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Keep bikeway in fast lane

  • Updated

Backing down from the city's commitment to establish a bike lane on the T. Allen Legare Bridge over the Ashley River would be a terrible mistake.

The plan to convert one traffic lane to a pedestrian/bicycle lane has been in the design stage for years. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has supported the idea. So has County Council. It would enable commuters and others to cross the Ashley safely, something they cannot do now. And it would connect to the city's popular 10.5-mile West Ashley Greenway.

Now, some members of City Council are balking, saying it might cause vehicular congestion; it might be reclaimed later for use by automobiles; and it might not be popular.

Well, nobody knew that the bike lane on the Ravenel bridge over the Cooper River would be as popular as it is. About 210,000 people - mostly recreational users - walked or biked on the Ravenel bridge during 2012.

The proposed Legare bridge path could well have more. It is shorter and less steep with a great view. And it should be convenient for bicyclists to commute from many neighborhoods west of the Ashley.

Some thought the cost of adding a bike lane to the Ravenel bridge was too great. But it would be difficult to find anyone who now thinks we'd be better off without that bike lane.

While City Councilman Bill Moody worries about traffic that might happen, the Department of Transportation (the people who work with roads and bridges for a living) has signed off on the project.

And a study commissioned by the county concluded that driving over the reconfigured bridge from Folly Road would take an additional 13 seconds; from Savannah Highway, six seconds; and from St. Andrews Boulevard, four seconds.

Other councilmen are worried that increased traffic in the future will require reclaiming the lane for vehicles.

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But actually, DOT information shows that the number of cars crossing the Ashley in both directions has remained stagnant or decreased since 2005. Further, as more people bike to work, the number of vehicles could decrease even more.

City Council members delayed approval of the bike lane because they had legitimate questions. They should now move forward and approve the plan at Tuesday's council meeting because there are legitimate answers that say the bike lane would work.

If Charleston wants to function as a world-class city, it has to embrace alternate methods of transportation, biking as well as mass transit. Internationally, cities are doing conversions like this, and walkers and bicyclists are using them. Bike lanes tell people that the city is family-friendly and forward-thinking.

And people here want it. A Medical University of South Carolina employee survey found that more than 500 would use the bridge to bike or walk to work if it were safe. The College of Charleston Faculty and Student Senates have endorsed the idea as has the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.

Historic Charleston was designed for horses and buggies, then trolleys, then cars. It is a challenge to make streets safe for bicycles, particularly bridges.

Charleston County rose to the challenge. Employees worked hard and came up with a way to provide safe bicycling over the Ashley, and the county will pay for the fixes (about $1.6 million) with half-cent sales tax money.

Oh, and by the way, most of that money will be used to provide access up to the bridge. Work on the bridge itself will involve simply cordoning off a lane. So if traffic projections should prove wrong and the lane should be needed for cars, roadside improvements will still have value and be useful.

Passing up this opportunity would reflect short-sighted thinking on the part of Charleston's city leaders, not the larger vision that should be expected of them.

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