Published Somedays

Charleston bike friendly

(updated: Aug 26, 2007)

This weekend my wife and I took a trip down to Charleston, SC. This is the first time we'd been there. We brought our bikes of course. Along the way down I kept seeing trails in parks that I wanted to stop and check out but we didn't have time. Right after the seemingly endless retail crap eyesore along 17 in Myrtle Beach, there was a separate biking/walking path on either side of 17 for a little ways. And then on down to Charleston the road offered some nice scenery, as we passed through the Marion Francis National Forest. Just before getting to Charleston, in Mt. Pleasant, I was pleasantly surprised by the way they handled development. You couldn't see anything from the road except lots of greenery, and the only signs were right at the entrances. The parking lots were well hidden, too. The ones I did spot had lots of trees dispersed throughout, unlike the gigantic mono-slabs you typically see. There was even a Wal-Mart and Lowes, the poster twins of development blight, hidden completely. I counted seven pairs of Wal-Marts and Lowe's mega-stores from Wilmington to Charleston along 17, and this one they got right.

But my pleasant surprise was far from over. Our first stop was our hotel in Daniel Island. Daniel Island is an affluent community on a penninsula that has integrated everything - shops, businesses, sports, schools, housing, parks, etc. - and most importantly, trails throughout. You do not need a car for anything here. When we starting riding around to check the place out, I couldn't believe all the trails. They build wooden bridges over marsh and connected everything together with paved and unpaved paths. There was open space as well, enough to put several miles of singletrack in. If I lived and worked here I wouldn't need to drive anywhere. I was really impressed. It was one of the best planned communities I have ever seen.

Daniel Island: We rode this bridge and others around the island.

The only thing they need to do now is put up solar panels, windmills, a large farm, and then blow-up the only way on or off the island by car. Maybe put a wall around it with turrets and lookout stations. I don't know, given the coming oil crisis, this seems to be the way to survive in the future - get off the grid, grow your own food, free yourself from your car, and be ready to defend yourself from roaming gangs of starving militia until they die off. But I digress.

After our check-in we headed to Charleston proper (unfortunately there is no way to get from the island to Charleston except by car), where we parked our car and rode all over the place on our bikes. Charleston is very bike friendly. Many people ride bikes in town. I saw several single speeders/fixies. There's even a bike taxi service. Drivers are used to bikes. It's just not a big deal and you can tell, unlike Wilmington where you can sense the seething rage of a redneck being inconvenienced for a few seconds. Charleston is bike/ped friendly because way back when the city was built cars didn't exist. Oh wait, Wilmington was built before cars too.

Downtown Charleston SC: There's even signs for bike parking.

Yeah it's touristy, but people are walking and interacting in a vibrant and functional community.

There are bike racks every 50 ft or so it seemed. Even signs for bike parking. After riding around and sightseeing (the best way to see any place is by bike, IMO), we parked our bikes in front of a restaurant and had dinner. After dinner we headed up toward the new Cooper River Bridge, the longest cable stay bridge in the US. This bridge also has a pedestrian/bike lane which overlooks the Charleston Harbor. It was really awesome to ride over this massive structure and get a closer look at the way it was built. It would be such a shame if the proposed Cape Fear Skyway bridge does not include a ped/bike lane like this, so we should really push for one.

There are numerous parks in town.

You can walk everywhere. This city should be used as a model for future development.

The Cooper River Bridge: Note the guy on the bike. Unfortunately I forgot my camera when we rode this.

Notwithstanding the bike friendliness of Charleston, there's a difference between their community and Wilmington's, and I think it has to do with big money, attitude, and politics. Down there they view cycling as important to the health of the community, so when a new bridge is built it gets it's own bike/ped lane. Here in Wilmington they are just starting to realize the benefits thanks to the years of hard work of a few people in government but are still running into serious opposition (I view the homeowner that threatened to shoot the first person riding on the Cross City Trail as serious opposition).

