The State of South Carolina is considered one of the most dangerous in the US for cycling, despite a vibrant amateur and professional road racing scene. Only eight states in the US had more fatalities per capita in 2009 according to the National Transportation Safety Bureau, but key cities within the state are working hard to set themselves apart.
A number of cities and communities have received the Bicycle Friendly designation from the League of American Bicyclists, including: Greenville, Spartenburg and Columbia.
Important statewide action came in 2008, when the South Carolina General Assembly passed a revision to Article 27 of the motor vehicle laws, which specifically outlines the rights of cyclists to the state’s roads.
“The law also specifies the responsibilities of motor vehicle operators relative to cyclists on the road as well as the responsibilities of cyclists,” says Tom Lex, Aiken Bicycle Club, who adds that the passage of the law was the first major step in the right direction for those on two wheels, but that it is also only the beginning. “However, we are still lacking in getting this clearly communicated and understood by motor vehicle operators, cyclists and law enforcement agencies.”
Lex’s hometown of Aiken, South Carolina is working to become more bicycle friendly, which is listed in the city’s strategic plan. Aiken County is expected to begin development of a bicycle and pedestrian plan at the end of March. “We have made some small steps in this direction but it will be years before we can expect to get there,” says Lex.
The port city of Charleston is also making progress, notably on Chapel Street through the historic Mazyck-Wraggsborough neighborhood, which will get a painted bicycle lane. The city also has plans for bicycle lanes along John Street. The new routes will help provide a greater connection in Charleston, but it has already been noted that the lanes, marked by parallel white lines, are not quite as wide as most standard bike lanes — just three-feet wide — so while it is a start, there is hope that the headway will breed more awareness and better provisions.
City planners in Charleston will evaluate the impact on traffic and the effectiveness, as well as the use of bike lanes, and possibly look at putting similar lanes in other parts of the city, notably, in the Garden District.
But even if more lanes come, Lex says, the problem is still the ongoing battle between those on bikes and those in cars.
“Motor vehicle operators also do not understand what it means to pass a cyclist only when it is safe to do so,” says Lex. “Another significant issue is the increased level of inattentive driving. Much of this is due to use of cell phones and text messaging while driving. South Carolina lags behind other States in passing a law against texting while driving and allowing the use of cell phones by drivers only if they are using hands free devices.”