Can you envision a West Ashley without cars?

Can you envision a West Ashley without cars?
May 16 17:40 2017 Print This Article

The West Ashley Master Plan took another step with the Work in Progress presentation by consulting firm Dover Kohl Saturday at Citadel Mall, with about 250 people in attendance.  The presentation focused on more high-density development and more people walking, bicycling and taking the bus to their destinations rather than driving cars.

Dover Kohl is a planning firm which embraces a concept called New Urbanism, revolving around fewer people driving cars. The Saturday presentation began with a video of a woman identified as Susan, who makes most of her trips on bicycle along the West Ashley Greenway. Susan said that she only fills up her car about every two months. Such a lifestyle surely has tremendous health and fitness advantages.  Read about New Urbanism here: http://newurbanism.org/newurbanism/principles.html

Dover Kohl, along with City staff, did a tremendous job of facilitating citizen workshops and providing technical experts in the areas of stormwater drainage, zoning, housing, landscaping, economic development, and others.  My concern is that the New Urbanism agenda does not match my desire to maintain West Ashley’s suburban character, featuring single-family homes and friendly neighborhoods.

A survey indicates that 84% of West Ashley residents commute outside of West Ashley every day.  The survey did not ask how far they travel.  Many Boeing employees live along the Bees Ferry Rd. corridor.  I can’t imagine them walking or riding bicycles on I-26.  What would a teacher look like after bicycling to Mt. Pleasant?  And mass transit is too inefficient.  A parent who owns a local jewelry store wrote on Facebook, “The consultants should walk a mile in my shoes.  I have two children who attend  different schools.”  She said she could never depend on mass transit to get her children to school and get to her store on time.

The draft West Ashley Master Plan will be published on http://PlanWestAshley.com in June or July.  One of the drawings available on the site now shows a rendering of the Citadel Mall with the existing parking lot filled with hotels, conference centers, apartments, and no parking spaces.  I live about three miles from the mall and would not go there without my car.  The cost of a pedestrian trail connecting my neighborhood with Citadel Mall would be prohibitive.  West Ashley resident Richard Davis, CEO of Trademark Properties, which heads up the mall’s new ownership group, envisions added retail spaces along the mall’s perimeter and a new Events Center inside the mall.

The preliminary plan has a lot of great suggestions.  One idea presented was painting highly visible crosswalks at intersections along congested roads so they are safe for pedestrian travel.  There would be a timing mechanism to prevent cars from turning onto the crosswalk when pedestrians are crossing.  Many suggestions were offered for improving stormwater drainage, including retrofitting parking lots with paver stones and landscaping to absorb runoff and restoring wetlands.  There were also plans submitted to create more park space and active recreation sites.

More than 550 people participated in citizen input workshops at John Wesley Methodist Church, West Ashley Middle School, Bees Ferry Recreation Center and West Ashley High School.  A lot of people who live along the Bees Ferry Rd. corridor wanted to see restaurant districts like Avondale in their area.  Former Gamecock basketball star and Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell made an appearance at the Charleston Sports Pub at Orange Grove Plaza, and it was nice to be able to walk there.

There is also a trend for law firms, architects and technology companies moving from downtown to West Ashley, where they have lower operating costs and can offer free parking to their employees and clients.  That would put many West Ashley employees closer to their offices.  Telecommuting should also be encouraged so that employees who work on computers may work from home.  The draft plan envisions growth in office and residential space along Sam Rittenberg and the Dupont-Wappoo overlay district along Savannah Hwy.

There are many positive developments which will make West Ashley a great place to live, work and play. I can envision more office space, better roads, beautiful landscaping, more parks and safe crosswalks so pedestrians can safely traverse busy intersections.  I think the suburban lifestyle involving the freedom of car travel is here to stay.  It’s up to each of us to contact Mayor John Techlenburg and our City Councilman and insist on the West Ashley we want, rather than the West Ashley the consultants want.