OPEN STREETS

CONTEXT + GOALS

As we all navigate these unprecedented times, it is abundantly clear that safely-designed spaces that provide room for people to move is more important than ever. We face an amazing moment in history to collectively reset our thinking and rebalance our streets in ways that put people first. To that end, over the past 3 months, we have been working diligently to push pilot projects that provide expanded, dedicated space for people to move and patronize businesses, while maintaining safe distance from others.

Charleston’s narrow sidewalks, both on the peninsula and off, do not allow people to pass one another at the recommended minimum 6′ of distance. In tandem with that, there has been a significant increase in pedestrian and bicycle activity. Now that our state is focused on rebooting the economy by allowing businesses and programs to open, the simple act of walking in the city poses a public health threat. We implore the City to rebalance space along specific street segments in a way that would equitably and safely benefit citizens, businesses and frontline workers.

MOVING FORWARD

On Wednesday, June 10, the City of Charleston’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, on which Charleston Moves sits, met to formulate Open Streets recommendations. Here’s an overview of the first proposals moving forward:

  1. South Market Street was selected for full closure between Church and State Streets. This pilot launched on Saturday, August 15, and will remain in effect throughout 2020! Outside of full pedestrianization (9 am – 5 pm daily), protected space will be reserved for foot traffic in the loading zone, adjacent to the City Market.
  2. Wentworth Street was identified between Meeting and King Streets for expanded bike access. The Committee agreed that the southern lane (of two, both headed west) could be converted temporarily into a two-way cycle track, particularly while traffic volume remains low. Keith Benjamin, Director of Traffic & Transportation, will begin conversations with SCDOT.
  3. The Committee’s Design Subcommittee will look at parklet opportunities, with Upper King Street and Avondale being potential locations. This will be done in collaboration with the City’s Design Division, who has already done very helpful groundwork. They will address design and safety standards, as well as a simple application process, as this would — if it comes to fruition — be an opt-in program for businesses.

The Committee is starting with (what should be) implementable and politically feasible locations to pilot Open Streets initiatives. With South Market being City-owned, and Wentworth offering additional, underutilized space, these are realistic places to start. That said, the concepts will still need approval from Council’s Traffic & Transportation Committee, then full Council. The Wentworth and parklet concepts would need additional approval from SCDOT.

The initial, easy proposals will, amongst other things:

  • enhance access for our most vulnerable road users (people on bikes, foot and transit);
  • provide a dedicated, more connected route to a neighborhood grocery store (Harris Teeter on East Bay Street);
  • and directly benefit food, beverage and hospitality workers who have been hit particularly hard during this pandemic.

These recommendations are the first of many steps toward rebalancing our public spaces and encouraging social distancing. They should serve as models that Open Streets are problem-solvers for our city, like they are in so many others around the world. If successful, we expect to proceed with a wider and equitable series of projects, in various locations, serving all types of citizens.

Equity is central to these conversations, and committee members are already brainstorming ways to put Open Streets to work for local and Black-owned businesses, and make neighborhoods and civic spaces accessible. Members of the Committee have continuously pointed out that there needs to be a nimble feedback loop; these pilot projects must be done in ways that truly benefit and are supported by the communities they’re intended to serve, especially those who are systemically overlooked and underrepresented.

This is the beginning of real opportunities for the equitable change of Charleston’s streets. We’ve got to get it right. Charleston needs more space for people, and to get there, we are going to need both feedback from the community and strong support from elected officials.

ROAD SAFETY AUDIT: ASHLEY PHOSPHATE

On January 13-14, 2020, the Charleston Moves team joined SCDOT, BCDCOG, Stantec, Palmetto Cycling Coalition, City of North Charleston and Dorchester County representatives on a Road Safety Audit (RSA) of Ashley Phosphate from Dorchester Road to Rivers Avenue. The intent of this exercise is to evaluate existing features and potential enhancements that can be made to improve the safety and function of the roadway for all users. Ashley Phosphate was chosen for an RSA, as crash data proves it to be in the top 10 of South Carolina’s most dangerous corridors.

Characteristics along the study segment included a variety of development and land uses, including low-medium income residential, commercial and industrial. And, as a key transit corridor, there is high ridership and heavy dependency on CARTA. We observed that:

  • crosswalks are sparse and faded (and lack high-visibility paint)
  • street lighting is inconsistent and minimal
  • sidewalks are overgrown with vegetation and sediment
  • bike facilities do not exist
  • many pedestrian push-bottons did not work, and pedestrian countdown signals did not exist

Now that we have identified trends and areas for improvement, a report will be created by Stantec, the consultant. Certain components will necessitate further study, such as targeted bike/ped counts.

