This week marks the latest installment in City Paper's ongoing series "After Riley" presented in conjunction with Lowcountry Local First, Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C. Community Loan Fund, Coastal Conservation League, and IfYouWereMayor.com. In it, candidates have been asked to answer a series of questions regarding culture, commerce, and livability. Candidates have responded with no knowledge of any other participant's answers.
The series will culminate on Sept. 30 with a forum put on by these organizations. The forum is free and open to the public. Those interested in attending can RSVP at YourCharleston.org.
What specific steps would you take to improve traffic not just downtown but throughout the region? How would you propose these steps are paid for?
Every day we lose time with our friends, family, and coworkers due to one of Charleston's most frustrating problems: traffic. To combat our transportation woes, I have released a bold plan, "Accelerate Charleston," which will improve mobility throughout the region. My comprehensive plan includes infrastructure improvements for our roads and more sidewalks and bikeways. It will also better connect our neighborhoods. "Accelerate Charleston" will move our public transit into the digital-age by piloting electric buses equipped with traffic light sensors so the light stays green longer. And my plan will give us the flexibility to try creative transportation solutions, like ferries. Responsible funding streams exist to make "Accelerate Charleston" a reality and ease our traffic congestion. They've worked elsewhere. Public-private partnerships, philanthropy, the sale of select city assets, and untapped federal resources will all help fund much-needed traffic relief.
Over the next seven to 10 years, the region will experience tremendous growth. We want that growth to reinforce the unique physical qualities of this place. So we need to provide greater protections across the region for our natural resources and rural lands. And we need to get more serious about the transportation infrastructure needed to serve a region of 1 million. We need better rapid public transit. We need to employ new technologies in our public transit system. We need regional rail connecting us to other cities in the Southeast. And we need a more complete road network. Short term, I think we should: 1) Put in place the best regional plan in the country, 2) Find a way to realistically and appropriately fund public transit, and 3) Finish I-526. Long term, we should build a passenger rail system connecting urban centers in South Carolina and other Southeastern cities like Charlotte, Atlanta, Savannah, etc. A funding source will be required from all levels of government in concert with private-public partnerships.
Bike paths, walking routes, and improved mass transit are all great starts. The Peninsula Mobility Report has spelled out some very clear solutions that need implementing and a similar report may be on tap for West Ashley, which is exploding with growth. I'm really interested in implementation and determining what's feasible versus what's absolutely not. MUSC has roughly 11,000 employees — that's an awesome data field. How many people are already walking, riding the bus, or biking? How many are carpooling? How many people are doing none of the above but are willing to try something? I recently read about a community in Suwon, South Korea, that didn't drive their cars for a month and the results were astonishing. We've got to start testing what's going to work and what isn't. We might want to pay attention to Houston, Texas. They are revamping their entire bus system — overnight.
In the short term, I will seek to implement adaptive signal control technology to better time traffic lights on heavily traveled routes, thereby, reducing commute times. We must also complete I-526 as soon as possible. No other candidate has shown the long-term work and commitment I have to completing this critical project. In addition, we should explore taking advantage of federal funds to launch pilot programs that pay commuters to carpool during peak travel times; satellite parking hubs with shuttle services to the peninsula for residents, commuters and tourists; fast-tracking our proposed bike-share program; better use of electronic signage and partnering with private-sector apps to alert drivers in real time of stalled routes. Further, we should encourage SCDOT to explore whether HOV lanes on major highways would relieve congestion. We also need to refocus on public transit. CARTA can be an integral part of alleviating Charleston's traffic woes if we increase routes and improve rider experience. Lastly, I will take advantage of my long-standing relationships in state and federal government to deliver more funding for roads in the Charleston area, create an urban road planning division within SCDOT, and press for studies on alternative options like light rail and ferries.
The question is a good one, particularly in that it recognizes the regional nature of the challenge. Because the plain truth is that we're not going to solve this alone. We are going to have to work closely with our regional partners to put together an infrastructure and public transportation plan that can garner the funding it will require from federal and state officials. That said, there are several goals I plan to pursue as we move forward on this with our neighbors, including: 1) A regional public transit system forming the spines of an interconnected infrastructure, 2) An efficient local bus network producing spokes off the regional wheel, 3) Completion of major road projects like I-526, 4) Light infrastructure improvements to make biking and walking safer and more practical, 5) The use of our city parking policy to reduce traffic and congestion, and 6) A thorough re-evaluation of major arteries like Folly Road, Savannah Highway, and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, leading to definitive road projects we can take to federal and state agencies for financing.
We need common-sense solutions to our growing traffic problems. When people spend hours each week stuck in traffic, it harms both our economy and our families. Multiple projects such as the Maybank pitchfork project, Clements Ferry Road improvements, Glenn McConnell Parkway extension, I-526 extension, Folly Road, and improvements to the Sam Rittenburg Boulevard/Ashley River Road intersection have been designed or are in discussion. I believe these projects must be dealt with in an integrated way, with coordination across government sectors, geography, issues, disciplines, and agencies. As mayor, I will collaborate with regional government sectors, the Coastal Conservation League, the Lowcountry Land Trust, and neighborhood leadership teams to determine how best to advance these projects. I would like to introduce adaptive signal control technology within the city traffic lighting systems, so that we can create a more responsive traffic system based on real-time situations. Additionally, I will look for ways to make public transportation more accessible and reliable.
Your Charleston: A Mayoral Forum exploring quality of life
and quality of place
Wed. Sept. 30, 5:30 p.m. | Charleston Music Hall. 37 John St. Downtown
Free but registration is requested