South Carolina has made great strides for safer streets in places all around our state. Small towns, rural planning areas, medium sized cities, small cities, and large regional metropolitan planning areas. I spent 11 years in Athens, Georgia and have lived in Columbia now for 4 years. I’m impressed by city leaders stepping up to make good decisions for the public they represent. I can honestly say there are more Mayors, Planning and Public Works Directors, and regional planning managers, than I can count, that have these guiding principles in the work they do: health, livability, and safe streets.
What remains to be done is address some of the persistent challenges these leaders face. There is a state system that ties all of this work together on state owned roads, and it has plenty of challenges, some of them understandable. The state Department of Transportation owns and maintains 70% of South Carolina’s roads, while local governments own and maintain control over the rest. Our state operates the 4th largest state owned road system in the country, and with federal, and state taxes of all types put into play to accomplish this grand task, South Carolina pays less per mile to maintain their road system, than any other state in the country. Yes, our roads are crumbling, and yes that means we are experiencing loss with these initial infrastructure investments. Yes, people wouldn’t operate a business in this way.
Yet take a moment to look at each of these photos taken over the past 4 years throughout South Carolina, where someone in the photo is traveling by bike or foot, where big investments were made in adding lanes in urban, suburban, and rural areas. What remains often now are wide 5 lane highways cutting through these areas, where the road crumbles, lanes remain “uncongested”, and people on foot and bikes are left with travel spaces that are neither safe nor dignified. We can do better.
Many areas around our state have seen investments in bicycle and pedestrian safety. However, the SC Department of Transportation needs help. This agency relies on citizen input for its resources and feedback on its design recommendations, and it is tasked with an incredible amount of work to do: urban, rural, and regional safety, economic development, and livability. To lead the voice in supporting SC’s desire for streets that are safer, healthier, and more livable, we are gathering partners from all walks of life, and from multiple state and local organizations and professions. We will review draft policy that our broad partnership will move forward with a comprehensive state Complete Streets policy campaign. We believe street safety is suffering in our big cities, small cities, and small towns alike. And most importantly, every person biking or walking down corridors regularly traveled by others doing the same – should do so with dignity, on a path with their safety in mind. Any state highway department cannot do it alone, given the constraints they work in, so we look forward to bringing years of documented challenges to local street safety to the table of our state agency and legislative bodies charged with statewide infrastructure.
Stay tuned for additional posts on our
state Complete Streets policy campaign. We promise to show you more uplifting photos next time! They are out there, and we look forward to sharing the model examples in future posts.