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How can Charleston adapt to increasing demand for walkable communities?

Updated: Apr 30

By Chaela Morris

Americans want to live in walkable communities, according to a 2023 National poll, and the  same holds true for Charleston residents. 

According to a 2020 report, 0.2% of Charleston residents bike to work, 1.9% of residents walk to work, and 0.5% take public transportation.

 These numbers are only expected to grow, except now it may not be the safest idea.

According to a 2022 news article, South Carolina ranks No. 3 among the deadliest states for pedestrians and bikers. 

Katie Zimmerman, executive director of Charleston Moves, agrees.

“Most of our roads are not safe for vulnerable road users,” she said. “You've got all of these people who don’t have another option for how they get around, so they are forced in these dangerous positions. We [also] have a whole lot of people who would choose not to drive for certain trips if the other ways to get around were actually safe.”

A recent Forbes article also pointed out that mental health and overall happiness is better when residents live in walkable communities. 

“A significant number of people are happier if they live in attractive, walkable places that enable social connections and trust in others,” wrote Carlton Reid for Forbes

But making Charleston safe for this kind of lifestyle is not a quick fix.

“It really boils down to design,” Zimmerman said.

With Charleston Moves, Zimmerman spends her time working with elected officials, collecting data, and standing on intersections counting cyclists to assess how the roads are really being used. 

“When you redesign your infrastructure and you prioritize the most vulnerable user, you end up having everyone following the laws…everybody being safer and collision and crash rates going down substantially,” Zimmerman said.

In the past few years, the desire for walkability has increased, making it imperative to make safety a top priority.

Chris Brooksheir, a Charleston native, does not think change is coming soon. 

“I’ve seen the way the government operates…it’s just where the money comes from, and you know where it goes,” he said, explaining that "how they apply the money" doesn't always go to the most important places.

Zimmerman appears more optimistic.

 “There’s been improvement…in the 17 years since I stopped driving,” she said. “We've seen a lot of elected officials as well who, seven years ago, would roll their eyes at this kind of thing. Now, they're actively campaigning on it."

Anyone who wants to get involved should get to know their state legislators, speak at council meetings, and participate in bike headcounts. 

Zimmerman explains why getting involved with your legislators matters, 

“Somebody that has that experience in this moment has got to get these elected officials to understand the problem," she said. "Because they aren't out there, they don't know what the issues are.” 

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