On bicycles, in boats, and on foot, 500 people or more turned out last Saturday to honor Edwin Gardner, paying tribute to a man who made rich contributions to the life of our city. He rode a bicycle, but that wasn't the half of it.
Edwin always arrived anywhere he was going on the Charleston peninsula on his bicycle. By day, going to meetings, he bicycled alone. In the evening, he usually traveled by bicycle with his family: his wife Whitney and their daughter Olive. He was on his bicycle when he was fatally injured.
A little background: Edwin Gardner did as he believed. He was a skilled kayaker and a boat builder. He founded the Mosquito Fleet in order to teach people — especially underprivileged young people — about our maritime history and about the joys of being on the water. He spoke up in his community about many things.
Edwin's attention was focused broadly, beyond bicycles and boats or any single issue. But his latest contributions as a member of the new Peninsula Task Force dealt directly with alternative forms of transportation: bicycles, pedicabs, CARTA, and more. So, for Edwin Gardner, it did come back to the bicycle, but in a larger context.
He was a member of the Peninsula Task Force and a member of its subcommittee on transportation. It issued a report that deals with the potential role of the bicycle in the future of transportation for Charleston, among other options. He inspired parts of the report that was presented to the full task force as doctors worked in vain to save his life. Clearly, he would have liked to see the report implemented.
The report takes on a factor in quality of life in Charleston and the world over: automobiles and traffic.
In the past century, we kept cramming cars onto the peninsula and elsewhere in the city. Today, there's virtually no additional space, especially on the lower peninsula; not for wider streets and roads or more parking. Don't look now, but cars are crowding us out. They not only take up space and create virtual gridlock at times, but they obstruct our views, limit human interaction, and diminish our health in many ways.
About cars and just about any issue, Edwin would say we have to take another approach, flip the problem over, to change the paradigm. With such a limited supply of space on the peninsula, our priority should shift toward moving people rather than moving people in cars, finding transportation alternatives that are safe, convenient, and comfortable. (I should note that Edwin owned and used a car for longer trips and to haul things like kayaks.)
The task force recommendations mirror Edwin's own practices. At this stage, they are ideas that will require further thought and work. Some would be easier to implement, others more complicated. The other members of this committee — Vangie Rainsford, Tim Keane, Jonathan Green, and I — shared Edwin's enthusiasm for these suggestions. When they were presented, they drew a positive response from many task force members.
As long as I knew him, Edwin's face was always tinged with excitement no matter if he was talking to me, his daughter Olive, or to Mayor Riley about community issues. He had a knack for turning problems into pluses. He was quick to find perspective, to be constructive.
In the first meeting of the Peninsula Task Force, formed to take a closer look at the future of Charleston after outcries about cruise ships and traffic, Edwin spoke up. He said he saw a problem in trying to tackle the cruise ship issue and traffic congestion outside a larger context.
"Wait a minute!" he said. "What kind of Charleston do we want to see in 10 or 20 years? Shouldn't we think about that first?" he asked. With that simple question, he helped create a framework for making critical decisions instead of tackling individual problems one at a time.
Now, we have a real Edwin's "Wait a minute!" moment, one that he himself helped create. It is about shaping the future of our city.
Edwin was one of many Charlestonians with good ideas, ideas that can make our city better, ideas that will require the support and involvement of a great number of us as we go forward. It's about the bicycle. But it's about so much more.
Tom Bradford is the acting director of nonprofit bike advocacy group Charleston Moves.