Anyone following national and state statistics about injurious and fatal crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians knows that South Carolina has a lot of catching up to do compared with the rest of the nation to make its streets safer for all — and that we have made relatively little progress during the past 10 years. That lack of progress was shown yet again by Sunday's Post and Courier story about the dangerous lack of sidewalks across the Charleston area.
But we now have more reason for hope, beyond our state motto reminding us to do so.
The wheels of government turn slowly, but an important step came in early 2021, when S.C. Transportation Secretary Christy Hall issued a complete streets directive that established new guidelines for state highway projects to accommodate those who walk, bike or take the bus; for governments working on such road projects, it shifted the burden of proof from having to show why such work should be included to having to prove it should not be.
We applauded that move, and it importantly has been followed up with a statewide Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Action Plan, finalized in May, that pinpoints 77 locations where the risk is greatest for those travelling on foot or by bike. And the state Transportation Commission agreed in March to tackle 18 of them, including mile-long stretches of Ashley River Road in Charleston, Gervais Street in Columbia and Poinsett Highway in Greenville.
The agency is finding consultants for those projects now, and within three years, the department hopes to start tackling 18 other projects on the list, state Director of Traffic Engineering Rob Perry tells us.
But the state agency isn't the only one that can help. In South Carolina, road projects also may be identified, funded and built by county transportation committees, counties with their own transportation sales taxes, the State Infrastructure Bank and even metropolitan planning organizations, such as the Charleston Area Transportation Study Policy Committee. We would urge everyone involved in those governmental organizations to think hard about tackling some of the 77 problematic locations in their own backyard. "We've never had something we could share with others," Mr. Perry says. "We’re excited about that part of the plan."
The state also must continue to update this safety plan at least every five years so its data and relevancy don't get stale.
A big problem is how slowly road projects seem to move these days. Before the state identified these 77 locations, it created a 2018 list of South Carolina's 10 most dangerous streets for bikers and pedestrians. Progress has been steady, but slow: Five years later, the state is poised to begin full-blown design work on them.
The four downtown Charleston streets on that list — King, Meeting, Calhoun and St. Philip — remain in the planning stage, and the Transportation Department will hold a meeting about options for them from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Bethel United Methodist Church, 57 Pitt St. Those attending can voice their opinion on changes such as higher visibility crosswalks, new pavement markings, adjustments to pedestrian crossing lights — even reducing lanes in certain spots. Other changes include replacing storm drains that can catch a bicycle tire and temporarily stopping auto traffic in all directions, particularly near the College of Charleston, during peak pedestrian times.
It’s unclear how quickly state and local governments will be able to address all 77 problem spots highlighted in the new bike-ped safety report — and how many more problem spots might emerge in the coming years. While it’s certainly progress that we now have a statewide list, it won’t mean much if local officials, as well as DOT, don’t commit to working hard on it. Asked how many years it might take to address all 77, Mr. Perry could not give us a specific timetable, saying only, “We’re trying to find ways to expedite it, because time is a life.”
The truth of Mr. Perry’s observation was illustrated earlier this year, when Carlos Dunlap Sr., father of NFL star Carlos Dunlap II, was struck and killed by a car. He was walking along Ashley Phosphate Road, one of the 10 roads cited by the state in 2018 as being particularly dangerous for those on foot or on a bike. It’s unknown — perhaps it’s even unknowable — whether improvements to Ashley Phosphate might have prevented this tragedy, but we do know this: The longer we wait to make our streets more safe, the more tragedies we’ll see.