Over the course of the last few years in Charleston, we have seen several tragedies in the cycling community and plenty of debate about bikes and cars using the same roadways, so spirits were high when the City of Charleston unveiled plans to remove a lane of traffic on Hampton Park’s Mary Murray Boulevard and transform it into a lane for cyclists and pedestrians. In an effort to avoid biking on Rutledge Avenue and King Street, cyclists often ride on Mary Murray to get downtown.
At last week’s Charleston City Council meeting, the project was the leading item on the agenda, which led to a packed house and a debate that went well into the evening. As the park currently stands, there are two lanes of traffic on Mary Murray Boulevard: a center lane intended for cars travelling around the circle and an exterior lane for those entering or exiting the park. Cars are currently required to yield while entering the park, and once on Mary Murray, vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists all legally have the right to use the road. Unfortunately, there is often confusion about who should be where, which causes a number of accidents each year, dozens of which go unreported.
Several departments in the City of Charleston teamed up to create a plan to change the flow of traffic and create designated spaces for all park users. The proposed plan addresses many of the issues above by adding stop signs for vehicles entering the park, multiple pedestrian crosswalks, the transitioning of the outer lane for cars only, and the closure of the interior lane to accommodate a 5-foot bike lane and 4-foot shoulder. City staff cited data and feedback that supported the design and functionality of this plan based on current and projected vehicle usage, transportation studies, police data, and feedback from several committees, advocacy organizations, and residents. City staff also noted that this plan falls in line with the City of Charleston’s comprehensive plan to design “complete streets” which cater to motor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic.
Prior to the public comment period, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. asked the attendees both in favor and against to raise their hands. Forty supported the plan, while roughly six individuals did not. As the line formed to speak, it was clear that those in favor represented a diverse number of individuals and groups, many of which lived adjacent to the park. With only 30 minutes for each side to speak, 24 individuals spoke in favor of the plan, including representatives from the Preservation Society, the Wagener Terrace Neighborhood Association, Charleston Moves, the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and the Holy City Bike Co-op.
Those against the plan were mostly residents of the neighborhood that had concerns about increased traffic, the safety of pedestrians walking with their backs to traffic, and the lack of an engineering stamp on the plans. City of Charleston staff explained how the plan accounted for traffic usage and created a safer experience for all users, and noted that plans generally do not receive a stamp of engineering approval until after they are passed by City Council.
After council failed to vote in favor of the proposal, a new measure was introduced that nixed the bike-pedestrian lane. That portion of the original plan was sent back to council’s transportation committee to be finalized and voted on in June. The new plan passed.
It seems that despite the incredible amount of public participation, the support of several organizations, and the efforts of City of Charleston staff, the presentations and comments fell on deaf ears. Perhaps if every member of the Charleston City Council had to drive, bike, and walk Mary Murray Boulevard the week before voting, things would have gone much differently.
Nikki Seibert is a member of Charleston Moves and the Holy City Bike Co-op.