’s the rule rather than the exception for Charleston area suburban development.
Obviously, a strict grid system would be impractical in most parts of the suburbs. But simple improvements to connectivity could dramatically increase the number of travel options available to commuters without radically altering quality of life.