The Charleston City Council narrowly approved at its July 20 meeting recommendations that the county convert a lane on the northbound T. Allen Legare Bridge into a bike lane, even after critics argued that a study showing minimal impact to traffic from the closure was flawed.
“During the bike study, we were getting reports every day that it was taking folks an extra 40 to 50 minutes to get to work,” District 5 council member Marvin Wagner told Palmetto Business Daily. “From anywhere in my district.”
Part of the trouble Wagner saw with the 60-day trial run during which one of the bridge’s lanes was closed, is that it did not measure the impact further out. Near the bridge, he said, traffic is always “bumper-to-bumper” and so there would be little room for traffic times to be impacted.
A city engineer study found that less than a minute was added to any given commute, with the longest being a 13-second lengthening of the stretch to Folly Road.
Stephen Harris, president of the St. John’s Island Neighborhood Association, told Palmetto Business Daily that the city’s trial also only looked at city streets when estimating impact, which would exclude Folly Road — a major commuting thoroughfare that feeds into the Legare bridge. He said the push for the measure came primarily from a “very loud minority.”
“They want Charleston to be more like New York City where you can ride your bike everywhere,” Harris said. “But it’s a lot more than just (adding) a bike lane — downtown Charleston is one of the more dangerous places to ride a bike.”
Both Harris and Wagner said that while they opposed the bike lane project on the bridge, they were not opposed to a bike lane overall. Harris said he would rather see a bike lane added as part of a project to replace the aging bridge.
“We’re begging Columbia for money for our congested roads,” Harris said. “And yet we’re coming in and saying ‘but, we don’t have enough traffic, so we’re going to close a lane of traffic on a highway.' ”
The most recent vote reaffirmed a decision the city voted on three years ago. At that time, the County Council had committed roughly $1 million to the project. Costs have since grown, and planners now estimate the cost between $2 million and $4 million to complete the project. Funding for the project would likely come, in part, from a half-cent sales tax increase approved by the county in 2004. An additional half-cent sale tax was temporarily killed by the council only a day after the vote on the bike lane project, but Wagner said the decision will not affect funding for the latest bike project, if the county votes to move forward.
He said it was possible the city would have to re-vote on the measure, after an unusual move to “call in” votes during the city council meeting. Mayor John Tecklenburg cast the seventh vote in favor of a measure that narrowly passed, 7-6.
Wagner said he’s been lobbying the county since the vote.
“I honestly think the county might have more sense then the city,” he said.
If critics’ claims hold true — that addition of a bike lane would severely impact traffic throughout the area — then Wagner said he expects significant pushback. Though he would not name anyone, he said some of his constituents have discussed class action. Impact on the traffic flow could also prompt the state to ask the county to reverse the project, he said.
“The people who elected me to be their voice are screaming loud and clear: ‘what are ya’ll doin’?’” Wagner said. “It is destroying quality of life for a whole bunch of people.”