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Petition calls for city to allow bikes on J.I. Connector

New state law would allow exception to bike ban on freeways

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More than 400 people have signed a petition asking the City of Charleston to move ahead with plans to re-open the James Island Connector to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. After a bicycle fatality on the three-mile bridge earlier, the state posted no-bicycling signs at its ends in downtown Charleston and James Island in January, but a new state law passed in June allowed cities to override the bike ban on certain controlled-access highways like the Connector.

Katie Zimmerman, a project manager at the Coastal Conservation League and writer of the petition, says she and other bicycling advocates met with city leaders this summer to discuss plans for overriding the ban, which would require a decision from a "local governing body" according to the new law. In this case, Zimmerman says that body would be City Council.

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"It's the safest available crossing we've got across the Ashley River, it connects several municipalities and landmasses, and it's important to get it open quickly," Zimmerman says. But she says that she hasn't heard anything from the City on the topic since this summer, when officials said they needed to conduct a safety study and possibly retrofit the Connector to make it safer.

"I don't think it makes a lot of sense for them to delay re-opening the James Island Connector to bicyclists and pedestrians in order to do a study when we know right now that people are using routes that are absolutely more dangerous," Zimmerman says. Currently, to get from Charleston to James Island, bicyclists must cross the westbound Ashley River Bridge and then make the harrowing trip over the narrow Wappoo Cut bridge. She says she has made the trip only once and does not intend to try it again.

State law prohibits bicyclists and pedestrians from entering any freeway, defined as "a multilane divided highway with full control of access, and grade separated interchanges, of the type comprising the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, or other highways built essentially in conformance to the standards of them." The new law that would allow local governments to apply for exceptions on freeways like the Connector was partly the work of the Coastal Conservation League, who claim credit for drafting the bill's language. Charleston Republican Sen. Chip Campsen introduced Bill S.1375 near the end of March with the support of bike advocacy group Charleston Moves. The bill was signed into law in June with two dissenting votes in the Senate and unanimous support in the House.

The petition, which was posted on change.org Oct. 24, has surpassed its goal of 250 signatures, and a Facebook page in support of re-opening the Connector has gained nearly 150 likes.

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