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Spinning Wheels

Making charleston a more bike-friendly place

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On a dark morning in November 2006, my wife Ros was cycling from our home in West Ashley to work at MUSC. As she passed West Harrison Road, her front tire caught on something, and she was sent flying to the ground. In a daze, she picked up her bike and kept cycling, but when she got to work, she looked so shitty that she was sent to the ER. Paralysis set in; she was unable to speak or move.

The doctors figured that the cold morning air had delayed her reaction to a severe concussion. Hours after the accident, she was still unable to talk and could only move one hand.

Miraculously, Ros recovered from her injury and returned to work within a couple of days. We traced the accident back to a collapsed wall, where bricks had fallen onto St. Andrews Boulevard. Ros counted herself lucky to be alive.

Charleston Moves and its forerunner, the Charleston Bicycle Advocacy Group, have been crusading to make the city safer for cyclists for 12 years now, pedaling hard to promote alternatives to the automobile. Its volunteer members have improved the lot of walkers and cyclists by driving debate and advocating bike paths, greenways, and lanes. Their most visible success to date has been their part in the development of the cyclist/pedestrian lane on the Ravenel Bridge. But as Ros' story proves, cycling through Chucktown is still a risky proposition.

The solution, according to Charleston Moves Director Tom Bradford, lies in educating the public. "We want to give people options instead of getting behind the wheel of a car all the time," he says. Bradford is sure there's room for motorists and cyclists to coexist without giving each other the stink eye all the time.

He adds, "I'm not a bike maniac — I enjoy driving a car — but whenever it's convenient, especially if I'm going for groceries or to a meeting, I go by bike or on foot."

Charleston Moves isn't all about bikes. The nonprofit organization supports all kinds of "human-powered locomotion" as well as mass transit and active living. "Not strictly by design but by outcome," says Bradford, "this is all green stuff. There are health issues involved."

Bradford believes that a city with a transportation balance, with lots of mass transit and bicycles, thrives more than an automobile-oriented place. "Take King Street," he says. "If 15 percent of people shopping there arrived on bike or on foot, imagine the diminished requirements for parking. How cool would that be?"

Charleston Moves will need a lot of help to change the habits of resident car junkies. So the organization is planning a major membership and fund-raising drive. A May 10 ride along the West Ashley Greenway dubbed the Tour de Tomato should help boost the group's profile.

"We want to help focus the public's attention on how meaningful greenways can be," Bradford explains.

The current West Ashley path runs along an old railroad right-of-way from South Windermere Shopping Center all the way to Main Road, near the drawbridge to Johns Island. The City of Charleston hopes to extend the path to Albemarle Road and eventually make it part of a projected bikeway along the coast.

Also on Charleston Moves' radar: the proposed Maybank Highway extension on Johns Island, widening the road to five lanes to create a Highway 17-style roadway. To the crusading cyclists, the proposed emphasis on gas guzzlers over greenery is clear evidence of the enormous momentum car culture still has.

Aside from getting across their side of the debate, cyclists have found that one of the best ways to tackle this mentality is to lead by example.

Ros continues to cycle whenever she can, and for her, the positive experiences outweigh the bad ones. She's seen the sun rise over the harbor, watched dolphins cavort in the water, and greets fellow riders en route to work. Those incidents override any obstacles — or stink eyes — she may face.

For more information, contact Charleston Moves at (843) 579-4100 or go to www.charlestonmoves.org.

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