It takes a special logic to reject a planned, funded safety improvement over concerns that it wouldn’t be safe.
But that’s what happened Thursday when Charleston County Council’s Finance Committee unanimously voted to shift funding for a crossing at the West Ashley Bikeway and Highway 61 to an unstudied crossing at Folly Road and Battery Island Drive on James Island.
To be clear, both intersections are unsafe. A pedestrian was recently killed at the latter. Fixes are needed in both cases. And there’s no reason why both can’t be addressed.
Regarding the Bikeway crossing, council members worried that a flashing light would be insufficient to warn cars of pedestrians and bicyclists in the area. They also worried that it would slow down cars. And they pointed out that there is a crosswalk relatively nearby at Sycamore Avenue.
A flashing light, however, would be infinitely better than the current warning, which doesn’t exist. Slowing down cars would help make Highway 61 safer for everyone, not just bicyclists and pedestrians. And the Sycamore Avenue crosswalk would be a nearly 10-minute detour for a person on foot.
In other words, these arguments are illogical. The crossing as it stands is as Councilman Vic Rawl put it, “a death trap.” It’s impossible to imagine how adding a signal would somehow make it more dangerous. And the benefits of a safe crossing are obvious.
The West Ashley Bikeway cuts about 2.5 miles through the heart of Charleston’s largest suburb. At one end it provides access to a pier on the Ashley River. At the other, it comes close to but doesn’t safely connect to the West Ashley Greenway, another mixed-use path.
That longer route runs about 8 miles roughly parallel to Savannah Highway and provides a safe connection for bicyclists and pedestrians from Main Road toward Johns Island almost all the way to the Charleston peninsula.
It’s only almost all the way, of course, because there’s still no safe way for bicyclists or pedestrians to cross the Ashley River between West Ashley and downtown Charleston, although an application is pending for federal grant money to build a separate bridge for that purpose.
West Ashley’s two mixed-use paths are some of the best bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the Charleston region. But gaps inside and between them — and between West Ashley and downtown Charleston — keep those paths from being safely used to their full potential.
Really, this is a broader problem for bicycle and pedestrian safety in the region.
Too many key bridges — the North Bridge, Wappoo Cut, the James Island connector — are unsafe or off limits to anyone not in a motor vehicle. And a patchwork of bike lanes and sidewalks don’t always connect to each other, significantly limiting their usefulness.
In some cases, cost is a factor. Federal grant money for the Ashley River bike and pedestrian bridge is helpful given that the estimated cost is about $20 million, for instance. But even the most expensive such projects are generally a much better taxpayer bargain than new or wider roads.
And in the case of a safe crossing for the West Ashley Bikeway at Highway 61 — with an estimated $250,000 price tag — the only thing lacking is the political will.