About 2 1/2 years after Charleston City Council first approved a bicycle and pedestrian lane on the T. Allen Legare Bridge, City Council approved it again Tuesday night with a reaffirming vote.
Council members voted 7-6 on Tuesday in favor of converting one of the four northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 17 on the bridge into a permanent, protected lane for cyclists and pedestrians.
Currently, the only sidewalk on the bridge is too narrow for two cyclists to pass each other without dismounting, and it lacks any barrier if a car were to swerve out of its lane.
The bike lane — which will be equipped with a crash-proof barrier on the car lane side and a higher guardrail on the river side — will provide a connection between downtown Charleston and the areas west of the Ashley River for either recreational use or commuting.
Charleston County closed the lane to drivers, pedestrians and cyclists this spring as part of a 60-day pilot program to determine whether the project should move forward. The lane closure was met with mixed response.
Many residents coming from Johns and James islands said their commutes were much longer than usual as traffic backed up and cars struggled to merge onto the bridge from Folly Road. Most residents from West Ashley reported quick commutes and few waits.
A city-led engineering study determined that the elimination of a car lane would add four seconds to the travel time on S.C. Highway 61 from Wesley Drive to Lockwood Drive, six seconds to the U.S. Highway 17 commute and 13 seconds to the Folly Road commute, on average.
The bike lane plan was originally approved several years ago by Charleston City Council, Charleston County Council and the state Transportation Department. As part of that agreement, an additional turn lane was recently installed at the Lockwood Boulevard intersection with Bee Street to decrease congestion.
County Council allocated $1.02 million for the project in 2013. The cost has risen since then to about $2 million. The project is expected to be funded by the county’s transportation sales tax, but another Charleston County Council vote could be required because costs have increased.
Opponents say longer commute times will likely result from taking a driving lane away in a city that is struggling to balance traffic with its growing population. Others have said they do not think the lane will be used enough to justify the cost or potential traffic delays.
Advocates of the lane say that they want more choices to get around the city beyond their cars, and that they want bike lanes to be safe, feasible options.
Kurt Cavanaugh, the director of cycling advocacy group Charleston Moves, has said a protected bike lane is important for commuters and residents, as well as for transplants moving to the region who expect established cycling networks. He said the lane is a crucial part to boosting the region’s quality of life and recruiting skilled workers.
When the project was approved in early 2014, officials expected it to be completed in August 2015. The completion date was then pushed to January 2017 and has now been pushed to early fall 2017.
How they voted
To build the