The opinion of the College of Charleston community goes in two directions when it comes to converting Coming and St. Philip Street into two-way corridors.
In early 2012, Charleston City Council faced a dilemma. Residents of Cannonborough-Elliotborough, Radcliffeborough, and Harleston Village felt nervous about the large volume of high speed traffic cutting through their neighborhoods via Coming Street on the way to U.S. 17 North. Residents felt as though the integrity of their neighborhoods was compromised, and something had to change.
By May of 2012, the City had concocted multiple plans which they believed would alleviate high-speed traffic along Coming Street and leave the neighborhoods feeling like home. However, all of these plans hinged upon one essential yet highly controversial element: Coming and St. Philip would have to become two-way streets, affecting the large number of College of Charleston students who walk and bike along these roads.
A report compiled for the City Council by the private consulting firm Santec states that this change would benefit bicyclists and pedestrians. According to the report, “The proposed conversions are expected to result in slower vehicular travel speeds and increased accessibility along the study corridors. These factors are expected to increase safety for vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians.”
In order to reinforce safe travel habits, the conversion plan includes traffic signal indications for bicyclists and pedestrians, which currently are not present, as well as heavy signage and an educational campaign to remind people accustomed to looking only in one direction that they must look both ways.
Despite the supposed soundness of this plan, the College of Charleston highly opposes the conversion and worries for the safety of students in the area. Brian McGee, the Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Advisor for the College, has played a large role in deciding whether or not this plan truly benefits the large number of students travel in the affected area every day.
In order to learn more about this issue, McGee read through 60 years’ worth of data-driven studies regarding the conversion of one-way to two-way streets. What he found did not align with the Santec report. As it turns out, the vast majority of reports, including the Santec report, never look at pedestrian and bicyclist safety in a clear, quantitative manner. This lack of data therefore undermines the integrity of any conclusions drawn about safety for those constituents.
According to McGee, “[The College] went into this very sincerely with an open mind…by the end of 2011, we had reached the conclusion that the evidence did not support two-way traffic in the blocks that were adjacent to College of Charleston.” The College decided then to take a stand against the City in order to protect its students.
President George Benson made his position clear to City Council by writing letters to Mayor Riley and making presentations for City Council, hoping that the City would realize the huge and seemingly negative impact that this change would have on the College campus. Unfortunately, in McGee’s words, “Our position did not prevail.”
One student at the College has not given up the fight against change quite yet. Joshua
Ferguson, a freshman from Cottageville, South Carolina, decided to actively engage in the democratic process by creating a petition against City Council’s plan.
“The main reason I jumped on this is because [Coming and St. Philip] are the main arteries of the College,” Ferguson said. “I just think it’s too much.”
Ferguson began circulating the petition in January and has already amassed about 350
signatures from students, faculty, and staff. Throughout this process, he found that most people are on his side of the debate, saying, “The majority people I’ve talked to have been against it. They think it’s going to be dangerous and inconvenient.”
The petition is still circulating, and Ferguson hopes to bring the petition before City Council in the near future. Addressing its potential impact, he said, “It might be enough to, with the pressure from the college administration and the student body, it might be enough to make City Hall look twice.”
Dr. Kevin Keenan, a professor in the Political Science department here at the College who specializes in urban geography, hopes that the City won’t change its mind. He believes that the conversion will only increase safety for students and faculty, reducing accidents.
“It is a well-established principle in urban planning that in dense population clusters, traffic calming is a good strategy to use,” he said. One of the principle traffic calming techniques is conversion to two-way streets.
Many faculty and staff at the College must take Coming St. to access U.S. 17 North for their daily commutes to and from work, so their lives would be directly affected by the conversion. Keenan believes that this influences the College’s official stance on the issue, saying that those who advocate for keeping Coming and St. Philip one-way are more worried about their own commute time than safety. He said, “People who are advocating to keep it one-way…that is a very self-interested way to look at it.”
Keenan himself holds a stake in the potential increased commute time, but to him, the extra traffic is trivial when compared to the results of the conversion. He said, “Slowing cars down will increase safety for our students. It will increase anxiety for the drivers, but my position is I’d rather wait in traffic for ten minutes than have one student disabled for life.”
The effects of the conversion are uncertain, but one thing is sure: it is a change from a currently unsafe situation. In Keenan’s words, “It’s not costing us anything, but it might make our students safer.”