If Leon Stavrinakis becomes mayor, he vows he “will fight” the Ashley River hike-and-bike lane “to make sure it never happens.” Once again, West Ashley gets shafted. Once again, the interests of a tiny minority ruin things for everyone else.
How do folks from West Ashley commute to downtown? By Savannah Highway and Highway 61. Yes, traffic is bad in the morning. If you are one of the 2500 commuters per hour who suffer this stop-and-go nightmare, you know it’s a genuine problem. It’s getting worse and needs to be solved.
But anyone who really drives these routes knows that the bridge isn’t the problem. Both bottlenecks end at Wesley Drive, before the bridge. That’s where West Ashley’s four lanes of downtown-bound traffic narrow to the two that we get on the bridge. By the time we get to the bridge, we’re moving along—at an average of 37 miles per hour, according to HDR Engineering’s 2011 measurements of traffic.
In all honesty, I must admit that the hike-and-bike lane will delay West Ashley commuters. Our average speed on the bridge will be dampened to 31 mph. That means those of us who use Savannah Highway will take six seconds longer to cross the bridge. Four seconds for those coming from Highway 61.
I live between the highways, so sometimes I drive Savannah Highway and sometimes I drive Highway 61. I can’t say either of these delays bother me. In fact, they’ll make my commute safer. If you enter the bridge on 61 and merge three times at 37 miles an hour while the morning sun blinds you so you can exit onto Lockwood, then you need to vote against Stavrinakis.
About 5000 West Ashley commuters will cross a safer bridge if we convert that lane.
Everyone in West Ashley will get much more. We’ll get access to our river. Think about it. Most of the people in the city–54,000 as of the 2010 census–live in West Ashley, and right now our access to the river we’re named for amounts to . . . a dozen parking spaces at the North Bridge, and a half dozen at the foot of the causeway in Maryville.
Far fewer people live on the peninsula—about 35,000—and they have miles of riverfront amenities, from The Joe all the way around the peninsula to the Cooper River Bridge. And now the City’s spending yet more tax dollars on another park—this one in wealthy Longborough—to add yet more downtown access to the Ashley.
Mt. Pleasant residents have hundreds of parking spots at their new Waterfront Park. And they’ve got Shem Creek. And the Pitt Street pier. Even North Charleston has its Riverfront Park.
Over here in West Ashley, we’re like the Ancient Mariner. Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Or to throw in a fishing line. Or to just watch the sun set.
The hike-and-bike lane will link up to the West Ashley Greenway. Everyone living inside Main Road will benefit. And with the new improvements on Bees Ferry, people as far away as Shadow Moss and Grand Oaks will have biking access to downtown.
So who’s harmed?
Commuters accessing downtown from Folly Road.
Admittedly, West Ashley contributes a few of these commuters. We’ve got our millionaires in the Crescent and Wappoo Heights. They’ve already got their private waterfront views. What do they care about walking access to the river? Then there’s a few more modest homeowners from South Windermere. But mostly Folly Road serves James and Johns Islands. All together, about 1600 commuters during each morning rush hour.
Right now, they don’t have a bottleneck. They don’t have to merge as they approach the river, because half of the lanes on West Ashley’s bridge are reserved for them. These folks constitute 40% of the commuters and enjoy 50% of the road. Under the re-striped bridge, they’ll go down to 33% of the road.
That’s about 3000 people from James and Johns Islands who might be inconvenienced during two hours each Monday-Friday morning balanced against a long-overdue amenity for the 54,000 people who live in West Ashley.
But what are the islands really losing? Instead of taking 76 seconds to cross the bridge, these cars will take 89 seconds. That’s the worst case scenario! Other estimates put the difference at ten seconds or eight seconds. Check out the study yourself.
You don’t trust studies? Then let’s experiment and find out. That’s exactly what the SC DOT wants to do. They’re going to improve the exit lanes to Lockwood Boulevard and then temporarily close one lane of the bridge to see what happens.
If this amenity for West Ashley brings on Armageddon for James Island, we’ll know it, and we can restore the lane. That’s fair enough. We don’t want to screw the islanders. But if Armageddon doesn’t come, we can finally give West Ashley a slice of their river.
That seems eminently reasonable. But Leon Stavrinakis won’t have it. He’s chasing down votes by stirring up fear and anger in West Ashley. It’s a low trick. Don’t fall for it.