[image-1]Charleston City Council reaffirmed their support of a plan to convert a lane of traffic over the Ashley River into a bike-friendly pedestrian path Tuesday night. Hundreds turned out to hear the debate over transforming one of four lanes of the T. Allen Legare Bridge, with the majority of the crowd speaking in favor of the bike lane. As a part of an agreement between the county and South Carolina’s Department of Transportation, the $2 million project narrowly survived by a vote of 7-6 from City Council.
Council members Gary White, Marvin Wagner, Keith Waring, Dean Riegel, William Moody, and Kathleen Wilson spoke in opposition of the project.
“There’s a better solution out there. I agree. I want a bike path across the Ashley River. I’d like to have it tonight. But I don’t think the answer is closing one of the busiest lanes on one of our busiest bridges in this great city,” said Councilman Riegel.
Earlier this year, county engineers tested the effect that converting a northbound lane of U.S. Highway 17 over the Ashley River to shared bike and pedestrian use would have on automobile traffic. The study found a delay of just over a minute during the peak 30-minute morning period for those traveling from Folly Road and U.S. 17.
Councilman Moody reiterated statements from previous council meetings, arguing that the current bike lane plan is just another example of West Ashley residents being offered a less-than-satisfactory answer to the community’s problems.
“We’ve been handed, West Ashley, a sorry excuse of a solution, and we’ve been told, ‘Take it. You don’t deserve a new bridge. You don’t deserve fixing the James Island Connector. You don’t deserve anything.’ If we’re going to sit here and take that, then it’s what we deserve,” said Moody.
Coming out in favor of the bike lane, Councilman Peter Shahid said the issue was simple: “The bottom line with this is that we’ve got a public bridge that not all the public can access.” Councilman Mike Seekings agreed with fellow council members that constructing a new bridge over the Ashley River would be the ideal long-term solution to Charleston’s connectivity problems, but acknowledged that actually completing such a project would likely not come in his lifetime. A longtime supporter of the bike lane, Seekings said the bike lane is the only short-term solution the city has and the project would be a game changer in terms of how Charleston views transportation and mobility.
With a split council, Mayor John Tecklenburg took some time before casting his vote to assure citizens that the city would be OK regardless of council’s decision on the bike lane, but officials need to act now to improve connectivity to West Ashley.
“How long are we willing to wait — it’s 2016 now — before we have a safe passage between two major parts of our city?” asked Tecklenburg.
He added, “Over the next few years, as we add these additional facilities and capabilities for bike and pedestrian mobility in our city, the missing link will end up still being this passage over the Ashley River, so I’m going to be in favor of the bike lane.”