Charleston County Council can no longer hide behind endless, pointless studies and delays. Councilmembers simply do not support a vital, potentially lifesaving project to convert one of four lanes on the T. Allen Legare Bridge over the Ashley River for bicyclists and pedestrians.
That is the explicit message sent on Thursday when all but two councilmen voted to send a letter to the state Department of Transportation rescinding support for the project. In so doing, they also rescinded support for safety, for better connectivity, for a forward-thinking transportation network and for the thousands of Charleston residents who get around the city on bikes or on foot each day.
The nail in the project’s coffin, it would seem, was a report released last week that found that converting one lane of the bridge would eventually lead to a failing level of traffic flow.
Nonetheless, the study said that the project still “provides a dedicated facility and safe route for bicycle and pedestrian travel … efficiently uses the existing infrastructure … is shown to result in only minor increases in vehicle travel times … [and] there will be no changes to traffic operations at intersections in the West Ashley area.”
Nearly every member of the public who spoke at Thursday’s meeting, including Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, spoke in favor of it.
“We still support providing this bike lane on the Legare Bridge, and I’m sure that many folks here tonight have talked to you about the benefits of the connectivity, about the safety, about the support of the medical university and the workers who plan to use this facility, about the recreational and quality of life aspects that will enhance our community as the bike lane has on the Ravenel Bridge,” said Mr. Tecklenburg. “We ask you to honor your commitment.”
Unfortunately, council has not honored its commitment, despite the city’s continuous and longstanding support and a memorandum of agreement between the county, the city and the DOT.
Despite multiple studies concluding that a lane conversion is the only practical short-term solution to safely move bicyclists and pedestrians across the Ashley River.
Despite hundreds of comments from constituents in favor of the project.
In what councilmembers hoped would be interpreted as a conciliatory move, they voted to study allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to use the James Island connector.
Of course, it would be fantastic to add safe facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians on that bridge. It’s something that should happen one way or another. But it’s a less practical solution than the Ashley River Bridge lane in the near term.
For one thing, a new study will take months. And though previous studies have supported the idea, there is no guarantee that a new county review would conclude that a mixed-use connector is a safe, practical option.
Even if a study does imply that there’s a safe way to allow bicyclists back onto the James Island connector and let pedestrians join them, it could take years to build the needed features.
And any plan would almost certainly have to involve lowering the speed limit for cars.
Ironically, reducing the speed limit from the current 55 mph to a safer 35 mph would add almost exactly the same amount of commute time from James Island — about two minutes — as converting a lane of the Ashley River Bridge, even in the worst traffic.
But a few extra seconds in the car shouldn’t be the deciding factor when determining the viability of giving up road space for people on bikes or on foot.
At least three bicyclists have been hit and seriously injured while riding along narrow maintenance paths across the Ashley River in the past year, according to Charleston Moves, a bicycle advocacy group. Tragically, more will likely be hit as County Council studies its James Island connector plan. More will be hit as they figure out how to implement it.
For decades, area residents have waited on this badly needed project. They shouldn’t have to continue waiting for years and years simply because a handful of councilmembers were unwilling to make a stand for better transportation options.
Lives are at stake.
But County Council has not shown itself capable of considering anything other than the immediate convenience of drivers. That is a shortsighted, narrow-minded perspective, and one that overlooks the needs of thousands of area residents.
There is still no safe way to get across the Ashley River without a car. That still must change.