The Wrong Plan
A week ago Monday, my wife and I went to John Wesley Methodist Church to attend the first of several “community input” meetings organized by the West Ashley Revitalization Commission. (The second meeting, for the other half of “inner” West Ashley, was Tuesday, and the “outer” West Ashley meetings are this coming Saturday and Sunday. Check out the Plan West Ashley website for more details.)
Brantley Moody, my representative on County Council, sat at our table. In person he looks like someone who played football–maybe linebacker–in high school. But his webpage hints more at baseball. Maybe a corner infielder: first baseman. Now he’s had a few kids, softened around the middle a little bit. Suburban dad. But he’s a big guy. Formidable. Domineering at a small round table.
Uh-oh, I thought, this is going to be awkward.
Because Moody represents what I think is wrong with government. He might be the newest Republican in Charleston politics, but when it comes to public works, he seems to have sprung right out of the Ford administration.
Bad traffic? It ain’t brain surgery. Brantley had the answer when he was a young boy riding his bike on the dirt road that would become I-526. Interstates! The cure for all that ails you. And if you open your wallets right now you can buy 9.5 miles of Alternative G for the low low price of 76 million dollars per mile.
I call Moody’s plan the Houston Plan. The Wrong Plan. As a kid, I moved to Houston in 1977. I learned to drive in that queen city of interstates. I-10 was my Thunder Road. Please, dear reader. Please. Please believe me: if someone’s vision for West Ashley is that it ought to look more like West Houston, do not let that person make decisions concerning the public good.
Here’s the heart of our dispute. Moody thinks converting one of the four car lanes on the in-bound Ashley River bridge to a bike and pedestrian lane will worsen West Ashley traffic. He thinks it only serves the interest of rich folks in Byrnes Downs and South Windermere at the expense of the rest of the region. He claims that when they tested the new configuration, traffic clogged at the bridge choke point and backed up on Savannah Highway and Highway 61 all the way to the neighborhoods “outer” West Ashley.
It didn’t. There was no choke on West Ashley commuters. The cars did back up on Folly Road, hurting commuters from James and Johns Island, which is a legitimate issue. But it’s a different issue.
Here’s why. Right now, West Ashley has two car lanes that cross the river. After the conversion we will have . . . two car lanes plus a bike lane. It’s simple arithmetic.
On the left you see the status quo: red lanes come from James Island, and green lanes come from West Ashley (one from Savannah Highway, one from Highway 61). In the photo on the right, you see what lane conversion means. Again, red is James Island, Green is West Ashley. It seems pretty clear what is and what is not in West Ashley’s best interests.
Before I met him, what bothered me most about Moody was how smug he seemed in the company of other conservatives. How he dumps people into “us” and “them” categories, as he does in this radio interview on WTMA, which is posted on his website. “We” have common sense: the bike lane is stupid. “They” are fools full of “half-baked” ideas. It’s the opposite of humility, which I guess is arrogance.
When your elected representative refers to you as half-baked, you get pissed off.
So you can see why my heart dropped a little when I realized that Brantley Moody would be one of the eight people at my table. I would have preferred a table of neighbors. Like-minded people. My own tribe. Island of the Blue Dolphins.
And here was the chief of Red Rock. Would I speak my mind? Or would my pursed lips manage to keep my pissedoffness inside?
When the conversation actually began, Moody was no where in sight. He was working the room. The rest of us reached across the table. Politely, we shook hands. There was a man who looked my age (55) with a drill-sergeant haircut and a Scottish accent. An older, conservative-looking couple. To my left was a master musician. And a quiet, reserved looking man wearing a floral design on a short-sleeved shirt. And my own wife, Susan Farrell. The signs pointed to an equal split, half blue, half red.
Everyone was cordial. The noise of the other tables made us lean in to hear each other. The giant map of West Ashley covered the round table between us. My hands were on the Wappoo Cut. The guy from Scotland occupied Northbridge Terrace. The noise of the other tables seemed to island us together. We were united inside our circle. Our heads came together like a football huddle.
“What are we supposed to do?”
No one had the answer, but magic markers were fanned out on the table like the NBC peacock tail. We grabbed them.
“They said, Don’t let money be an issue. Think big.”
A bold arc of a green marker sketched a hike and bike bridge across the Ashley River.
“How about a monorail?” the Scotsman said.
I looked up at him, surprised. Maybe I was a bit hasty in dividing everyone into camps. I drew a thick line of blue right down Savannah Highway, from Bees Ferry through Citadel Mall, and labelled it: MONORAIL
All of sudden there was a whirlwind of activity. Elbows flashed and markers were squiggling and the whole map was turning the colors of great, big ideas about making West Ashley livable.
“Get rid of all this pavement,” the Scotsman said, slashing the wasteland surrounding Citadel Mall. “Maybe a nice pond with benches.”
Brantley Moody came back. He looked at Susan’s bike bridge, and he talked about retrofitting the lanes and sidewalks on the outbound, World War I bridge. “Three quarters of my constituents,” he told me, “are against converting the car lane.” I’m not sure about those statistics. A FOIA request by Charleston Moves has citizens telling city councilors they’re in favor of the conversion–by a similarly wide margin.
But we talked: about public transportation, about I-526, about sidewalks and shops and restaurants and parks and trees. Moody was not arrogant. He listened. He talked.
There were no tribes. We did not agree on everything, but there were no tribes.
I had to leave early–I wanted to catch the second half of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry’s meeting at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. (If you were at the CAJM and wondered where Mayor Tecklenburg and half the city’s and county’s councilors were, they were at John Wesley Methodist in West Ashley.) When I left, Moody gave me what seemed to be a sincere smile, and he said, “Joe, it was good to talk to you.”
From what Susan tells me, I missed the most productive parts of the discussion. Everyone wants West Ashley to be more livable, and for the most part, we agree about what that looks like. She brought home Brantley Moody’s business card.
I’ve got that business card on the kitchen counter right now in front of me, as I type. Maybe I’ll give him a call. Buy him a cup of Joe at Classic Coffee.
Here’s some common ground. On Wednesday, my wife and I took a walk through West Ashley, from our house in Ashley Forest to the Maryville pier. The sun was low, the light was golden, it was magic hour. I snapped this gem, and we posted it on Twitter under the hashtag, “BestofWestof.” Ironically enough, we don’t have much access to the river here in West Ashley. Downtown has got several miles of public access. We’ve got this one pier. And visitors are not encouraged: there’s maybe eight parking spots. Better to ride bikes or walk there. It’s at the end of the West Ashley Bikeway.
#BestofWestof. I hope it catches on: whenever you come across a spot of beauty in West Ashley, snap it and post it to Twitter with that hashtag.
— Joseph Kelly (@JosephK18743772) April 27, 2017
But on the walk home, we came across a familiar eyesore on Sycamore Avenue. I remember when this wart appeared–this tumorous lump on beautiful, oak-canopied Sycamore, the street where the Jewish cemetery meditates upon the living and the dead, and the community garden sprouts gorgeous, leafy greens. Can you imagine someone downtown trying to get away with facing the backdoors of shops towards the street? Not a chance of it, because downtown’s the city, and they’ve got building standards. This particular parcel–the abandoned Food Lion shopping center–is unincorporated. But you don’t need the BAR to know this design sucks. How about it County Councilors? Let’s freeze the warts!
— Joseph Kelly (@JosephK18743772) April 27, 2017
Jekyll has his Hyde. We realized we needed another hashtag, “WorstofWestof.” Send your photos. Publish the notorious mistakes of public policy that mar West Ashley. Let’s clean it up!