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“New Mobility” in Charleston

Charleston Bicycle Accident Attorney Timmy Finch reports on the future.

On Monday night I went to listen to Gabe Klein present recommendations for the City of Charleston to help the city move forward with a “New Mobility.” Right away, Klein proclaimed that he is not so much a fan of proposals and studies as he is in “getting things done.”

Good. We need some of that in Charleston and many other places around the country—especially when it comes to the changing transportation needs of growing cities.

Some of the things that Klein proposed were simple and effective; inexpensive street dividers/signs that remind motorists to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks where walk signals do not exist. Where signals do exist Klein proposed pedestrian “lead times” for crosswalk signals designed to give pedestrians a “head start.” The lead times would also help to clear the intersections and keep automobile traffic rolling. Bicycle signals could also be added later.

Another idea to clear crowded intersections is a “Barnes Dance” crossing at designed to have pedestrians moving diagonally across the streets while vehicular traffic is stopped in all directions. All of these things are being done in other cities.  One would think that there would be little debate about adding them to Charleston’s existing infrastructure.

[Ed. Note: We have been begging the City for years to have an Barnes Dance intersection at Calhoun and St. Philip.]

Other ideas have been bandied around for years; the light rail system from the airport to downtown. Adding a trolley loop to move people throughout the peninsula. We used to have a trolley. Interestingly, we would be going back to the future if the city resurrected the rail.

It all goes to the same goal: Changing the kind of congestion in this historic city. The goal for the city is to have congestion, but the right kind of congestion. We want the streets full of people and the sidewalks, too. We want the economy to continue to grow and for all users to be able to enjoy the streets of Charleston.

Charleston is very unique. It still has old, narrow streets that will never be paved through with thoroughfares. The internal structure of the city has remained intact. What needs to change is the way people move in and out of the city’s heart—the peninsula.

Activity is the future of transportation. In peninsular Charleston there must be an alternative to driving or “the city will choke on its own fumes.”

One change is about to be rolled out: a bike share similar to others in the country.

Some wonder if just putting people on bikes will make the problem worse. Many are familiar with cyclists that blow through lights, ride “upstream” and generally flout traffic laws.

Klein says the answer is more people on bikes, though. He explained that with a growth in the number of cyclists and the rise of a bike share program, there is a natural peer pressure for people to obey laws.

The accord with the traffic laws that frustrated drivers say is lacking from cyclists can be fixed. The answer may seem like a reward to bad behavior for drivers, but better cyclist behavior will come from changing the infrastructure to accommodate cyclists through dedicated bike lanes. “People ride differently when they feel like they have their own space,” said Klein.

In a city like Charleston with its narrow streets and historic architecture the answer comes from a less is more approach. The roads need to go on diets. By eliminating lanes for cars, dedicating them for cyclists and converting former travel lanes to turn lanes where appropriate, the cars will actually move more freely—alongside cyclists.

It’s time for the changes to start happening, though. Let’s hope the City’s leaders are more interested in getting things done rather than just being satisfied with the studies and proposals.

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