By Barney Blakeney
The police reports of traffic fatalities involving bicyclists have been alarming. Local police public information officers send the reports regularly, but it took awhile for me to recognize a trend. I guess that’s why it’s so important for reporters to be as objective as humanly possible. As a regular peninsula driver, cyclers downtown tick me off. Too many either don’t know or won’t obey the rules. But you’d have to be President Donald Trump to be insensitive to the human carnage that’s taking place. Fortunately we’ve got the good folks at Charleston Moves.
For a long time I didn’t track the auto/bicycle incidents. Despite the foolhardy antics of peninsula cyclers, it seems bikers in North Charleston and West Ashley are taking a beating. Then my partner, Cofer-Shabica told me of his near tragic experience. While standing at a downtown traffic light waiting beside his bike to cross, a driver ran onto the sidewalk and struck him. Cofer-Shabica walked away from the incident. But the guy wasn’t even in the roadway, much less on his bike! That hit home. We most often don’t respond to stuff unless it hits us personally. I started to pay more attention to the police reports.
I was focused on the accidents that occur when Charleston Moves’ Savannah Brennan hit me up for a story on efforts to build a path for pedestrians and bikers across the Ashley River from West Ashley into downtown. I wasn’t feelin’ it, but the woman was persistent. She helped me understand the connections between two things that have my attention – cycling and public transportation.
Sometimes I wonder why we pay elected public officials – they don’t listen to the public! Oh yeah that’s right, they’re listening to special interest lobbyists who grease their palms. We tell the people we put in office what we need to enhance our quality of life, but they create and perpetuate legislation that enhances the profit margin for big business and special interest groups. Public safety and transportation are lower on the priority list. Otherwise we’d have ‘sensible’ gun laws and quality public education.
Emergency legislative sessions since 30-plus people were gunned down in a day – gimme a break! I heard one news commentator ask after the August 4 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas if legislators didn’t do anything after the 249th mass shooting this year, what makes anyone think they’ll do anything after the 250th?
If our ‘community leaders’ aren’t focused on that kind of high profile human carnage, what hope have we with 1,057 pedestrian deaths in the state between 2005 and 2014. Between 2009 and 2017 there were a total of 4,570 reported crashes involving bicycles, or an average of 508 reported bicycle crashes per year, on roadways in the state. One cyclist is killed every 15.3 days, according to the 2016 S.C. Traffic collision Fact Book.
Brennan noted, “Charleston is the most deadly county to walk and bike in the state, and South Carolina is the 10th most dangerous place to walk in the nation. We also know that people of color and elderly people are disproportionally being severely injured or killed while walking and riding bikes on our roads. So, this is a public health crisis, as well as a social justice and economic justice issue.” In South Carolina between 2009 and 2017, while African-Americans make up only 26.8 percent of South Carolina’s population, they were involved in nearly 40 percent of the bicycle crashes over the nine-year period.
Although Brennan noted the disastrously dangerous chance cyclers take attempting to cross the ‘North Bridge’ that connects West Ashley to North Charleston on Cosgrove Avenue, she said the Ashley River bridges from West Ashley to downtown represent a real opportunity for our community to address public safety and transportation. Charleston Moves and others for years have proposed a pedestrian and bike path across the river.
“West Ashley is the densest populated area in the City, and downtown is the densest job center, so this connection is vital. There are over 73,600 jobs within 20-minute walk or bike of the bridges,” she said. “Within the last 5 years, there have been over 100 bike/pedestrian crashes within one mile of the bridges.”
For several years Charleston Moves and others have proposed initiatives to span the Ashley River onto the peninsula. The Ashley River Crossing is among them. The City of Charleston has applied for a federal BUILD grant to make it happen. Separated by the Ashley River, commuters are limited to automobile travel due to unsafe intersections, narrow sidewalks, incomplete streets, and an antiquated signal system. The lack of alternative transportation options is not only a threat to the safety of citizens, but also to the economic growth of the metropolitan area, officials note in the application.
The $22,749,750 Ashley River Crossing project is an innovative multi-modal transportation initiative that would enhance the connectivity between Downtown Charleston (the largest employer area) and West Ashley (the densest residential area). The Ashley River Crossing would be a newly constructed 0.4- mile standalone bridge parallel to the existing Ashley River Bridges to create a multi-use path for pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-motorized users.
“The important thing we’re also hoping to highlight with your coverage,” Brennan said coaxing me to write this column, “is that Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Tim Scott, Representative James Clyburn and Representative Joe Cunningham have to effectively lobby USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao in order for our grant to be awarded, as does Mayor John Tecklenburg.”
I’m down for that, especially if it’ll help Cofer-Shabica. He’s an old guy and can’t take many more hits.