Pedestrians and cyclists are more likely to die in the Charleston region than anywhere else in South Carolina, especially if they’re people of color, and the long-standing problem doesn't seem to be improving.
Sometimes, their deaths make headlines, such as when Benjamin Fricke, 31, was struck and killed on Charleston’s Septima Clark Parkway in April, a death that led to new signs and signals along that busy artery.
But mostly, the victims don’t make news, and their deaths lead to little, if any, constructive change.
At a time when the region is rapidly growing and demand for new roads is soaring, bike lanes and pedestrian crossings haven’t been treated as the difference between life and death, but rather as optional add-ons to streets designed for cars.
That puts the state and the Charleston region far behind other places. And while South Carolina and many of its local governments have embraced the concept of “complete streets,” a term for streets friendly to pedestrians, cyclists and transit, not just cars, most streets here remain far from complete.
“It’s an afterthought until there’s an emergency,” said Keith Benjamin, director of Charleston’s Traffic and Transportation Department.
That’s often because most roads are owned and maintained by the S.C. Department of Transportation, so every new project hinges on what the department’s district offices will approve. Local officials like Benjamin don’t have the authority to lower speed limits, to add new traffic lights or crosswalks.
“It’s like, ‘Is SCDOT going to approve this? No, so we’re not going to ask that,’” he said.
To accomplish the drastic culture shift some feel this area needs, the handful of local officials working on the issue say it’ll only happen if more politicians and transportation planners confront it as a matter of public safety rather than simply a matter of quality of life.