Big Win in Charleston: Car Lane Converted to Bike/Ped Path on Key Bridge

Bicyclists grown onto the Legare Bridge. Photo: Charleston Moves

After Tuesday’s vote, cyclists in Charleston won’t have to mix with traffic on the Legare Bridge. Photo: Charleston Moves

Charleston, South Carolina’s Legare Bridge carries about 56,000 cars over the Ashley River daily, but it’s never had a safe path for people on bikes. Connecting central Charleston with population centers to the west and south, it is such a critical corridor that bicycle advocates call it Charleston’s “missing link.”

Charleston bike advocates won a safe spot on a critical bridge this week, thanks to an effective campaign. Image: Post and Courier

Charleston bike advocates won a safe spot on a critical bridge this week, thanks to an effective campaign. Photo: Post and Courier

Now, after years of campaigning, Charleston cyclists have finally won a safe route on the bridge. Charleston City Council voted 8-5 Tuesday to open one of the car lanes to biking and walking exclusively, and active transportation advocates are elated.

Tom Bradford, director of Charleston Moves, the city’s bike advocacy organization, said the decision “truly is the linchpin to total bicycle friendliness.”

Central and downtown Charleston are on a peninsula, and the city and its suburbs sprawl over creeks, marches and rivers, so safe access to bridges is absolutely essential to navigating the city by bike. Bradford said Charleston has been getting more bike-friendly, but because of the city’s geography, “it never would have amounted to more than a hill of beans unless we could get across the Ashley River.”

Bike advocates have talked about opening the bridge — State Highway 17 — up to cyclists since the 1970s. The campaign intensified a few years ago when Charleston Moves took the lead. The group organized a petition drive, generating 1,500 signatures. It also went around to neighborhood groups and student organizations asking for resolutions in support of a bikeway on the bridge.

And Tuesday night, when City Council was set a vote on the issue, advocates for a safe bridge path packed the house. Charleston Moves‘ Board Chair Stephanie Hunt describes the scene:

It was … a very proud moment (or long stretch of hours!) to see the standing-room-only crowd we assembled and the tremendous depth of support from people of all ages and walks of life that I did not even know were aware of Charleston Moves: from 9-year-old Oliver Abar to 65-year-old Waterfront Park condo ladies who bike! And that was just the tip of the iceberg — the hallways outside were equally crowded with folks who couldn’t get in and I never even saw.

Yesterday the Charleston Post and Courier editorial board criticized the five dissenting council members, pointing out that traffic studies have shown that removing the one lane for car traffic would increase commute times for drivers by only 13 seconds.

“The discussion Tuesday was about traffic counts and travel times, but what Charleston City Council actually voted for was to keep bicyclists safe,” they wrote. “It was the right thing to do.”