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Charleston County Council members will consider one way to make it safer for people relying on their feet to get across the Ashley River via the World War II Memorial Bridge, often called the North Bridge. Long past time for action, when the county meets Thursday, it should demand the S.C. Department of Transportation to fast track the project to prevent additional deaths and make the roadway more usable.
The U.S. Department of Transportation set aside $18 million last year to ensure that cyclists and pedestrians can safely cross from West Ashley into downtown with a new dedicated bridge over the Ashley River. Combined with the city's contribution, that's $22 million that serves as an acknowledgement of the importance of making sure people can get safely from place to place.
Well, the North Bridge poses a bigger risk. It carries slightly fewer cars daily than the downtown Ashley River bridges, but it has even less ability to handle pedestrians and cyclists safely.
It is easy to ignore the grave danger posed by the North Bridge's lack of pedestrian access, but the people who travel it regularly have no choice but to risk their own lives if they want to get from one side to the other. Without even a sidewalk or shoulder to walk on, pedestrians are often seen walking along the narrow middle barrier, weaving around cones and crossing their fingers as people speed by just a few inches away. Furthermore, even residents who rely on CARTA are left stranded once the buses stop running. The system's busiest stop, located at the corner of Cosgrove and Rivers avenues, sits less than a mile from the bridge, making the North Bridge critical for transit connectivity.
Aside from saving lives, more complete cycling and pedestrian networks can pump economic activity into nearby areas, taking advantage of increased foot traffic and transit connectivity. Right now, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments is hard at work fine-tuning elements of the coming Lowcountry Rapid Transit system that will transform the Rivers Avenue corridor into one of the state's first major transit projects. The North Bridge is not equipped to handle pedestrians today, but with LCRT it will become even more of a death trap as people try to make use of the new system.
Bike and pedestrian infrastructure can sometimes be a polarizing issue. But not on the North Bridge. State and local elected officials, nonprofits, civil liberties advocates, law enforcement and even a brewery joined Charleston Moves' North Bridge Coalition after the most recent pedestrian fatality on the bridge on May 27.
"The deadly conditions on the North Bridge can and must be remedied to provide equitable and safe access for all modes of transportation," members of the coalition wrote in a group letter to council this week. "Your vote as to whether to fund the updated study has come at a dire time."
Charleston County Council should support the project, too, and start the ball rolling on a financial feasibility study this month.
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