Making headway on bikes

This bicycles-only lane gets plenty of use in downtown Portland, Ore.

Mile by mile, the Charleston area is making its roads safer for bicyclists. Three projects illustrate why being bike-friendly is important.

Eight-foot-wide bike lanes have been added by the S.C. Department of Transportation to two miles of Rivers Avenue, from Success Street to Aragon Street.

Many of the people using the lane are carrying shopping bags or on their way to work. The bike lane could be a boon to nearby residents who, because they don’t have cars, have been unable to get to grocery stores. Instead, they have had to shop at more expensive convenience stores with fewer healthy choices.

When Shipwatch Square is up and running, they will have more shopping options — and a safer way to get there.

A four-foot bike lane is being striped by Charleston County as part of a resurfacing project for Spruill Avenue. It will go from Morrison Drive to Montagu Street, another corridor convenient for people on their way to work.

And Charleston City Council has approved paving a significant length of the West Ashley Greenway, from Folly Road to Stinson Drive. It will be 10 feet wide.

The bikeway, already popular, will become more accessible for children on their way to school (it passes two schools) and disabled people.

The entire greenway connects 16 neighborhoods, and makes it possible for bicyclists to get safely to the St. Andrew’s shopping center, Kmart and the Charleston tennis center.

In all cases, bike lanes and paths give people options that are good for their health, good for their budgets and good for the environment.

Several letter writers have been unenthusiastic about bike lanes. One wrote that he travels St. Andrews Boulevard regularly and never sees anyone using the recently striped lanes.

Indeed, the public won’t see the full benefit of those lanes until there is a safe way for bikers to cross the Ashley River. It makes sense, however, for local governments to make provisions for bicycles as they are able, aiming to be ready when necessary connections are complete.

Now also is the time to move forward on those more difficult retrofits. James Islanders need a safe bike route off the island. So do those biking between North Charleston and West Ashley over the North Ashley River Bridge.

A key factor in the success of a bike-friendly community is law enforcement educating the public about safe bicycling — and about motorists sharing roads with bicyclists.

Those efforts needn’t discourage bicycling. Indeed, nothing would discourage bicycling so much as bicyclists being hurt or killed because of rules of the road being ignored.

All improvements don’t have to come from government. The College of Charleston could play a helpful role because of its location and the large number of students who bike to classes.

The University of South Carolina was recently named a “bicycle friendly university” by the League of American Bicyclists. One noteworthy program that won accolades was the school’s Abandoned Bike Project. The university’s Office of Outdoor Recreation collects unclaimed bicycles on campus at the end of each semester, repairs them and offers them to students, faculty and staff inexpensively. Bike owners attend a workshop that addresses basic bike repairs and rules of the road.

USC also has a master bike plan.

The Charleston metropolitan area is making progress but still has a long way to go to be as accommodating of bicycles as it should be.

Each project that works should be an incentive for moving closer to that goal.