AN EQUITABLE NORTH BRIDGE

On May 27, 2020, the Charleston region lost another life. One of our neighbors was bicycling over the North Bridge, and was hit and killed by another neighbor driving a minivan. He is the third person to be killed on a bicycle between Azalea Drive in North Charleston and Poston Road in West Ashley since 2015.

This horrific death, like the fatalities and injuries in years past, was entirely preventable through safe, connected and equitable infrastructure. Our coalition has been working to get an updated study funded for equitable access over the North Bridge, and expect that request to go in front of Charleston County Council in July.

Once the study has been funded and conducted, we would like to see the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) take an active leadership role in this safety project. South Carolina has one of the highest fatality and injury rates in the nation for people biking and walking, and Charleston County leads the state in those rates. The agency recently announced that, despite reduced traffic numbers from COVID-19 affecting their budget, they are moving forward on planned work and have $600M in trust funds. It is beyond time for SCDOT, who owns the bridge and roads on either side, to acknowledge these dangerous conditions and provide equitable and safe access for multiple modes.

If you represent an ORGANIZATION or hold PUBLIC OFFICE and would like to sign onto our coalition, please fill out the form below.

Current coalition members include: American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina (ACLU SC); Bike Law; Charleston City Councilmembers Appel, Sakran and Shahid; Charleston County Sheriff’s Office; Charleston Moves; Charleston Police Department (CPD); Charleston Trident Urban League; Coastal Conservation League (CCL); Freehouse Brewery; Frothy Beard Brewing Company; Gruenloh Law Firm; Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC); Lowcountry Food Bank; Metanoia; Operation Home, Inc; Palmetto Cycling Coalition (PCC); Reynolds Avenue Area Merchants Association (RAAMA); Second Chance Bikes; Smithey Ironware Company; South Carolina Community Loan Fund (SCCLF); South Carolina Representative Pendarvis; South Carolina Senator Kimpson; The Bend; Trident United Way.

THE LATEST VICTORY

After a century of community advocacy around a safe crossing for pedestrians and people on bikes over the Ashley River between downtown and West Ashley, it’s finally happening!

On November 6, 2019, the City of Charleston was officially awarded $18.149M in federal funding to construct a standalone bike/ped bridge over the Ashley River. With a local match (secured before the application was submitted in July), the total funds for the project come to around $23M, and the scope includes 3 intersection upgrades to ensure safe access to/from the bridge.

In the first couple months of 2020, the City of Charleston is discussing logistics with partner agencies around project management, contracts and funding details. We will share more details following those discussions. Per grant guidelines, we have up to 2 years to break ground. The hope is for the bridge to be completed and open to the public in 2023.

ONGOING PRIORITY

Our Ashley River Bridge Package

Three major bridge sets connect communities across the Ashley River within Charleston County:

  • the James Island Connector and Wappoo Cut Bridge
  • the pair of Memorial and Legare Bridges
  • the North Bridge to Cosgrove Avenue

None of these bridges are currently safe for people on bike or foot. In less than a decade, at least thirteen people have been injured or killed while walking or biking these bridges. As congestion and costs increase, we must have safe options for all modes of transportation.

As many designs have been studied and debated for these bridges for decades, the need for safe crossings only becomes more urgent. Citizens, business owners, and tourists alike want to travel safely between the peninsula, West Ashley, James Island and North Charleston without having to rely solely on motor vehicles. Job and housing security, as well as public safety, depends upon it.

The time to come together and work on all Ashley River crossings together is now. We are talking to elected officials about funding this vital package locally. Please help us by signing our petition, urging the City of Charleston, the City of North Charleston and Charleston County to work together to:

  • Construct a bicycle and pedestrian bridge immediately south of the existing Legare Bridge, building upon studies already compiled for the recent federal grant application;
  • Install simple retrofits to the James Island Connector to make the route safe for people on bikes (SCDOT has stated they will not allow pedestrians on the Connector). These retrofits could include lowering and enforcing the speed limit, installing rumble strips to delineate the breakdown lane, and installing signage to direct people on bikes from avoiding conflicts with motorists at exit ramps;
  • Complete an engineering study to determine the most effective way to retrofit the North Bridge for people on bike and foot. The County has conducted studies showing designs that will not work, so the solution has been narrowed down.

ASHLEY RIVER BRIDGE PROJECT HISTORY

A safe Ashley River crossing for people on bikes and foot has been debated since the 1920s! In the 1980s, Mayor Riley began asserting that the problem should be solved. Real study began in 2010, with examination of a stand-alone bridge, a cantilevered bridge, and ultimately, conversion of the fourth lane for bicycles and pedestrians on the eastbound bridge (the Legare Bridge). The lane conversion on Legare was chosen as the best option, with the project lead being the City of Charleston, and the design included adding a left turn lane for motor vehicles where the bridge touches down at the intersection of Bee and Lockwood.

The Legare lane conversion project timeline went as follows:

  • Left turn lane groundbreaking (February 12, 2016)
  • Left turn lane installation (Completed April 1, 2016)
  • Lane closure test period (February 2 — Early May, 2016)
  • Charleston County releases test results (June 2016)
  • Charleston City Council re-affirms support (July 19, 2016)
  • Charleston County Council requests SCDOT weigh in on structural integrity of the bridge, 60-day deadline (September 20, 2016)

Charleston County Council officially voted to rescind support of the project on August 17, 2017, despite widespread public support (see map below), and at least three major bicycle crashes occurring during the year. The City of Charleston, as project lead, still supported the project, but was ultimately overridden by SCDOT.

Charleston Moves, Charleston County, the City of Charleston and project consultants convened to decide next steps. Consulting engineers asserted that the James Island Connector could not be cantilevered, and that the SCDOT would not allow pedestrians in the Connector’s breakdown lane. Project cost estimates of a stand-alone bridge adjacent to the Legare Bridge proved to be similar to a cantilevered design with a stand-alone portion along the bridge’s bascule (drawbridge). In October 2017, the City of Charleston and Charleston County approved matching funds ($1.5M and $3M, respectively) for a federal TIGER grant application to fund a stand-alone bike and pedestrian bridge. Charleston Moves helped gather support letters (totaling more than 80) and other documentation to assist with the application. Unfortunately, the grant was not approved.

In July 2018, the City of Charleston and Charleston County recommitted their matching funds for a new round of the federal grant application, now called the BUILD grant. Charleston Moves again assisted with support letters. For the second year, the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) did not select the Ashley River Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge as a priority project for funding. The City of Charleston’s memo on the subject states: “Our next step will be to schedule time with the Government Affairs Office of USDOT and the staff who oversaw the BUILD grant review process to understand their decision making and further improve our next application.”

West Ashley is the City’s largest residential population, and the peninsula is the largest employment center. The route is identified as a priority in the West Ashley Plan, People Pedal CHS, Battery2Beach and the East Coast Greenway.