The risks involved in getting around the Charleston area without a car aren’t hypothetical.
Last week, a bicyclist was killed near the intersection of Spring Street and Hagood Avenue in downtown Charleston, allegedly by a driver under the influence.
At least six other bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed in Charleston this year, according to the city police department. We can and should do more to prevent such tragedies.
For one thing, driving under the influence is never acceptable. But that’s far from the only concern.
Earlier this month, The Post and Courier’s Abigail Darlington and Robert Behre did a deep dive into the Charleston region’s troubling number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities — the most in the state, according to a recent report by the Palmetto Cycling Coalition.
The problem areas are well known — Folly Road, Dorchester Road, Ashley Phosphate Road and the Crosstown, among others. They are wide roads with fast-moving cars and limited crosswalks, bike lanes and other facilities.
But even obvious and straightforward solutions often prove unnecessarily complicated to implement.
Part of the problem is jurisdiction. The state Department of Transportation manages most of the roads in the region, but there are federal rules that apply as well. County governments often oversee building new roads. Town and city governments control some local streets.
And those different governments sometimes have very different ideas about transportation priorities.
The state DOT, for example, mostly measures a road’s effectiveness by its “level of service.” In the broadest terms, that means that roads that move the highest number of cars at the highest speeds get good grades. Roads that get backed up fail.
Obviously, that information is important. Data on congestion can be useful for making planning decisions. But measuring effectiveness based on traffic flow completely ignores — and in many cases actively works against — pedestrian, bicyclist and even driver safety.
That’s because moving cars more quickly tends to make them more dangerous.
Charleston-area officials are generally making more nuanced decisions on transportation now that most jurisdictions seem to be on similar pages about so-called “complete streets” that account for not just cars, but public transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians.
The Rethink Folly Road steering committee recently approved a design that will significantly improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety on that road, for instance.
But the region ought to be much more aggressive about making changes that would protect people trying to get around town without a car. And those changes would benefit everyone — including drivers.
Safe, useful bike and pedestrian infrastructure would help coax more people out of their cars for more trips, which would mean less traffic. And many of the types of improvements that make streets safer for walkers and bikers — lower speed limits, traffic calming devices, better signals — make streets safer for people in cars.
Another issue is funding. The state DOT allocates about $5 million per year for non-car transportation — for all of South Carolina. That’s about $1 per resident, and less than a quarter of 1 percent of the total DOT budget.
That’s a missed opportunity. Cars shouldn’t be the only safe way to travel around the Charleston area. And making things safer and more convenient for people on two feet or two wheels would make things safer and more convenient for us all.