It’s been a while since I’ve written about a local civic issue here in PopCult, but yesterday, Michael Keller, a Facebook friend and a damned fine photographer, posted about the rise of pedestrian and bicylist fatalities nationwide, and made some observations about the local situation, and it got me to thinking.
I’m on record as not being happy about the very expensive bike path that reduced Kanawha Boulevard to three lanes near Patrick Street. I think it was a huge waste of money, severely disrupted the traffic flow of the evening rush, and has not served very many people.
The truth is, it’s been open well over a year now (maybe two, I haven’t been keeping track), and I have yet to witness a single bicyle using that path. Admittedly, I don’t drive to Charleston as much as I used to. When my wife worked downtown and had an hour for lunch, I would meet her for lunch two or three times a week. Now that she works at the Capitol Complex and doesn’t have as much time for lunch, I make it to Charleston once or twice a month.
But still, I think that particular project made very little sense.
I’ve been visiting Chicago a lot in recent years, and I see how they handle their bicycling issues. I know that Charleston is not really comparable to Chicago. First of all, they cram about twenty times as many people into an area one-fourth the size of Kanawha County. Also, Chicago is mostly flat land, while Charleston is not.
Topographically, Charleston is simply not bike-friendly. We could never have a bike-renting program like Divvy (seen left) here. We simply don’t have enough people, and the 30-minute time limit isn’t really feasible with our hills and mountains.
What we do have is a smallish stretch of bike-friendly flat land, from the State Capitol Complex to Patrick Street, that could be made more accessible to bikes and pedestrians.
We still need to cater to people who drive, though. Due to the nature of the terrain, cars are necessary in West Virginia. So a happy medium must be struck.
To be honest, when I do drive in Downtown Charleston these days, I’m noticing a lot of traffic insanity on the part of pedestrians, cyclists and most of all with my fellow drivers.
It’s gotten so bad that when I see someone making a right-turn from the left lane (or a left-turn from the right lane), I call it “Doing The Charleston.” People are driving like idiots. They’re also walking and biking like idiots.
I would suggest that Charleston turn to some of the very talented graphic designers, educators and advertising agencies in town, and develop a traffic education program, to remind everyone that we need to share the road, and maybe remember how the hell to drive, for a change.
Drivers need to be on alert for bikes and pedestrians. Bicyclists need to obey the same traffic rules as all vehicles. You can’t blow through a red light and be surprised if a car hits you. Pedestrians need to cross streets at the designated crossing areas and obey the crossing signals. Walking in front of a moving car is never a good idea, although lately it seems to have become a sport in Charleston. We also need to address motorcycles and electric scooters while we’re at it.
Getting back to what I’ve observed in Chicago, I’m still a bit befuddled about the decision to take part of Kanawha Boulevard and convert it into a bike trail. That would be like shutting down part of Lake Shore Drive so that the cyclists could all enjoy the wonderful view. They wouldn’t take that route because it doesn’t take cyclists to the most likely places for them to go, just like in Charleston.
Most of the people who advocated for that bike trail would have to ride twenty minutes just to use part of it, and won’t do it because we don’t have that many days of good bicycling weather in Charleston. It’s either way too cold or way too hot and humid, or it’s raining or snowing.
That money should have been spent carving out some of the ample sidewalk space downtown, taking a couple of feet of street, and creating a series of bike lanes that are protected by physical barriers. They have these all over Chicago, and they seem to do a pretty good job of keeping cars and bikes from occupying the same space. The barriers have the added benefit of acting as a deterrent for pedestrians who might otherwise try to cross in the middle of a block.
It’s not really a very attractive solution, but it does work, and it makes it safer for cyclists to go downtown, where there are places they may actually want to do business. The amount of money spent to create a bike path that takes people from Patrick Street, half-way to Magic Island was ridiculous. It was our “bridge to nowhere,” only for bikes.
Even if the pipe-dream of the anti-Kanawha Boulevard forces prevailed, and turned the Boulevard into a car-free paradise, those cyclists would still have to leave that trail and venture into the car-populated downtown area to get where they want to go. I wrote about this in PopCult over thirteen years ago, but my observations were dismissed.
At the very least, Charleston needs some kind of traffic education campaign, and should study the practicality of different types of barriers. That bike trail on the Boulevard did not solve a single thing, and hasn’t been worth the money, or the traffic disruption that it’s caused.
So that’s my thoughts on the matter. Thanks to Michael for inspiring them.
Friday on Sydney’s Big Electric Cat
The Haversham Recording Institute shows have all been new this week, and we have another great two-hour trip into the New Wave era today at 3 PM on The AIR.
You can listen at the website, or on this embedded radio player…
Sydney Fileen is back with a new show that opens with The Clash, and includes a set of New Wave covers of classic rock songs. Check out the playlist here…
The Clash “London Calling”
Shriekback “Madness Into Method”
Martha and the Muffins “Three Hundred Years/Chemistry”
The Cure “The Top”
The Police “Murder By Numbers”
The Ruts “Staring At The Rude Boys”
The Fall “Kicker Conspiracy”
The Slits “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
The Dickies “Nights In White Satin”
The Mo Dettes “Paint It Black”
Stewart & Gaskin “It’s My Party”
Klaus Nomi “Lightning Strikes”
Personal Effects “End Of The World”
Men At Work “Be Good Johnny”
Missing Persons “Words”
Bully Boy “Can You Hear Me”
Quickflight “Fade To Glory”
The Fans “Mind Over Matter”
Ballistic Kisses “Migrant Memories”
The Human League “Mirror Man”
The Stranglers “Baroque Bordello”
The The “Soul Mining”
Laurie Anderson “O Superman”
New Musik “World Of Water”
The Belle Stars “Sign of the Times”
Each week Sydney Fileen brings you two hours of the best music of the New Wave era. Sydney’s Big Electric Cat is produced at Haversham Recording Institute in London, and can be heard on Friday at 3 PM, with replays Saturday afternoon, Tuesday at 7 AM, Wednesday at 8 PM and Thursday at 10AM, exclusively on The AIR.
And that is this week’s PopCulteer. Thanks for reading and please check back for all our regular features. We’ll also be wrapping up our coverage of Toy Fair, and looking ahead to ToyLanta, which is a mere two weeks away!