Monday, July 25, 2016 Blog

Victory for bicycle commuters. I-526 chaos. The root of the problem. The Lowcountry from above. Buckets of fish.

by Andy Hollis

This week’s news is a mixed bag — success and chaos, root causes and aerial insights, and a bucket list of fish.

The Post and Courier reports that the Charleston City Council did the right thing with the Ashley River bridge, by the slimmest of margins.  The Council voted 7-6 in favor of devoting one out of seven lanes on Highway 17 across the Ashley to bicycles and pedestrians.

Remarkably, in spite of the years spent analyzing the situation, and in spite of the months spent conducting the field test, it will still take another year and a half to design the change (essentially putting in hard barriers between the bicycles and walkers on the southern-most lane and the cars and trucks in the remaining three east-bound lanes). Then another four months of construction will ensue.

But…  this is great news!  West Ashley is poised to undergo the same type of transportation revolution that Mt. Pleasant experienced with the opening of the bike lane on the new Ravenel Bridge eleven years ago!

The news on the I-526 vote was not as encouraging. Tuesday’s Charleston County council meeting dissolved into chaos as dozens of motions were made to approve the 1/2 cent sales tax without I-526, with I-526, on the same ballot measure, on a separate ballot measure, with money, without money…   The upshot, as the Post and Courier reports, is that the Council decided not to place the sales tax on the ballot at all.

This is probably for the best. Although the potential benefits of the tax are enormous — from protecting thousands of acres of farm and forest land, to creating a regional bus rapid transit system, to making strategic improvements to the county road system — the reality is that it would be exactly this same divided council that would have to implement the program.
It will be far better to spend a year building knowledge and consensus about how best to spend these funds and present a clear, well-defended proposal to the voters in 2017.  If we can wait two years to build concrete barriers on a half-mile long bridge, we can certainly justify a year to decide the destiny of $2.1 billion public dollars that could very well determine the future of the county.

One person we need to listen to in that discussion is Vince Graham, the chair of the S.C. Transportation Infrastructure Bank board.  In this op-ed, Vince explains how the past one hundred years of federal policy have favored automobile transportation to the detriment of every other mode, (including Charleston’s trolley line that, in the 1930s, carried 20 million passengers a year, or four times the current volume of the bus system, CARTA.)

Vince’s point is that federal and then state and local policies favoring cars have done severe damage to our communities, while failing to deliver the advertised mobility benefits. This heartbreaking excerpt from a 1956 Post and Courier article illustrates just one aspect of the devastation wrought by a “car uber alles” culture:  “An eighth-of-a-mile strip of moss-hung oaks on Highway 17 [Savannah Highway] were laid flat this morning by order of the S.C. Highway Department.”

Another person worth paying attention to is Henry Fair, Jr.  For the moment, you’ll have to travel to Columbia to see his photo exhibit at the Columbia Museum.  It runs from August 19-October 23.

In this short You Tube video, I note that photography has always been a central part of the modern conservation movement.  Photographers like Ansel Adams, Elliott Porter, Art Wolfe, Nick Nichols, Frans Lanting, Charleston’s Tom Blagden, and Henry, have revealed the natural world in ways that have inspired and motivated a movement to protect it.   I think you will enjoy the video, and I’m sure you will enjoy Henry’s exhibit!

Finally, another friend is in the news. Conservation League board member Steve Zoukis is featured in this Post and Courier article about a fishing delegation from Charleston that traveled to Cuba to experience the natural beauty of our newly accessible neighbor.  Steve scored a “grand slam” by catching a permit, a bone fish and a tarpon in one day, illustrating not only Steve’s prowess with a fishing rod, but the ecological health of the waters around Cuba.  (And no fish were injured in the outing…)
Have a great week!

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