The problems that residents of Charleston’s Historic District face relating to tourism, and the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words,” could not be more clearly demonstrated than in the picture on the front page of Section B of Thursday’s Post and Courier.
The online version of the article was titled “Charleston tourism plan shared with business audience” and the accompanying photo shows a congested street.
In the photograph there are three carriages in a line, with cars between them, on a two-way street (heading north on Meeting Street, I believe at the intersection with Atlantic Street). There are cars parked on both sides of the street and a car is passing the middle carriage on a yellow line. Of course, none of the carriages is pulling over to let the vehicle pass because there is not any room to do so, and thus the poor resident or visitor is forced to either wait behind the ridiculously slow carriages or break the law by passing on a yellow line.
Long gone are the tranquil days of Mr. Wagoner’s classic single carriage and manageable business and tourist traffic. Today the streets of the Historic District are too congested with business and tourism traffic.
There are too many tour carriages and buses operating on the streets, and residents and businesses are suffering.
Take that picture as an example. Just imagine that you left your home on lower Meeting Street for a doctor’s appointment somewhere north of Calhoun Street. You allow an appropriate amount of time, but you encounter traffic backed up behind a tour carriage. Some of the cars are tourists who are in no hurry.
After being tied up for awhile, you finally are able to pass the carriage on a yellow line only to realize that there is another one in front of that one that requires the same patience.
Your blood pressure begins to rise, but you finally are able to pass the second carriage and yet, you are confronted with the same situation for a third time.
Your blood pressure continues to rise and by the time that you make it around the third carriage, you are 15 minutes late to your appointment all because of an unnecessary 15-minute delay on a short two-block stretch of Meeting Street.
Needless to say, by this time your blood pressure is so high that you flunk your physical.
Am I making this up?
No. Residents are confronted with similar situations or worse on almost every street below Broad Street on a daily basis.
I am afraid that the time has come to seriously consider further limiting the number and hours of operation of carriages and tour buses. Has the tourism committee or city looked at eliminating or restricting their operation during the morning, lunchtime and afternoon rush hours? Can the carriages be moved to another location, like a loop around Hampton Park on their own dedicated path? At the very least can they be taken off the busier commercial streets?
Residents are the lifeblood of the Historic District as they are the ones who maintain the historic homes, pay the high taxes and insurance, and put up with the problems associated with increased tourism.
The tour bus and carriage operators’ businesses depend on and thrive because of the preservation of these historic homes. Yet the residents reap no rewards, such as a reduction in taxes for maintaining their homes, only bear the burdens.
As the residents become more and more frustrated, pressure will be brought to bear on the city administration to provide relief.
The time for action is now — we don’t need more studies or committee recommendations.
The residents should always come first and relief is long overdue.
Theodore D. Stoney Jr. is a lifelong resident of historic Charleston and former president of both the Preservation Society of Charleston and Mazyck-Wraggborough Neighborhood Association.