Chelsea Haines file photo
The Lowcountry Rapid Transit project aims to connect Summerville, downtown and everywhere in between. But, activist William Hamilton has continued to push for other options as congestion remains a pressing issue in Charleston — and a local political leader and former member of county council thinks he has a point.

“The latest iteration of this transit plan is operating in regular traffic, but they claim it’s still a rapid transit system. I don’t see it that way,” said founder of Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit William Hamilton.

Hamilton is no stranger to standing alone as a vocal, unrelenting advocate, but on this issue he has found an ally in Colleen Condon, the chair of the Charleston County Democratic Party and a former member of county council.

“If you’ve been following Hamilton for a while, you know he’s a quirky guy,” said Condon. “But damn, he’s committed. CARTA has improved so much in the last 10 years, but we still almost exclusively have people who ride public transit by necessity, not by choice. The only way people are going to want to use it is if it provides comfort and a timely route.”

Currently, the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) line would shuttle specialty buses in dedicated lanes along Rivers Avenue, before merging into mixed traffic to connect outlying areas with downtown. With one-way commutes over the full line estimated to be one hour, it may be a start, but Hamilton said the workers who rely on it will still spend too much time in traffic.

“The entire power structure of the Lowcountry depends on making sure the people who do the work are exhausted, and the hours of their life are consumed in long, arduous journeys to their job,” he said.

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The proposal originally included dedicated bus lanes and priority traffic signaling, but the route takes buses down Meeting Street, where these aren’t a possibility.

“In historic areas with narrow streets, creative thinking is required to keep this system moving,” said Council of Governments Regional Strategist Daniel Brock. “The project team is doing its job by thoughtfully designing the infrastructure to make this system a success.”

Those behind the LCRT project are continuing to analyze solutions to expedite bus routes that run through urban streets and satisfy the needs and desires of those who rely on public transit.

“If we don’t have meaningful bus rapid transit, there’s no reason to even try, because this isn’t even BRT, it’s just transit,” Condon said. “We know how much traffic has changed in the last 20 years, adding more lanes only adds a temporary Band-Aid that we soon outgrow again. There needs to be meaningful change, and that has to include meaningful BRT.”

Hamilton and Condon’s alternative plan includes dedicated bus lanes running beneath I-26, where the city has planned to build a park system, the Lowcountry Lowline. However, Condon said that in her assessment of the area, there’s no reason why both couldn’t be a part of downtown’s character.

“I’m trying to reach out to my former colleagues at the county and CARTA to say, ‘Come on, guys, help me understand why we can’t put Lowline and BRT under I-26,’” Condon said.

Condon said the importance of transit advocacy stems from the ways transportation connects with other issues like housing, zoning, conservation and more.