...from today's Post and Courier:
Reporter/Columnist Robert Behre on the Perils of Trying to Ride between Charleston and North Charleston
(photo: Wade Spees, Post & Courier)
What if a state's second- and third-largest cities sat right next door to each other, but there was no easy way to bike between them?
Then you would be talking about South Carolina.
The distance between peninsular Charleston and Park Circle in North Charleston is several miles — too long to hike but close enough to bike for someone with a little extra time.
Anyone who attempts to make this trip — crossing the area know as "the Neck" — is in for a harrowing ride.
The obstacles include rough railroad tracks, pockmarked pavement and fast-moving cars and trucks on occasionally narrow lanes.
Even those willing to bike on the sidewalks — technically a no-no but something many cyclists do if there are few pedestrians around and if they deem the streets too risky — are in for a rough trip.
While a sidewalk along Upper King Street is essentially navigable by bike, none exist along stretches of upper Meeting Street. And those along Spruill Avenue still have high curbs that make them essentially useless for cyclists, or for folks in wheelchairs.
For bicyclists, it's like that old backwoods Maine joke: You can't get there from here.
While the popularity of Wonders Way, the bike and pedestrian lane on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, has won over a lot of converts to the value of creating bike lanes not just for recreation but for transportation, the Neck Area underscores that much remains to be done.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey says the Neck Area has been industrial for so long that few people raised the issue of a bicycle route there, but he also says that has started to change, particularly as North Charleston's Old Village returns to life.
"It's something that probably the cities of Charleston and North Charleston should look at together and how do we make them connect," he says.
Part of the problem also seems to be the sheer number of players that would need to be involved to build a quality hiker-biker route.
Not only do the two cities need to get on the same page, but stretches of land also remain outside either city and major roads are maintained by the S.C. Department of Transportation. Also, the State Ports Authority's work on a new port terminal and private developers' plans will affect changes to the area's roads.
Charleston planning director Christopher Morgan notes the city is pursuing several new bicycle links to improve circulation within its own limits. One project — improvements to make room for bicyclists and pedestrians on the World War II Memorial Bridge, or north bridge — would connect the city's West Ashley suburbs with southern North Charleston.
"It's tougher going up into some of those streets in the Neck," Morgan says. "One reason we haven't had as much emphasis on this area is that the area from Interstate 26 east is going to remain more industrial."
He also says the new Magnolia development is making it easier for those wanting to bike up the western side of the Neck Area but admits it still will be a challenge to bike from there to North Charleston.
Still, he offers up one other option for those truly intent on taking their bike safely between downtown and North Charleston:
Put it on a Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority bus.
Our Two Cents' Worth: There's been much talk over the past few years about utilizing the railroad right-of-way between Upper Meeting and King Streets as a pedestrian and bike path, or even to make a beautiful boulevard that would properly connect Charleston and North Charleston. It seems to have died down lately. But, as the livability of North Charleston improves, and the old industrial nature of that corridor evolves, there's certainly a good rationale for resurrecting the talk. Perhaps, some "stimulus money" could help??