The old city of Charleston, South Carolina is built on a peninsula with the Cooper River to the north east, joining the Ashley River to the south west.
One of the ways in and out of the city, over the Ashley River is to use Savannah Highway 17. (Picture above.) The road splits and twin bridges carry the traffic; one bridge has four lanes going into the city, the other bridge has three lanes out.
There is no shoulder or bike lane and riding in the traffic lane a cyclist is squeezed up against a 9 inch high curb of a sidewalk that is barely 24 inches wide. (See picture left.)
I would not recommend riding the sidewalk either; it is not much wider than your handlebars and is not for the timid. One false move would send you off the edge of the 9 inch curb and tumbling in front of speeding cars.
To make matters worse the center section on both bridges is a draw bridge to let boats pass under. This center section is made of steel grating that is treacherous for skinny tired road bikes, especially when wet. Some commuters choose to dismount and walk their bike across. (Below.)
Last month the South Carolina Department of Transport (SCDOT.) agreed that the City of Charleston could designate one of the four inbound lanes as a separate two way bike and pedestrian lane.
The lane is to be protected from automobile traffic by a cement barrier; also special on/off ramps for cyclists and pedestrians will need to be constructed.
This was welcome news for people who commute in and out of the city by bike, and the recreational cyclists who cross the Ashley River to reach some of the area’s best riding on James and Johns Island. However, the City has yet to find the money to carry out this project; it will be two years or more before we actually see this happen.
The only other way in and out of Charleston over the Ashley River is to use the James Island Connector Road. (Below.) Not ideal for cyclists I would agree, as it is designed with freeway style on/off ramps. But it does have an eight foot wide shoulder, and is a far safer route than taking Hwy. 17 as I have just described.
So imagine the dismay and disappointment for local cyclists and advocacy groups when the SCDOT told the city last week that it was illegal for cyclists to use the James Island Connector. In fact they are saying that it has been illegal since the road was built but the law has never been enforced.
This is the road where Mitchell Hollon, a much loved local anesthesiologist and cyclist, was killed last summer when he was struck by an AT&T utility van whose driver had wandered onto the shoulder. One can’t help but wonder if Mitchell’s death has prompted this cycling ban, although Charleston’s Mayor Riley says it is not the reason.
It is the old “Blame the Victim” scenario. A cyclist doing absolutely nothing wrong, is killed and instead of taking steps to make things safer for cyclists they think it solves the problem if they ban them altogether.
Why not extend this "Blame the victim" approach to other areas? There are also the occasional muggings and murders of people walking the streets of downtown Charleston at night.
Why doesn’t Mayor Riley take the same approach and stop this criminal activity by banning tourists and enforcing a late night curfew downtown. Let's cut down on attacks on females by banning them from jogging trails. (I am being facetious of course.)
I am not a legal expert and I would welcome input from those who are; but I question the legality of this ban. It has been my understanding the only roads barred to cyclists are freeways. The James Island Connector is not a freeway, although it will be eventually when it is extended to join up with the I-526.
There is no reason why in the interim cyclists can’t be allowed to continue use of the JI Connector road at least until the Hwy. 17 bridge improvements have been made. If that is not possible, how about some“Sharrows” and signs saying cyclists may take the whole lane on the Savannah Highway bridge.
Maybe a 30mph speed limit on the bridge; of course the local motoring public would be up in arms against this, but really is there any point in rushing the half mile over the bridge to wait at a traffic light on either side.
Charleston is fortunate in that it has a local newspaper, the Post & Courier, that is pro cycling; all too rare in the US. Here is an updated article on the Ashley River bike crossing issue.
The ban is official, signs are posted on JI Connector.