A new report lays out several proposals for how to improve Charleston’s transportation infrastructure to accommodate the city’s booming growth and the increasing issues related to downtown congestion.
A few months after he presented a few early ideas to a standing-room crowd at the Charleston Museum, the report compiled by former D.C. and Chicago transportation planner Gabe Klein was published by the city last week. Some of the ideas in the 33-page report are familiar hypotheticals, but some others present a new take. (Full report embedded below.)
Klein isn’t the only national figure Charleston officials are bringing in to consult on city planning. Last week, it was reported that Charleston will work with the firm headed up by world-renowned planner Andres Duany to evaluate the city’s Board of Architectural Review.
Here are a few of Klein’s ideas:
1. Bring back downtown trolleys – Adding streetcars to the downtown transportation network is a feasible way to diversify transit options in the area, Klein says. Using existing rail rights-of-way from Mount Pleasant St. to John St., the city has a unique chance to integrate a separated light-rail system for the north part of the peninsula, before splitting to an in-traffic streetcar system. (Klein helped oversee D.C. DOT when it was setting up that city’s controversial streetcar system.)
2. New Visitor Center – Klein points out that the city’s visitor center, built at the north end of development downtown when it opened, is now in the center of the city. A new welcome center proposed near the corner of Meeting St. and I-26 could function as a hub for out-of-town visitors and a satellite parking area for drivers who could transfer to other modes of transit to travel farther downtown.
3. Transit from airport – CARTA has instituted new express routes to carry people to and from the airport in recent years, but Klein says additional resources devoted to promoting the inexpensive option could make sure it gets equal billing with taxi and shuttle options and get more people riding CARTA.
4. Changes to existing downtown parking – If a car is the only you have to get downtown, Klein thinks you should pay more for it, but by adding the ability to pay by phone or credit card could make up for increased rates by making it easier and increasing revenue.
5. Pedestrian and bike improvements – From new public spaces and pedestrian crossing patterns to adding more bike lanes and a bike-share program (Chicago and D.C. both started bike-shares under Klein), there’s plenty that the city can do to make it easier, safer, and more informative for cyclists and pedestrians to get around downtown. (The city has already been working on a bike-share system.) One radical idea that Klein admitted may be sacrilegious: Opening the small beach along the Battery to the public.
One of the biggest challenges of big capital projects to expand transportation services is getting the public on board. Klein proposes a “Transportation Demand Management” program to help drum up support by helping market new services and educate residents on current and proposed benefits of an expanded system.
Like them or not, there are plenty of other ideas like these in the full report. It’s unknown when or if city officials will take the recommendations to heart, but if the downtown real estate boom continues at its current clip, the next few years will bring big decisions for Mayor Joe Riley, his successor, and city planners.