Monday, June 23, 2008

Bike lanes may disappear on Coleman Blvd.

The people of my home town of Charleston, South Carolina, are proud of the new Cooper River Bridge. (Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.) Opened in 2005, it is a beautiful structure, and connects the Charleston Peninsula with Mount Pleasant on the east side.

The new bridge replaced two older bridges (Since demolished.) built in 1929 and 1966. The old bridges were narrow and with no provision for pedestrians or bicycles.

Cyclists on the Charleston side, wishing to ride in the Mount Pleasant area, would have to transport their bikes across by car, and vice-versa. Commuting by bicycle or even walking the four miles across was not an option.

In the initial planning stages, the new bridge was also to be for motorized traffic only. However, local cycling advocacy groups, along with pedestrian and running groups successfully petitioned for a separate bicycle/pedestrian path to be added.

This is a tremendous triumph for these advocacy groups, because since it opened the path is used by hundreds of pedestrians, runners, and cyclists, every weekend.

Walking or riding the bridge is now one of the “must do” things for visitors to Charleston. The only way to really appreciate the view of the harbor and the old city of Charleston, is on foot or by bicycle.

The picture at the top shows the bridge from Charleston Harbor side, looking inland. The pedestrian/bike path can be seen on the near side. There is a cement barrier between the path and the motorized traffic, which is four lanes in either direction.

Recently the City of Charleston, built a bike/pedestrian path on Bay Street, leading onto the bridge path entrance.

On the Mount Pleasant side the path emerges on Coleman Blvd. This is a wide road, with a bike lane, two lanes of traffic each direction, and a center turn lane. Coleman Blvd. is the direct route to the beach communities of Sullivan’s Island, and The Isle of Palms.

Some disturbing news has just come from the City of Mount Pleasant. Together with the South Carolina Department or Transport, they are planning to remove part of the bike lane from Coleman Blvd. and reroute cyclists onto side streets.

The reason; to allow parallel parking of cars on Coleman Blvd. Once again, making provision for automobiles is more important than people. Pushing cyclists off onto side streets will only reinforce the average motorists view, that cyclists don’t belong on Coleman Blvd.

I rode Coleman Blvd. on Sunday, and I fail to see why they need to park cars on this particular road. It is a normal business district that you would see in any American city, and every business has its own ample parking lot.

Local bicycle advocacy groups are asking that they keep the bike lanes along side the parked cars. My personal view is that this is a bad idea. I must emphasize this is my view and not that of any other group.

This would not be a problem but for a certain number of drivers who can’t seem to exit a vehicle without flinging the door open with complete disregard for the passing cyclist in the bike lane.

This negligent action usually results in the death of the cyclist as he is knocked from his bicycle into the adjacent traffic lane and under the wheels of a passing vehicle. Two such deaths have occurred this month in Chicago, and in Moorestown, New Jersey.

The City of Chicago, which is trying very hard to encourage bicycle riding, has taken criticism for bike lanes next to parked cars. On their own city website, they have posted a safety tip urging cyclists to use the outside edge of the bike lane, leaving at least a four feet door zone. (Left.)

The Charleston area has precious few bike lanes as it is, we cannot afford to loose what we have. Mount Pleasant’s plans are a huge step backwards. We have this beautiful bridge with a bike path, encouraging people to ride over to Mount Pleasant. Cyclists need to be accommodated when they get there.

Here is an idea for the city planners. If you must park cars on Coleman Blvd. put a four foot “Door Zone” next to the parked cars. (Clearly marked “Door Zone.”) If necessary make the bike lane only eighteen inches or two feet wide at the point.

I feel this makes more sense than making a five-foot bike lane, then advising cyclists (On some obscure website.) to only use the outside one foot of the lane. Coleman Blvd. is a wide road; if necessary make the traffic lanes narrower and lower the speed limit.

It is my understanding that this whole parking cars issue is because of plans to make Mount Pleasant a new and vibrant town center. Lowering the speed limit and enforcing it, would ensure that motorist do not simply speed through on their way to the beach. And in doing so completely miss your new and vibrant town center.

More on the Coleman Blvd. plans here.

Footnote: In the top picture you can just see the two old bridges behind the new; as mentioned in the article, these have been demolished.


Unknown said...

Interesting - I can't agree more with all aspects of this post. I rode the sister bridge to the Cooper River bridge (the Alex Fraser bridge near Vancouver, BC, build by the same engineering team) this weekend, and there is a similarly arranged bike/pedestrian lane on it, and it's a complete boon to the bridge - the view is fantastic, and this route represents the only local route over the Fraser river. Losing the bike lanes there would be absurd. Especially in the name of convenience parking.

