Charleston to vote on downtown bike and pedestrian plan

The plan is in collaboration with the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
Published: Jul. 18, 2023 at 3:59 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 18, 2023 at 9:16 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Traffic and Transportation Committee of Charleston has recommended a downtown road safety plan to the council, but with some community backlash and questions from other council members.

The plan is in collaboration with the South Carolina Department of Transportation. The department conducted an audit of downtown roads and hosted public meetings about the information in 2022. The research found that the Meeting Street, King Street, Calhoun Street, and Saint Philip Street corridors experienced a combined total of 2,556 vehicular, 91 pedestrian, and 91 bicycle crashes from January 2013 to June 2021.

Based on that information, SCDOT hired engineers who created detailed recommendations for improvements.

Overarching suggestions for all the roads include adding reflective signals to most pedestrian signs, repainting crosswalks and adding white visibility edges to brick sidewalks, adding uniform lighting and having an ‘all-way’ timed pedestrian crossing at road intersections.

Specifically, the initial SCDOT plan suggests a bike path focus on St. Phillip Street. The images show one through lane and a two-way cycle track next to the one traffic lane.

For lower King Street, the initial plan suggests restriping the road to include seven feet for parking, a two-foot buffer, and a five-foot bike lane, one way with the flow of traffic. Suggestions for Calhoun Street more crosswalks and sidewalk improvements.

At the Tuesday Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting, members considered a plan that included bike updates to St. Phillip Street and a lot of crosswalk improvements. But the plan changed the makeup of lower King by creating one large lane with mixed-use cars and bikes, and using the excess space for a buffer between parked cars and the sidewalk. Traffic and Transportation members call the adjustments traffic calming measures and overall safest.

Katie Zimmerman with Charleston Moves said this meeting is the first time details of changes to the plan are coming to light.

“Only the committee members got to see printed-out versions of this new plan. So, we still haven’t seen it. We still are only going off of what was mentioned in their questions. And comments about it. So what we’ve pieced together I think is it is King Street will be one lane of traffic, 14 feet wide, and then widened parking spaces, I believe. And then the other things that DOT was already including in the plan, those are new. They’re great, but a 14-footoot wide lane of travel in the downtown urban corridor is unacceptable,” Zimmerman said.

Mike Seekings, Council Member for District 8 and Chair of the Traffic and Transportation Board, said the bike lane on lower King was actually dangerous and the one-wide traffic lane is a calming measure that will be safer.  He said the bike-first focus on St. Phillip is a major win along with each crosswalk improvement.

“I would call them micro-projects or real attainable projects that they can get after pretty quickly. And they’ve done things like improving crosswalks and improving signalization traffic flow looking at Bike Ped access all of those things. And so they’ve come up with the road safety audit and brought it to us. We’ve suggested some adjustments to it,” Seeking said.

Many public speakers came out to talk in support of the King Street bike lane, saying they feel unsafe biking in the same lane as cars.  Bikes are legally allowed on the roads and must follow the rules of the same rules of the road as cars. Cars are supposed to co-exist with the bikes, but many bikers who spoke feared the one 14-foot lane will be chaotic.

The plan passed from Traffic and Transportation Committee to the overall council, where many council members had similar questions to the public speakers. Since Tuesday was the first-time council members and the public first looked at the full plan with adjustments, there was a lot of discussion and members are looking to circle back before voting.

The City Council voted to postpone the safety plan discussion. The committee will host an hour-and-a-half-long meeting on Aug. 9.

SCDOT’s research and plans can be found, here.