Lowcountry Rapid Transit
What is Lowcountry Rapid Transit?
Forget everything you assume about taking public transit in Charleston. Lowcountry Rapid Transit is a new model for mass transit in our community. This mass transit service operates along a fixed route, similar to light rail (without the rails). The vehicles have dedicated lanes, so they can move faster than single-occupancy vehicles and traditional buses. They arrive every 10 minutes and have synchronized traffic signals that allow the vehicles to cut through automobile congestion.
Charleston has already taken several steps towards making Lowcountry Rapid Transit a reality. Charleston County included $600 million for mass transit in the half-cent sales tax referendum that passed in November 2016. The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCDCOG) applied for federal matching funds, and completed a 15-month study to identify a 22-mile corridor for Lowcountry Rapid Transit along I-26, from Summerville to Charleston. More about the study is here.
Where will it go?
The NEPA scoping process is underway for the first phase of Lowcountry Rapid Transit system. The proposed route will run along US 78/52 (Rivers Avenue) between Summerville and downtown Charleston with approximately 18 stops for a total commute from start to finish taking approximately one hour to complete. The final route and station locations are still being finalized, and the Conservation League continues to advocate that the vehicles operate in dedicated lanes wherever possible. Dedicated lanes are easier to construct along the existing median of Rivers Avenue, but in certain urban areas where there is not room to incorporate dedicated lanes, bus cars would mix with traffic making the system less rapid.
The bus stations will be located in the medians of roadways allowing the vehicles to pull up and quickly load prepaid passengers just like a subway or light rail system. Certain stations will be be designed to accommodate park and ride features or serve as transit hubs where riders can connect with local CARTA buses. Station locations are intended to promote economic development for the surrounding communities with opportunities for Transit Oriented Developments like walkable, mixed-use developments or retail/commercial centers.
The proposed initial route from Summerville to downtown will serve as the first phase and main spine of a future regional mass transit system that will incorporate a much larger swath of the tri-county area.
North Charleston Comprehensive Planning
The City of North Charleston is the geographic center of the Charleston metropolitan area and is currently undergoing its ten-year comprehensive plan update as well as planning for Lowcountry Rapid Transit. With so much growth coming to the region, it is paramount that this core of the urban area is well planned, functional, and livable for diverse demographics. The Conservation League advocates for conscious, transit-oriented development around the Lowcountry Rapid Transit corridor. This includes access to healthy local food, increased conservation of open space and wetlands through greenbelt acquisitions, connectivity between existing neighborhoods, parks, and to transit corridors, increased resilience and natural infrastructure, and targeted infill redevelopment sites for mixed use and affordable housing opportunities.
In March of 2019, the Conservation League partnered with the City of North Charleston and Charleston County to co-sponsor an Advisory Services Panel with the non-profit Urban Land Institute. This five-day planing initiative brought experts from across the nation together with local leaders to analyze challenges and opportunities with land use, affordable housing, economic development, and the transit stop along the Rivers and McMillan Avenues corridors A recommendation report for how to redevelop the area in keeping with the community’s vision was provided at the end of the panel, and the Conservation League continues to advocate that these recommendations be implemented.
Stay up to date with the progress of the Lowcountry Rapid Transit system on the project website. Keep in mind that the initial spine from Summerville to the Peninsula is only the first phase of a much larger project that will evolve into a comprehensive transit system for the entire region. Check out the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester council of governments’ Long Range Transportation Plan to see future priorities and transit recommendations, starting on page 208.