With more than 2,187 crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists reported in the tricounty area since 2010, the first priority when developing a unified walk and bike plan for the Lowcountry was safety.
Led by the Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) Wednesday evening, the proposed regional plan comes after almost a year of study and public comment. In order to prioritize the routes and areas where improvements would most benefit communities and facilitate more active commuters, those behind the project took a close look at the area’s most dangerous corridors for cyclists and pedestrians.
Topping the list was Charleston’s U.S. 17 corridor, which accounted for 100 collisions involving bikes or pedestrians between 2010-2014, but the peninsula’s main arteries were not far behind. Combined, the King and Meeting street corridors were home to almost 160 collisions over that period, with King Street being home to 93 crashes. In terms of the number of collisions involving pedestrians and cyclists, these areas were followed by Dorchester Road, Rivers Avenue, and Ashley River Road. Over this four-year period, a total of 226 of these collisions resulted in the death or serious injury of a person walking or biking.
As the steering committee tasked with developing a regional plan for improved safety and connectivity gathered for their first meeting in June, the dangers faced by pedestrians was all too apparent. A 71-year-old North Charleston woman had just died after being struck by a dump truck on Rivers Avenue.
Suggested in the new bike and pedestrian plan is a new vision of connectivity. This includes 546 miles of shared-use paths, such as the walkway across the Ravenel Bridge. More than 800 miles of dedicated bike lanes are also recommended, 47 miles of which would either be separated or buffered from lanes of automobile traffic. While the plan provides a regional look at overall connectivity, suggested spot upgrades also include more focused looks at specific intersections and roadways.
“It’s exciting,” said Katie Zimmerman, executive director of local biking advocacy group Charleston Moves. “Suggesting basic intersection upgrades, it’s relatable for people. And these are upgrades that could be done cheaply and could change people’s lives.”
In terms of how Charleston County commuters compare to national averages, locals were more than twice as likely to ride their bikes to work and slightly above average in terms of walking to work. Funded by $200,000 from the Department of Transportation, more than 1,000 locals were surveyed as part of the bike and pedestrian plan. Of those who participated, more than 30 percent said they rarely or never walk or bike to a destination.
Looking at the areas in the region where demand for bike and pedestrian connectivity was greatest but infrastructure was most lacking, the project committee has developed a five-phase master plan that could be implemented over the next 30-40 years, but a list of near-term upgrades was also outlined. The six projects highlighted for implementation within the next 12 months include the addition of a paved shoulder on U.S. 52 in Greater St. Stephen, a shared-use path at the Ravenel town center at U.S. 17, a separated bike lane in downtown St. George on Memorial Boulevard, bike lanes on Palm Boulevard on Isle of Palms, a bike route for the Summerville Sawmill Branch Trail Connector, and bike route on Main Street in Moncks Corner.
In terms of funding for each stage of improvements, the plan points to short-term sources, like public-private partnerships and county and local taxes, and long-term sources such as federal transportation funds and Congressional earmarks.
According to Vonie Gilreath, the BCDCOG mobility manager, the major challenge when implementing these proposed changes is retrofitting existing infrastructure. The process becomes increasingly easier when pedestrian- and bike-friendly infrastructure is including in the construction of new roads and facilities.
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