Unknown said...

While the loss of a bike lane is mournable because it represents a loss to the bicycle advocacy groups, it does not mean an end to bicycling on Coleman Blvd.

CycleDog regularly advocates "taking the lane" as part of the education of vehicular cyclists (see posts from HREF="">March and HREF="">last November).

Props to the advocacy group for fighting for the lane on the bridge. If they lose the lane on Coleman, driving safely and smartly with traffic can turn the loss into higher visibility of cycling traffic.

Anonymous said...

18" (45-50cm) is way, way too small! Better not to have any bike lane than one that small.

The (UK) Cycle Design Guide says "Preferred width 1.5m, min. width 1.2m, (absolute min width for short sections 1.0m)". I'm sure I've seen similar number elsewhere.

On the other hand for buffer zones it says - 1.0m (0.5m min). So absolute minimum of 1.7m or 4'4".

I agree they should not remove the bike lane to provide parking for cars, but I really don't think a bike lane that is so narrow that people will use the door zone anyway, is going to work.

Dave Moulton said...


I have no personal problem if the bike lane disappears, I will “take the lane” and not ride within five feet of a parked car.

I am more concerned about the many inexperienced riders that ride the bridge, some on beach cruisers and rented bikes; they will ride close to parked cars with or without a bike lane.

I felt an area marked “Door Zone” would be a clue not to ride there.


Anonymous said...

Henry Ford had the right idea when he built the Model T with a driver's door that didn't open.

Anonymous said...

Good point about leaving a gap for cars to open their doors; I never trust cars to check for bikes. Motorists can be insensitive in expecting bikes to ride close to parked cars

Anonymous said...

As a veteran of bicycle commuting (15yrs +)and a victim of being car doored by an uninsured driver "flinging" theis Nissan 200SX door open throwing me onto the pavement in Marina Del Rey,CA. in 1993 resulting in 3mo work loss, 15k in medical bills and a skin graf to mt right front calf, I can tell you first hand that until drivers even attempt to look in their mirrror before opening the drivers side door,short of being at least 4 to 5 ft. away you will have accidents.When "planners" design various traffic flow with bike routes and such, if they have no experience in cycling or bike commuting in traffic, they have NO Clue and should consult someone who does to make it safe or they are just wasting time and money.

Anonymous said...

Leave it too VC fanatics to place positive spin on what can only be considered more bad news for the rights and safety of cyclists. Dave's concerns are well placed, the less experienced will either not ride or be forced to take greater risks. Cycling safety being sacrificed for more convenient motorized parking? That always leads to more cycling visibility and safety.

Anonymous said...

for what it's worth: the view from Berlin. Berlin (maybe Germany as a whole?) is phasing out bike lanes on sidewalks, or separated from traffic, and putting them on the street adjacent to parked cars, as is proposed in Charleston.

This only works of course if the driving populace is aware of cyclists enough to look before opening their doors, and most in Germany are. This is indeed the crux of the matter. If the drivers are not at this level, then all must be done to prevent cyclists thinking they are in a protected zone, and a recommendation on the web to hug the outside edge isn't the answer.

the lesser of all evils here seems to be riding with traffic, with no special lane. and if a special lane, then Dave's door zone. ie. a 'danger' zone, rather than a safe zone that isn't.

I've just learned recently - after 18 years of living here - that cyclists in Germany are required to ride at least 1 meter away from parked cars to avoid this very problem. few do, of course. i do now!

i do hope the right thing is done here for all concerned.

Anonymous said...

Seattle has designed some bike lanes specifically for the door zone. Check out Yeah, I know they didn't specifically design them to force the cyclist into the hazard zone but it certainly seems like it.

Gene in Tacoma

mattio said...

dave - take a look at the cycle track that was built last year in nyc: - riding it feels so relaxed and damn civilized. they're extending it, and building another on 8th avenue.

it's wonderful that the bike/ped path on the bridge has become a popular spot. i'm not surprised. pedestrian promenades on bridges are amazing things, and any city building a bridge who doesn't think about this is missing an opportunity to build a really world-class attraction, and a great public space for peds.

Anonymous said...

In 2006, I rode with a group starting in Richmond along the outer banks and into Charleston. We rode across the new bridge just before the last part of the old bridge was demolished.
Riding the bridge was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. That and getting caught by Hurricane Ernesto in Elizabeth City.