Monday, June 20, 2016 Blog

Three related subjects: housing, land use and transportation. Two unrelated subjects: turtles and GrowFood.

by Andy Hollis


This week brought three topics together that are too often considered in isolation:  affordable housing, urban design and transportation.

The first article, by Warren Wise with the Post and Courier, reports on Thursday’s housing summit in Charleston, sponsored by the Lowcountry Community Loan Fund.  The theme of the conference, around which there was virtually unanimous agreement, is that poor planning and zoning is a major contributor to the Lowcountry’s housing affordability problem, and that solving the problem means linking transportation and land use.

So far, so good, but what does that actually mean on the ground, where the rubber hits the bike lane?  It means that zoning codes must allow development densities and housing types beyond single family suburban options.  It means that housing must be near jobs, not in remote rural areas, and that transportation investments must include all transportation modes — transit, bicycles, feet — not just asphalt.

And what does THAT mean?   To start with, we need to get the “gathering place” concept right, in Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, Summerville and everywhere there is growth.  This means making sure that sufficiently high housing densities are supported in the right places AND that cities and counties make good on their side of the deal, by ensuring that neighborhood roads connect adjoining subdivisions, and connect to offices, stores and schools.  The point is to provide route alternatives so that every trip does not funnel onto a busy arterial road (think Savannah Highway, the Glenn McConnell Expressway, Highway 21 on Lady’s Island or 278 in Bluffton).

Further, transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities must not treated as recreational amenities or as welfare programs, but as essential parts of a viable transportation network.  The Conservation League’s Natalie Olson explains why that is critically important.

The policy changes are complicated, but what this adds up to is simple — every new development in the Lowcountry should incrementally create places that function like traditional towns and cities — Charleston, Beaufort, Georgetown, Summerville…  These are considered the best places to live and it’s past time to dismantle the local laws and investment policies that produce exactly the opposite outcomes.

Now, with that off of my chest…  On a related note, the results of the Ashley River bike and pedestrian lane study are now public.  The traffic delay caused by the lane dedication is about one minute.  Which is to say that the city can and should take the next step and make the lane permanent.

But the Post and Courier’s Steve Bailey writes that two Charleston city council members, Bill Moody and Keith Waring, want to scrap it anyway.  Steve makes a strong and clear case why the bike lane is a litmus test for whether Charleston will exhibit the insight and courage to improve safety and access for bicyclers and walkers.  Charleston is currently rated the worst of South Carolina’s cities for bikers and walkers, or “horrible” in the words of Peter Wilborn.

The next piece is a Post and Courier editorial, elaborating on the point.  In their words, “Doubters wanted a study, and they got one. Now everyone needs to get behind this vital transportation project so construction can begin.”

The good news is that we now have a somewhat reformed state transportation program.  The Post and Courier criticizes the general lack of progress in this year’s legislative session, but praises one highlight of the session — the S.C. State Transportation Infrastructure Bank (STIB) now must direct funds to state transportation priorities. (Who would have thought that, for twenty years, this wasn’t the case?)  So progress is possible.

I disagree with the editorial on one point.  It criticizes Senator Tom Davis’ filibuster of the road bill for blocking a gas tax increase.  But it was precisely Senator Davis’ filibuster that achieved the STIB reform.  In our view, it was essential to get the reforms in place before increasing funding.

Humans may be the only animals that spend time thinking about multimodal transportation systems.  I seriously doubt loggerhead sea turtles do.  But this delightful piece from Care2, celebrating World Turtle Day, reveals that they are remarkably sophisticated travelers anyway.  Putting our iPhone based GPS systems to shame, sea turtles apparently navigate using the earth’s magnetic fields.  Researchers think some birds do this too, a theory made more plausible by the evolutionary history of birds, which share a common ancestor with turtles.

There is, however, one particular trip sea turtles probably do worry about — the one hundred foot crawl between the ocean and their nesting habitat on the edge of the dunes.  And South Carolina has now given them one more reason to worry — the Wave Dissipation Device (WDD). The WDD is a plastic, Lego-like wall that researchers at the Citadel invented to trap sand on eroding beaches. The Legislature changed the beachfront law a few years ago to allow these things to be tested.

From what I have seen, they don’t trap sand very well.  But they do serve as barriers to nesting turtles.

This article by Sammy Fretwell with the State reports that the South Carolina Environmental Law project, headed by the amazing Amy Armstrong, is challenging the WDD on the grounds that it violates the Endangered Species Act. Based on photographs of turtle tracks on Harbor Island, the invention has clearly caused turtles intent on nesting to turn back to the ocean, blocking nesting attempts.

Good for Amy and the plaintiffs, the Sierra Club and the Wildlife Federation, for taking this on!

The final piece this week is an interview with Growfood Carolina’s fearless leader, Sara Clow. From a new, award winning magazine called Paste, the interview explores the rationale behind GrowFood, its stunning performance to date and aspirations for the future.

Have a wonderful week!


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