Charleston County Council has requested that the S.C. Department of Transportation give the Legare Bridge another once over before moving ahead with a proposed bike lane
Charleston County Council is now requesting that the South Carolina Department of Transportation assess the viability of a proposed bike lane on the Legare T. Bridge connecting West Ashley to the Charleston peninsula. Following a 7-2 vote in favor of the request during Tuesday's council meeting, the state DOT has been given 60 days to complete the study.
The county's decision comes two months after Charleston City Council reaffirmed its commitment to the 2014 agreement to dedicate a lane of traffic across the bridge to cyclists and pedestrians.
"Basically, we messed up," said City Councilman Marvin Wagner as he called on county officials to stop the plan for the bike lane. "I'm gonna tell you. I personally believe City Council messed up in even bringing it back to you. I'm going to ask you to save my bacon and theirs."
Wagner was among several speakers during Tuesday's meeting who voiced their concerns over the impact that the bike lane would have on traffic. A study conducted this past spring examining what affects the proposed bike lane would have on commute times for drivers found the loss of a lane would add 48 seconds to the average morning commute for drivers entering downtown during the two-hour peak morning period. County Councilman Dickie Schweers stressed that the bike lane was a city project even though the county is responsible for footing the bill.
"To me, we're a lesser of the three entities here as far as deciding whether it happens or not even though we're the funder," said Schweers.
Under the agreement between the DOT, county, and city, the DOT will have final approval of the construction plans for the bike lane, if and when they are ever finalized. Per the original arrangement, the bike lane is intended to serve as an "interim solution" to bike and pedestrian connectivity until a permanent lane is constructed, traffic volumes require that the lane be opened back up for motorists, or any other reason as determined by the DOT.
"We all know that the DOT can at some point say, ‘We want the lane back.' And [Schweers] is talking about whether it's going to be obsolete before it's finished. We need to ask them the criteria for what it is that will make them ask for the lane back," said Councilman Joseph Qualey. "Do they realize that there are about 7,000 [residential] units that are being planned or are coming on line that will all feed into that bridge or on the James Island Connector?"
Riders and activists gathered outside of Charleston City Hall earlier this year to show support for a bike lane across the Ashley River
A 2015 study of projected traffic growth and patterns in the area conducted by county consultants estimates that the dedication of a lane of bridge traffic to cyclists and pedestrians would result in a 16-second average delay on all roads in 2040 compared to leaving the lane open to automobiles, with Folly Road commuters seeing the greatest slowdown of almost a minute.
"Perhaps this is too simplistic, but it boils down to whether we want it or not. Yes or no?" said Councilman Henry Darby, who joined council member Colleen Condon in opposing the request to the DOT. "That's what it boils down to: Do you want the bike lane or not? Why kick the can down the road? Just vote. As simple as that. My goodness. I don't understand it. I guess government is what the people say. You can't trust us in doing our jobs."
Condon, a leader in the Battery 2 Beach biking-connectivity effort, said much progress has been made in other parts of the county in terms of cycling and pedestrian access, but argued that "We can't make progress in West Ashley and James Island because if you can't get over the bridge, why the hell build the rest of it?"
After questioning whether or not her fellow council members had been listening to their constituents, Condon added, "We have got to create these accesses ... I don't know what lanes some of y'all are riding in, but people are biking it already every single day because they have to. Not because it's fun. Not because they're in spandex. The people you see riding that bridge every day are people who need to."