Not every road in South Carolina needs to be a “complete street,” or one that safely and comfortably accommodates not just cars but bicyclists, pedestrians and transit riders as well. But some clearly do, and Maybank Highway on James Island is an obvious example.
In January, a 36-year-old man was hit by a car while walking across that road. He died a few days later.
In the last five years, at least six other bicyclists and pedestrians have been hit by drivers in the particularly dangerous stretch of Maybank Highway between Folly Road and Riverland Drive, according to state Department of Transportation data.
And unless significant measures are taken to slow down vehicle traffic and improve infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists, crashes will continue.
Last month, staff and volunteers with Charleston Moves, a nonprofit advocacy organization, decided to collect some data.
They stood at two sections of Maybank Highway on James Island for a few hours on two days — a Sunday and a Wednesday — and counted how many pedestrians and bicyclists were present and how they used the road. The results aren’t exactly scientific, but several observations are worth noting.
For one thing, there are more people walking and biking along Maybank Highway than one might think, at least on a Sunday afternoon — between 18 and about 260 per hour depending on the time and location.
And the accommodations available to those people are less than ideal at best. Sidewalks are overgrown with grass. Streetlights are burned out. The two crosswalks near the busiest commercial stretch of the road are separated by more than a half-mile. There are no bike lanes.
But aside from the unforgiving road itself, Maybank Highway would otherwise be a great place for people to get around without cars.
It’s dotted with several small businesses, bars and restaurants, an independent movie theater and a grocery store. Quiet, walkable residential neighborhoods, a large new apartment complex and a few townhomes house lots of people nearby.
Not surprisingly, Charleston Moves volunteers spoke with several area residents who could easily walk to places on Maybank Highway but said they didn’t feel safe doing so.
A bill that would ask the state Department of Transportation to develop and take into consideration a complete streets policy was proposed this year in the state House of Representatives. It represents a small but vitally important step toward improving roads like Maybank Highway.
DOT has technically had a complete streets initiative in effect since 2003, but it lacks specific guidelines and is applied only sporadically.
In 2008, when Maybank Highway was last resurfaced, DOT turned down a request from city officials, Charleston Moves and the Coastal Conservation League to add bike lanes by narrowing car lanes and the center turn lane, for example.
Instead, DOT widened the outer car lanes, which tends to encourage drivers to speed up, according to multiple national studies.
This year presents another chance to fix Maybank Highway, with a planned “microsurfacing” effort offering the opportunity to readjust road striping and add features like crosswalks and bike lanes. It’s important to get it right.
More broadly, keeping pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders in mind during planned road maintenance ought to be a no-brainer. But that obviously hasn’t always been the case in the past. Tragically, on Monday night, a pedestrian was killed on Rivers Avenue in North Charleston, another particularly deadly road.
This is why complete streets matter and why it’s critical that DOT be more open to input from local officials and advocates who are all too aware of the riskiest problem spots. Making Maybank Highway and other Charleston area roads safer and more people-friendly would benefit anyone who uses them — whether on two feet, two wheels or four.