By Barney Blakeney
Man, I was madder than a wet hen last Friday trying to get to West Ashley from the peninsula at 5 p.m. during rush hour traffic.
I was at The Chronicle’s North Central peninsula office and had to get to North Bridge so I could change clothes for a 6:30 p.m. appointment. When traffic is flowing smoothly, it’s a 10 minute trip. But it was 5 p.m. on a Friday. I’ve seen that madness before, but I figured “how bad could it be?” Well, it was intolerable.
I’m not very patient. It’s a bad characteristic I’m trying to control, but I ain’t there yet. I can’t sit in traffic. I don’t know how others do it, but I can’t. I’ve never been a traveler. I like being other places; I just don’t like getting there.
If I can’t fly (it used to be faster until all this mess at airports), I’d rather drive (driving gives me something to do as I travel and occupies my attention). I’m no good at just sittin’.
So when I got stuck in traffic trying to get to the North Bridge, I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant. I figured it would be pointless to get on I-26 westbound.
I’ve experienced the gridlock between Heriot Street and Cosgrove, a five-mile stretch that shouldn’t take three minutes to traverse. It once took me all of 20 minutes to make that run at rush hour. And I still had to sit another five or six minutes after exiting the interstate just to cross the darn bridge into West Ashley. It seemed traffic was unusually heavy Friday. I doubted I’d ever get changed and pull off a turnaround in time for my appointment using the interstate.
So I contemplated a couple of alternative routes – head north on King Street Extension or Meeting Street Road, hit Azalea and cross over to Cosgrove.
From where I was entering the Neck Area I could see that wasn’t going to happen. In my rearview mirror I could see one of the firetrucks from the Heriot Street station making its way back to the fire station. It too was in gridlock. Had there been an emergency that truck was going nowhere!
A few minutes into the odyssey I decided to abandon hopes of going home to change. I’d have to employ my usual strategy of finding a place to lay low till traffic dies after about 6 p.m. Normally, I’m good with that. But that day I had stuff to do, people to see. As they say, you only get one time to make a first impression. It bothered me I couldn’t move about the city freely because of traffic gridlock.
Maybe some people are okay with traffic gridlock. I’ve even heard some people reason that traffic gridlock in Charleston is nothing compared to some other metropolitan areas. Well this ain’t D.C or L.A. This is Charleston. Traffic ain’t supposed to be that way in this charming southern city, one of America’s most beautiful.
I recently attended a business lunch where Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority Board of Directors Chairman Mike Seekings quoted some traffic statistics. The numbers were surprising. I never imagined there are some 20,000 cars traveling daily on East Bay Street/Morrison Drive.
I’ve long been a proponent for mass transportation. Every day I’m seeing more and more stuff that makes me convinced that it’s a solution we must begin to embrace; as things are, we’re not moving people neither efficiently nor effectively. A year ago, I interviewed Seekings for a story about CARTA. He said dozens of new residents arrive to our community daily, bringing more cars to already congested roads. We can only build so many roads. Building roads doesn’t help anyway, he said.
For many low income residents, a public transit system is essential to their mobility. Initiatives that extend free ridership to some of CARTA’s passengers is a small, but critical effort in the much bigger goal of providing a more reliable and efficient public transportation system to a region that’s growing exponentially. Folks in the know say with the estimated 40 people moving to the region every day, we’re going to see a crunch in housing and transportation.
Low income residents are being displaced from the urban centers where they work. Mass transportation impacts the ability of many residents to access training and jobs that lead to an exit from poverty and dependence on public assistance.
What we call progress, I think is regression. Today CARTA provides some 15,000 daily rides to passengers throughout Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Summerville, James Island, Sullivan’s Island, and the Isle of Palms. In 1929 Charleston peninsula trolleys provided some 15 million rides on the peninsula alone. Today, CARTA operates at a basic level. That needs to improve, Seekings said.
Seeing that fire truck in my rear view mirror Friday made me think of William ‘Bill’ Hamilton, a guy I met last summer at the artistic presentation “conNECKted: Imaginings for Truth and Reconciliation” at the City Gallery at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Waterfront Park. He thinks issues with mass transportation affect our safety as well. After recent hurricane scares he said we simply don’t have the road infrastructure to move the entire population of Charleston. It’s very American to assume the solution to every problem is to get in our cars and go as far as possible away from wherever you are. All that driving creates its own set of problems, Hamilton said. We can’t possibly build a road network large enough with the money we have.
Some folks have realized we’re in a traffic nightmare. The rest of us should wake up. The traffic gridlocks we’re so ready to accept as a consequence of our increased mobility may be shaping our lifestyle in some very convoluted ways.
I mean are we really mobile when we can’t freely move about?