But in greater New Hanover County there is no consideration at all. Designing for cars only is de rigueur, and they are allowing developers to run amok building developments that have no future. All you have to do to see the effects of this type of development is to go to any big box store and look around. Look at the people and see how out of shape and unhealthy they are. Look at how much people are consuming.

You can also check out this new website that calculates how walkable your community is. It's called Walk Score. I looked up Porter's Neck where I live and got a 6 out of 100. That's right, a 6. Compare this to Charleston which gets 95 out of 100. But if I go down to the county commissioners meetings and speak in public about it they'll probably label me as some kind of anti-growth doomsday environmentalist.

However, if you take the time to do your own research you will find that the US is in a big steaming heap of doo-doo. The fossil fuel days are waning and we are stuck with this massive sprawled out car only infrastructure. The best new oil source we will ever find is called conservation. Instead, we are going to search for more oil in desperation and attack other countries to take it. At this point, the next oil shock will be the last one. In the future, abandoned suburbs, SUVs and Mal-Warts will look so grotesque and out of place they will serve to remind the remaining humans how foolish and wasteful we once were.

Last week's story in the Star News demonstrates that the economy will benefit from bike lanes. The article discussed two college students on a weekend getaway in Wilmington that decided to ride their bikes to the beach but got a rude awakening by the lack of bike lanes and amount of traffic. Read about it here: Wrightsville back on bike path push. The Star News has been very supportive of bikes, publishing several bike-related articles this year.

Blue Clay is proof that if you build it, they will come. So let's do the same thing for the road. Build the bike lanes and people will stop driving and start riding. Plan our developments better to incorporate alternative transportation, not just cars. New Hanover really needs a fire lit under their ass. It's car-only plan for perpetual growth in retirement community utopia is also a surefire path to its demise.


Filed Under: General Entries > South Carolina > Charleston


1. sir Lamm-hammer said...

well said my friend. your words strike a soft spot in my heart. its almost like all those future movies where the world is only a shell of what we see today is really not that far from the truth. nobody has the answers but history tells an ever so falimiar story. civilizations fall from poor planning and poor leadership. right now this country is being dictated and not represented. if only we coul start over knowing what we know now.

i love your field of dreams quote. it rings so true. last year this time bluecaly was still a hopefull dream unfolding in front of us. now seeing all the new faces and the desire for everyone to help is great. i agree we should take this movement to the streets and build it.

keep up the good work.

Aug 26, 2007 @ 11:04 PM

2. Jonathon said...

Charleston rocks, no doubt about it. During school, I had two bikes stolen but always got another one and always rode everywhere downtown.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, the good ol\' days.


Aug 27, 2007 @ 10:45 AM

3. brado1 said...

+1 on Charleston rockin\' we lived there for 4yrs, we split right after Hugo hit us, but everytime we go back, we think about moving...just aint no damn mountains down there...

Aug 27, 2007 @ 10:49 PM

4. Justin said...

I was in Charleston for the first time about a month ago and thought many of these same things. I rode all over the down town area on my hybrid without so much as a redneck barking like a dog out the window of his truck at me - it was a welcomed change compared to Wilmington. I stopped by a bike shop, bought a few things I really didn't need, and mentioned to the owner that I lived in WIlmington ... I told him how bike-friendly the city is compared to Wilmington and he just laughed, knowing exactly what I was talking about. He had been to Wrightsville Beach a month earlier, he said, and commented on what a life-risking endeavor it was to be on anything at all with two wheels (motorcycles included).

Aug 31, 2007 @ 11:57 AM

5. Sir-Marks-Alot said...

You know, after reading this, it brought back memories of a prior trip to Charleston and a couple of us walked around downtown historic Charleston and something we all commented on is the difference between walking there and in Wilmington's downtown area. It was just more inviting to walking and despite the February wind chill of 24 degrees, there were still people out and about with smiles on their faces. I don't know what it is but that is an inviting city.

Sep 16, 2007 @ 8:39 PM

6. aaron said...

Sep 20, 2007 @ 11:24 AM


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