Ever since the July 5 death of Dr. Mitchell Hollon in a bicycling accident on the James Island Connector, city and county officials have been shifting bicycle safety measures into high gear. One proposal in particular, that a lane of traffic on the Ashley River bridge should be cordoned off for bicyclists and pedestrians, is finally gaining traction.
Charleston County RoadWise had commissioned a study to see if it would be feasible to cordon off the rightmost northbound lane on the bridge, and Tuesday morning, the report was announced to have come back with a positive outlook — but without a price tag or timeline.
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who had said July 27 that the creation of a safe Ashley crossing was "absolutely essential," joined County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor at Brittlebank Park to announce the news.
"Can you imagine how it would feel if you were able to safely ride your bicycle, jog, or walk across the river?" Riley said. "It will become a way to get to work or to visit or to explore."
Jim Armstrong, director of the county's half-cent transportation sales tax programs, said the study indicated the proposed lane closure would not cause major traffic problems on the bridge through 2020, at which point another study would have to be done. Riley said the lane would be separated from automobile traffic by some sort of barrier, but he said it would be up to engineers to determine what sort of barrier would work best. Officials gave no time frame for completion and had no estimates for how much the project would cost; Pryor said the next step was to wait for approval from the S.C. Department of Transportation.
Riley said the new lane would connect via a boardwalk to the 10-mile East Coast Greenway in West Ashley, which in turn connects to several neighborhoods, creating a viable home-to-work route for many bicycle commuters. On the downtown side of the bridge, though, there are fewer bike lanes and some dangerous intersections to cross. Riley says a long-term goal is to extend bicycle lanes as far as Brittlebank Park.
Stephanie Hunt, chairman of the board at bicycling advocacy group Charleston Moves, has her sights set on a more ambitious goal: Battery to the Beach, as it has been called, is an initiative to create a safe bike route all the way from Folly Beach to the Isle of Palms via the Battery. Riley, too, has alluded to such a goal before.
"This is just one piece," Hunt said.