We photo-documented our walk to shed light on the current conditions and demonstrate the consequences of designing for cars over people. It’s time we learn from this. Check out our album HERE.

On a related note, we anticipate seeing the RSA reports from 2019’s Meeting and King Streets audits in the next month or so.

ABOUT THE “CLOSE CALLS” DATABASE

Charleston Moves is piloting a project to determine if tracking “close calls” between motorists and people on bike/foot results in identification of hotspots. We will provide those hotspots to the Charleston Police Department for their review and action.

For the purposes of this pilot project, a “close call” is defined as an upsetting, unsafe or harmful incident perpetuated by a motorist while you were biking or walking, and that did not result in a collision. This includes verbal harassment.

We’ve met with the Charleston Police Department to discuss findings from this pilot project, and are excited to report that they have already chosen a few locations to ramp up motorist enforcement. We are extending this program to continue tracking “close calls.” Please log your incidents HERE.

Our “close calls” map based on input between February 4, 2019 and March 4, 2019:

Thanks again to AARP Livable Communities for their generous support of our artistic crosswalks on the West Ashley Greenway!

We loved working with artists, neighborhoods, partner organizations, and City of Charleston to draw attention to these intersections, making it safer for people on bike and on foot as they’re utilizing the Greenway.

Ready for the Greenway to be part of a larger bike/ped network, linking up the region across bridges for people who want to get out of their cars? Make sure to sign our petition to Bridge the Ashley! 

https://www.change.org/p/charleston-county-council-and-charleston-city-council-stop-stalling-bridge-the-ashley

 

ABOUT THE CROSSWALKS

Thanks to a grant from AARP Livable Communities and a mini-grant from the East Coast Greenway Alliance, we wanted to start changing the West Ashley Greenway & Bikeway for the better! Charleston Moves convened a stakeholder group consisting of representatives from the Charleston Parks Conservancy, Charleston City Council, City of Charleston staff, the DuPont Station Neighborhood Coalition, Parkwood/Farmfield Council, South Windermere and Byrnes Downs. We spent several months discussing what improvements are necessary at intersections of the West Ashley Greenway to improve safety and enjoyment of this wonderful path.

We settled on priorities for both temporary and permanent improvements. The temporary improvements are artistic crosswalks, meant to draw attention to people on bikes and foot, encouraging motorists to slow down and share the space safely. Per our agreement with the City, the three crosswalks we painted (using a slip-free concrete stain) are a pilot project. We are required to go back to the City in 3 months and again in 6 months to present reports on maintenance.

With 25 volunteers, the intersections of the Greenway and Braxton, Markfield and Farmfield are now brightened with themed designs. At Farmfield, tennis balls adorn the crosswalk, in honor of the Charleston Tennis Center nearby. At Markfield, a heron stands proudly in marsh grass, since the nearby bird pond is constantly visited by shorebirds. At Braxton, a colorful slide design is a playful tribute to the newly-renovated Randolph Park around the corner.

Please make sure to take our survey about the crosswalks. We hope to use your feedback to guide potential future projects, as well as share with the City of Charleston and Charleston Parks Conservancy.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

Bill Eubanks is the creative director at SeamonWhiteside. He is a resident of  Byrnes Downs where he represents the neighborhood on the Ashley Bridge District Board. We made sure that he was at the table for our Greenway intersection discussions. Bill tasked his team with developing several artistic crosswalk designs for Farmfield, and then our stakeholder group voted on the favorite. Bill’s tennis ball design was the winner! Bill is a licensed landscape architect with 37 years of experience, including facilitating design charrettes, brainstorming sessions and community workshops.

Lisa Stine is the president of the newly-incorporated DuPont Station Neighborhood Coalition and has lived in Charleston for over 35 years. She was an integral part of our stakeholder group since she is not only a community representative and leader, but also an artist who specializes in murals. Her designs for the heron at Markfield and the slide at Braxton are simply stunning! Watching her paint the intricate details of the heron’s face was particularly impressive. Lisa has a background in interior design and is currently a realtor for Elaine Brabham and Associates.