by Sandra Stringer
Lately I’ve been posting articles on our Facebook page about the work being done to try to get bicycle lanes and bicycle bridges built. Expensive propositions that are often, at least on the Bugle page, met with derision and called a waste of money.
Gas or Food?
I moved back to Charleston about 16 years ago. I got a job on the peninsula, and I lived on Folly Road across from the Earth Fare. I had a car, but at first money was so tight that I had to prioritize: gas or food? Guess which one was the winner? I rode my bike to work every day that I could.
This was not easy. To do it safely, I couldn’t traverse the Ashley River bridge in traffic. The majority of people here aren’t used to bikes being on the road, which can make riding on the streets here be incredibly dangerous.
I developed a route mostly consisting of short stints on the roads with lots of detours on sidewalks. I saw no option but to use the sidewalk over that bridge, and I saw lots of other people using that option too. Yes, I know. That wasn’t super safe either.
How about the bus?
Now, you may say, “take the bus!” No, that wasn’t an option at the time. I’m not even sure it is now in terms of getting to that location to my work place. And even if it WAS an option, the bus is not free. A regular CARTA ride is $2, one way. That’s $4 a day. If your only option is the CARTA Express, that one is $3.50 one way or $7 a day. Nowadays my work place subsidizes CARTA so that staff can ride CARTA for free with their ID, but again that’s not an option for everyone.
Here’s the thing: bike riding is not just a great way to incorporate regular exercise into your life. For many people, it’s the only way to get from point A to point B. It’s nice that most of us have a car or have enough money to take a cab. It’s nice that many people who can’t afford a car can afford the bus and have a good route near them to get them where they need to go. But it’s not true for everyone.
Heck, for many years when I worked at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, I WALKED to work every single day. It took a solid hour and a half to do it, and I liked it…until my feet started to betray me and I developed plantar fasciitis. Look it up. It’s right up there with getting your teeth scraped on the fun-o-meter. Biking was a good substitute, and it got me there MUCH faster. I also got home much faster, and therefore had more time to have a life.
More people = more cars
But all that aside, Charleston continues to grow, and I don’t mean in terms of acquiring new land. New people are coming here to live. The population continues to grow and with that growth comes, you guessed it, more cars. Which means more traffic. Which means more stress.
If you have compassion for those who live on limited means, then you understand that making the city more bike friendly for people who really need it as a commuting option is the right thing to do. If you’ve got a youngster who is just starting their adult life and has to get around on a bike, you want them to have a safer time of it. If you don’t really care about any of that, but you are annoyed by the growing traffic snarl, then you understand that making the city more bike friendly means fewer cars and that is a very good thing indeed.
I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike*
And, believe it or not, there are people who would ride their bikes every day for sheer pleasure and stress reduction if it wasn’t stupidly hazardous to do so in many parts of the city. Some people would even do it for *gasp* exercise! It’s fun, it’s fast, and parking is usually far easier, even downtown.
Making Charleston more bike friendly is going to be worth the money in the long run. I believe that, strongly. I know it seems like an old school answer to modern woes, but improving our bicycle infrastructure can only bring good things to Charleston and my personal stomping grounds, James Island. I know, we really need to improve our car infrastructure. But I believe we can and should have all travel avenues improved, including getting from place to place on this humble piece of human-powered equipment.
*This is a reference to a Queen song.