Speak out on Folly Road fix

Traffic and damaged roads plague the intersection of Folly and Camp roads on James Island. (Brad Nettles/File)

Summer beach and tourism season means more traffic in the Lowcountry. To a certain extent, that’s the price we pay for living in a beautiful corner of the world.

But sometimes a minor annoyance becomes a major problem.

Stretches of Folly Road suffer near-gridlock congestion almost year-round, and beach traffic can bring cars to a standstill miles away from the ocean.

Luckily for residents and commuters who regularly use that corridor, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, along with the cities of Charleston and Folly Beach, the town of James Island and other stakeholders, recently launched an initiative called Rethink Folly Road.

The study seeks a less congested and more “complete street,” to include better access for pedestrians, bikers and public transit riders, among other improvements.

Rethink Folly Road held its first public meeting at the end of last month, but the design phase kicks off today with a hands-on session from 6 to 9 p.m. at the First Baptist School Activity Center. During the meeting, citizens can brainstorm directly with urban planners and designers.

Starting Friday and continuing through Tuesday, an open design studio will be held at the same location, and anybody unable to attend the meetings in person can contribute thoughts at follyroad.mindmixer.com. Considering the severity of the problem, COG planners will undoubtedly have plenty of suggestions to consider.

Folly Road has remained largely unchanged for decades, even as the population along the corridor has grown to more than 50,000 residents. Many sections of roadway desperately need repairs or updates, and new residential developments in the area will add even more cars on the road.

Making matters worse, much of Folly Road suffers from limited sidewalk connectivity, and there’s no bike lane to speak of. For those who do brave the journey on foot or two wheels, the lack of shade trees and surplus of hot asphalt make it an unpleasant — even perilous — experience.

But Rethink Folly Road participants have some ideas that could change that.

A greenway or a connected, safe network of sidewalks and bike paths could benefit not just beachgoers but anyone who lives near Folly Road. Plenty of James Island residents live within walking and biking distance of restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses, but have no safe path to get there.

For commuters, a flyover interchange at Camp Road similar to the intersection of Bowman Road and Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant could alleviate traffic at one of the island’s busiest crossroads.

And free or cheap beach shuttles could ferry passengers from James Island, West Ashley or even downtown Charleston to Folly Beach during the summer. Adding a high occupancy lane to accommodate beach shuttles as well as buses and carpoolers could make that an even more attractive alternative.

Residents should turn out in force over the next few days to share their concerns and potential solutions. Fixing Folly Road will require a variety of creative initiatives and the best ideas could come from the people who use it the most.