In Defense of our Bikers and Pedestrians
Brian Hicks’ screed against using a lane over the Ashley for people on foot and on bicycles might have felt a little more on target ten years ago, maybe as little as five years ago.
It’s true. For decades, every other mode of transportation took a back seat to cars. Whether we’re behind the wheel or passengers, the car has been the default mode of transportation — around the block, out to the mall or across the country. Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, motorized, four-wheel transport elbowed out trolley-cars, bicycles and pedestrians. Roads and streets were often built without sidewalks. Rolling out asphalt to handle more and more cars was the norm. Most everyone seemed content with this way of thinking about transportation.
But not quite everyone. Folks with very limited resources still walked or rode bikes, even when we crowded them off our roads – and theirs – onto gravel shoulders. They were the transportation “underground.” They always knew: bikes are cheap and efficient. They rode them because their budgets gave them little or no choice no matter how unsafe we made our roads for them.
Today, “the transportation underground” is surfacing again, going mainstream. The number of miles Americans drive is declining. A report by Frontier Group shows that between 2001 and 2009, the number of miles driven by 16-34-year-olds has dropped by a staggering 23 percent, with bicycling up in the same period by 24%. Our own eyeballs reinforce that research. Just look at the number of people on bikes on Charleston’s streets. And actual street counts by the city prove it.
Going back twelve or more years ago, selling the idea of a bike and pedestrian lane on the Ravenel Bridge was tough. Today, everyone embraces it as one of the great things about Charleston. It’s used by exercisers, commuters, folks out for a stroll, tourists, people by the hundreds, and thousands. Wonders Way affords gorgeous views of the lowcountry and the peninsula. It may be steep, and long, but has been a runaway success.
By contrast, the crossing over the Ashley is short, and flat. A huge number of young people and young families live West Ashley and James Island, and they’re growing in numbers, drawn by affordable real estate and by how livable those neighborhoods are. Just over the river from those neighborhoods on the Peninsula are many of their places of work: MUSC, Roper, the College of Charleston and more.
Immediately along they West Ashley Greenway, real estate prices are moving up faster than elsewhere, and we’re hearing of people moving close to the Greenway there because they’ll be able to get to and from many places without driving a car.
Looking at all these trends, we predict that the traffic of people on bikes and on foot over the Legare Bridge will quickly dwarf similar traffic on the Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper. Charleston’s forward-looking stance in deciding to re-dedicate a lane to bicyclists and pedestrians will pay off.
A study on how to attract the workforce of tomorrow just done for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce puts in bluntly: “Charleston’s traffic negatively impacts quality of life.” It strongly counsels that we “shift to a multi-modal system,” one that emphasizes much more walking, bicycling and transit.
Charleston City and Charleston County officials “get it.” They’ve done their homework and understand that the transportation ground is shifting. The bike and pedestrian lane on the Lagare Bridge is a good thing, even if Mr. Hicks himself never rides a bike.