Charleston needs to be proactive about how people on the West Ashley Greenway get across Folly Road as the city prepares for a new walk-bike bridge over the Ashley River. But if nothing is done to allow people to cross the intersection safely and get out of the way of buzzing lanes of vehicular traffic, this intersection is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Now — before the Ashley River Crossing project is completed by 2026 to link the greenway with downtown — is the time for our leaders to make sure safety at Folly Road comes first for people who will use the greenway to walk or bike to downtown.
The pedestrian-bike bridge has been a long time coming. Just last month, the city celebrated the final bureaucratic milestone in getting the project ready to go by officially meeting all of the requirements to use $18.1 million in federal funds awarded to the project. In March 2023, Charleston City Council is expected to award a construction contract and, if everything goes like it is supposed to, the new walkway-bikeway will be ready for use in about four years.
This new river crossing will finally make it safe for people to walk or bike across the Ashley River instead of the dangerous game of leapfrog that people endure to make it over the river’s current vehicle bridges.
Look, however, at where the greenway now crosses Folly Road. It’s just as unsafe. Cars race through lights in various directions. Pedestrians often wait precariously for a few minutes at a ground-level crossing with narrow sidewalks. Once the greenway is connected to downtown, more people will use the greenway to get to the new crossing, making the Folly Road intersection even more dangerous.
Let’s not wait for a death at the intersection to take common-sense action now with something leaders know they should be doing anyway — constructing a pedestrian-bike overpass on the greenway at the same time that the bridge is being built across the river.
According to a current 2019 plan by the city and Charleston Parks Conservancy, getting across the Folly Road/Wesley Drive segment of the greenway “conveniently, efficiently and safely” is the biggest crossing challenge on the project. Currently, the plan calls for shifting the current crosswalk through “the existing median direct to the other side and adding an all-red phase for a short time to allow bicyclists and pedestrians time to get across the roadway.” Projected cost for this ground-level improvement: $225,000.
But that’s just not good enough. An overpass is a better solution. Yes, there are impediments for getting this done — the state Department of Transportation oversees road improvements. The greenway is actually owned by Charleston Water System, which has sewage lines under the greenway. But we’ve got more than three years to figure out a safe, creative solution that will allow people to stay on the greenway and cross Folly Road without worrying about traffic.
Let’s make it happen and not wait for a death wake-up call to spur us to do what’s right now.
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