Successfully and affordably addressing Charleston’s transportation challenges will require more fully embracing public transportation, and not just as an option of last resort for people without cars but as a viable, convenient alternative to driving.
Shelters and stops that offer some kind of protection from the elements are a big part of making bus ridership a more pleasant experience.
And while CARTA has been aggressive at upgrading stops with its limited resources, there are still hundreds of stops in its service area that are little more than signs stuck in the ground along a grassy roadside shoulder.
On Tuesday, Charleston City Council will consider an ordinance that would allow large new multifamily and commercial developments to build new transit accommodations, including bus shelters, as part of their strategy for mitigating traffic impacts.
The new mitigation option would apply to projects on or within a quarter mile of CARTA bus routes.
Current city rules lay out a variety of possibilities for alleviating negative impacts when major new developments would drop the so-called “level of service” on nearby roads below a certain letter grade. Options include turn lanes and signal re-timings, for example.
Relying entirely on level of service — a measure of how freely traffic flows at peak hours — is a dubious way to determine traffic impact because it doesn’t take into account safety, affordability or a number of other important considerations, including suitability for transit.
But there’s no reason that bus accommodations shouldn’t be part of the solution when a new apartment building or business adds more traffic to a road.
In fact, transit amenities ought to be a more integral part of most new developments, including large single-family neighborhoods, at least to the extent that they can be integrated with existing or planned CARTA routes.
Part of the reason public transportation isn’t more widely used in the Charleston area is because too much of the region was built with buses as an afterthought at best. Correcting that oversight will be a huge, long-term challenge. It’s essential that new development not make the same mistakes.
Effectively implementing an ordinance like the one on Tuesday’s City Council agenda also will require close collaboration between city, CARTA and state Department of Transportation officials. Ideally that cooperation would benefit transit planning and operation in Charleston more broadly.
Building a few new bus shelters won’t likely revolutionize public transportation. But it’s a visible, straightforward way to both make life more pleasant for existing bus riders and help encourage more people to give transit a shot.
City Council should give the transit accommodation ordinance the go-ahead. It sends the welcome message that Charleston values public transportation as a meaningful solution to traffic congestion.