Thursday, April 26, 2012

We Need to Share the Road

By Natalie Cowan
According to Meg Kinnard of the Post and Courier, South Carolina is currently ranked as the second most dangerous state in pedestrian fatalities, and the fatality rate has risen twenty percent from 2010, with a total of 110 pedestrian deaths in 2011.  The question remains: Is there a solution to reduce this rating?  One may believe that installing sidewalks into areas with heavy pedestrian traffic would not only help to decrease the fatality rate but would also increase the quality of life among residents throughout the Lowcountry. However, others disagree because there is not enough money to fund these projects. Providing sidewalks would benefit communities and individuals by increasing safety, improving accessibility, and promoting a healthier lifestyle.
A recent issue affecting the Lowcountry is the need for a sidewalk on Dorchester Road, one of the highest traffic areas in Charleston.  As the Charleston Planning Director, Bill Gore, states, “We definitely would like to see it go forward. We think it's a needed project.”  Now, this project is being postponed because the Department of Transportation (DOT) does not have enough money to fund the project. According to the Charleston Area Transportation Study (CHATS) committee, only six local bike and pedestrian projects were approved, totaling $4.16 million.  Robert Behre reported in an article in The Post & Courier that the committee has since learned that the DOT will start charging for its administrative costs, which will drive up the project cost by 25 percent and reduce the number of projects being completed.  The limits on bike and pedestrian projects is just a small part of how the state DOT has been grappling not only with short-term cash flow woes, but also a big gap between its projected income and needs over the next 20 years.
Most importantly, sidewalks are needed for the safety of our residents. A study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration concluded that providing walkways separated from travel lanes could help prevent up to 88 percent of accidents where a pedestrian is walking along the side of the road. Sidewalks provide a distinct distance between motorists and pedestrians in alignment with the road. As a result, pedestrians may feel more comfortable because there is a separated distance between them and the highway. Imagine cruising down a two lane road and approaching a runner along the side of the street at nighttime. If sidewalks were installed, one would not have to worry about reducing speed, swerving around the individual to pass, or even accidently hitting the pedestrian.  In some cases, tragic accidents do occur that could be prevented if only a sidewalk were present.
While those who advocate for more sidewalks feel that they should be built to promote safety, opponents feel that installing a sidewalk would not prevent a distracted driver from swerving an automobile off the road and hitting a pedestrian. In 2009, 5,474 people were killed (16 percent of total fatalities) and an estimated 448,000 people were injured (20 percent of total injuries) in crashes in which distracted driving is believed to have played a role.  As a result, opponents feel that spending money to build sidewalks is not the best use of the state’s funding. However, would allowing the DOT to continue planting new trees in order to improve landscaping be a better use of the state’s funding? While trees are important, many may disagree and believe that saving a pedestrian’s life is more crucial. 

Next, sidewalks not only provide safety for South Carolinian residents, but greater access to the community. Unfortunately, not all individuals are able to afford to drive a car due to the current state of the economy and their meager finances. For example, after one works to pay bills and put food on the table, there may not be enough money to pay for gas because of the constant increase in prices.  A study by the Alliance for Biking and Walking shows that from 2000-2009, the number of commuters who bicycled to work increased by 57 percent. Building sidewalks would allow citizens to travel to work, shop at local businesses, and engage in social events within their community. Consider being a business owner and the profits of the business declining because there is not enough accessibility to the area for individuals without the means of transportation. While many may disagree that sidewalks would only benefit pedestrians, in fact, it is actually benefiting the economy through growing business.
Also, sidewalks offer greater social engagement in the community. For example, individuals are more likely to stop and socialize with one another when they see neighbors walking. In addition to building community camaraderie, sidewalks offer greater security to neighborhoods. Would one want to burglarize a house where neighbors are active and have close relationships with one another?  Many agree that the presence of sidewalks and increased pedestrian activity will deter crime. However, others may disagree and believe that crime happens everywhere. While this may be true, sidewalks will provide better relationships among the community and enhance security.
Finally, the construction of sidewalks may increase the health of our citizens.  Right now South Carolina has about a 65 percent obesity rate, the sixth highest in the nation. In addition, children have a high obesity rate with about 33% now overweight or at a greater risk of becoming so. Many feel their health could be changed if they had a place to walk or run. For example, envision the ones who don’t have the money to go to a gym, don’t live in an apartment complex that offers a gym, or can’t afford exercise equipment. Being able to offer residents a sidewalk would allow them to exercise and become healthier at no monetary sacrifice. While the cost to the individual may be nothing, others believe sidewalks could contribute to increased maintenance costs and even greater taxes for the community. While this may be true, there is not any monetary value that can be placed on an individual’s welfare.

Sidewalks can play an important role in the communities throughout the Lowcountry. Sidewalks not only provide better safety to citizens, but may promote healthier lifestyle changes and possibly more social engagement. While the funding may be difficult and there could be additional expenses, between the state budget and community support, sidewalk projects should be completed. The allocation of funds from the budget to build sidewalks is needed to prevent pedestrian accidents and fatalities. Ultimately, no budget expense should ever be more important than the lives and health of the state’s citizens.

Works Citied
Behre, Robert. “Local Sidewalk Projects in Limbo.” The Post and Courier.
31.Jan.2012. Web.  01. Feb. 2012.
Kinnard, Meg. “ SC Record Slight Rise in Road Deaths.”  The Post and Courier.
03. Jan.2012. Web. 01. Feb.2012.
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.  Web . 04. Feb. 2012  
MUSC. “South Carolina’s Biggest Health Problems.” Web . 04. Feb. 2012
Safe Routes Partnership. “Increasing Walking and Biking.” Web. 04. Feb.2012
Alliance for Walking and Biking. “League of American Bicyclists.” Web.     04.Feb.2012.
Michigan Government. “ Sharing the Road Safely.” Web. 21. Feb. 2012.


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