By Christine Wilkerson
With the ban on bicycles on the James Island Connector set to go into place as soon as signs are up, bikers will have no safe, legal way to get to the peninsula from James Island or the reverse. The news that the City of Charleston will start enforcing a little known rule that restricts bicycles on roads with exit and entrance ramps has frustrated and angered the community. Many bicyclists depend on the James Island Connector as a way to get to and from work, and recreational riders regularly use it to go out to Kiawah and Folly Beach.
It is not known when signs will go up, but Mayor Riley has said that the city will acknowledge the signs and will enforce the law. Tom Bradford of Charleston Moves says, “the alternative route over the Wappoo Cut bridge is extremely dangerous and predictably, people will get hurt or possibly killed.” Bradford believes the law is absurd and untenable in this day and age. Countless people commute across the connector on a daily basis. Charleston Moves will be meeting with Road Wise representatives in hopes of working towards a solution with the Department of Transportation.
Fran Clasby, who lives downtown, frequently uses the James island Connector to ride out to Folly Beach to visit his family. Clasby points out that the city of Charleston adopted a “Complete Streets” policy back in 2008 that unfortunately does not apply to the James island Connector. The “Complete Streets” policy only applies to new or retrofitted roads. The policy states that in making decisions relating to the planning, design and maintenance of public street projects or public street reconstruction projects, the city shall ensure the accommodation of travel by pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit, and motorized vehicles and their passengers, in a regular part of the permitting process for such public street construction and/or reconstruction projects.
The resolution acknowledges that the city of Charleston is committed to creating thoroughfares that safely accommodate all modes of transportation. It also acknowledges that a large percentage of the Charleston population does not have access to personal automobiles and the only alternative transportation options are walking, bicycling or using public transit. It further states that increasing walking, cycling and the use of transit offers the potential to improve the health of the community, decrease congestion, decrease air pollution, decrease dependence on fossil fuels and their foreign supply sources, and increase the efficiency of road space and transportation resources. The irony is that at this point in time, no plans have been announced by the mayor or Charleston city council or any other representatives of the city or county to contact DOT on behalf of the community to work out ways of keeping the James Island Connector open and make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Katie Zimmerman of the Coastal Conservation League points out that there are several inexpensive ways to make the James Island Connector safer for bicyclists, such as lowering the speed limit to 40, adding rumble strips and signage, and alerting motorists to look out for bicyclists.
“We’re a city that is supposed to be bicycle friendly,” Zimmerman points out. Charleston is indeed listed as one of the top 50 bicycle friendly cities in the United States in Bicycling magazine. CCL asks people to contact their elected officials at the local and state level and tell them the James Island Connector needs to be kept open and retrofitted to accommodate bikers and pedestrians. Contact information for elected officials is available on CCL’s website.
Some feel the city is “blaming the victim” since Dr. Mitchell Hollon was killed on the Connector by a driver not paying attention. All of a sudden there seems to be a liability problem, and instead of making it safer for bikers and pedestrians, they get banned all together. Others argue that the connector is a “freeway” because it might eventually join up with I-526, and therefore the ban is the right thing to do. To make things even more confusing, the DOT has previously said the completion of the “526 parkway” would likely contain access for bicyclists and pedestrians. So then would all bikers and walker have to get off before crossing over to Calhoun Street?
I think the only thing most people can agree on is that the James Island Connector is the easiest and safest way for bicyclers to get back and forth to the peninsula. As a public road, it must be open to all modes of transportation. Remember whose tax dollars paid for this thing. Although we know there is a brain disease that stops all rational thought when people get elected, write them anyway and tell them how you feel about this. Write your council person, legislator, congress person and anyone else that might help and hope that maybe, just maybe once, they will listen to the will of the people.