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« Should this frame be repainted or left original? | Main | Man exploiting man »

One step forward, one step back


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.

Footnote: 1/11/12

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.

Update: 1/24/12

The ban is official, signs are posted on JI Connector.


Reader Comments (7)

The narrow conditions shown in the photos are quite familiar to me, living in southern Brazil. Unfortunately, it seems the marginal costs of providing safe space to "marginal users" is too much to be actually spent...

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterheltonbiker

Take the lane. Take the Goddamn lane. Until we bicyclists exercise our rights as vehicles this sort of crap will continue.

Be arrested. Please not guilty. Demand a trial. And then return and take the lane again and again and again. Until we tell the motoring morons that infect our land, pollute our air, and destroy our planet by burning the world's body (oil / gasoline) to shove it we'll never get anywhere.

Take a lane and tell the rest of the world to slow down and enjoy the ride.

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Thurber

Hi Dave, The reason your Mayor doesn't take the same approach is because he is a Politician ! And in my opinion "ALL" Politicians are CROOKS in one form or another. Maybe you have heard the saying "There is no such thing as an honest Politician. Like "All "Politicians, he is really more worried about his career as a Politician, getting re-elected as Mayor and therefore has to apease his cronies and supporters to further his career. It also might be he doesn't ride a bicycle and doesn't have a clue how unsafe the routes you have shown are for cyclists. I hope your area will get the safer routes. As the price of gasoline continues to approach $5 a gallon and beyond more people will look to bicycles and other forms of transportation to commute or just get around. With our economy in the poop house and middle class jobs becoming extinct this is inevitable. People can't afford to drive and will seek other means. Good Luck with the improvements to the routes.

January 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

So in the interim time to make bike lanes on one connector the other safer alternative is being shut down. Perfect. Time for taking the lane. Anytime a cyclist rides over the bridges they ride right down the middle of the right lane.
The MUTCD now has a sign that can be used for this. "Bikes Have Full use of right lane." Tell the mayor to have his traffic people install those until the fix in made.

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

That is the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2009, (latest) Chapter 9 Fig. 9B-2 (page 793) illustration R4-11. "Bike may use full lane"

For your reading enjoyment....

January 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Shameful but this has become MO for the DOTs. When I see photos like these and see the narrow sidewalks I must wonder how the designers think how those in wheelchairs can effectively pass by each other. The bridges in our latest highway upgrade (MoDOT) were built with narrow sidewalks too... too narrow for wheelchairs to pass each other.

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Even doorways in buildings have to be 35 inches with a clear space of 32 for wheel chair access. New construction should conform with the ADA. You need to get some ADA people to sue and sue and sue some more. I don't know if passing is required on sidewalks but there should be standards. I've seen motorized wheel chairs out tking the road also because of the sidewalk problems.

January 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRalph
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