Make it safe to walk

Pedestrians in South Carolina face particularly dangerous circumstances, according to a new report. Here, a man is shown crossing Savannah Highway on Monday.

One study after another concludes that walking is a good way to improve one's health. And scientists agree that carbon vehicle emissions harm the environment.

But from 2003 to 2012 in South Carolina, eschewing the car and walking proved anything but healthy for more than 1,000 pedestrians who died after being struck by vehicles.

A report by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition found that only Florida, Alabama and Louisiana are more dangerous than South Carolina for pedestrians. The rate of pedestrian fatalities here is twice the national average.

Yet it's like pulling teeth to get new sidewalks or to improve the ones that exist. And it can be more difficult than that to get safe bikeways.

In a recent letter to the editor, a writer said residents at Bishop Gadsden retirement community on James Island would like to walk to do light shopping, but they don't feel safe on Camp Road without sidewalks.

College of Charleston and Medical University of South Carolina students are wont to walk or ride their bikes. That's a welcome thing on the parking-challenged peninsula. But a student was killed in January as she tried to walk across the Septima Clark Parkway, aka the Crosstown.

And several pedestrian accidents in recent years at Avondale Point west of the Ashley indicate a pressing need there.

Efforts are being made in all three instances to improve pedestrian safety. While that is necessary, it is a pity that pedestrian and bike safety hasn't become a factor in every road/street-related decision governments make - before people die and force the issue.

And when pedestrian/bicycle safety is considered, it is a pity that the task is often considered an annoying add-on, even by some of our elected officials.

Plans to convert one lane of traffic on the bridge from Highway 17 west of the Ashley to the peninsula have met with a loud outcry, mostly from motorists concerned that their commutes will be protracted. The more serious concern should be the danger to pedestrians and bikers trying to cross the hazardous Ashley River bridges.

Meanwhile, Charleston ranks highest in the state, according to the study, for walkers and runners injured by traffic. Charleston County tied with Greenville for the most killed - 12.

It would be great if local streets were made safer so the area could enjoy the environmental and health benefits of reducing the number of cars on the road.

And it would make sense for people to recognize that providing for bikes and pedestrians is increasingly important in light of the fast-growing local population.

But even without concerns for the health of residents and the environment and the mobility challenges coming this way, the fact is that Charleston is the most dangerous city for pedestrians and bicyclists in a state that is the fourth most dangerous in the nation.

That should convince elected officials and transportation planners to ramp up their efforts to make our roads safer.