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City Council, October 23

Traffic issues for Harleston Village, and for Broad and Meeting Streets
City gets an unusual $1m gift from Spaulding-Paolozzi Foundation
Marc Knapp

There were two controversial items on yesterday’s City Council agenda. The first was to change traffic on Rutledge and Ashley Avenues between Broad and Calhoun Streets from one to two-way. The second was to allow carriage tours along Broad and Meeting Streets between the hours of 4 pm and 6 pm. Presently, tours are prohibited in this peak traffic time. Council approved the first ordinance but rejected the second proposal.

Harleston villagers welcome the change
A number of citizens spoke on the traffic flow conversion. The majority was from the Harleston Village area and spoke in favor. They claimed the conversion would reduce the speed of traffic along both avenues and improve the safety of pedestrians. The Mayor said that the change should reduce traffic speeds on average from about 35mph to about 29-30 mph. The staff and others also noted the success achieved in slowing traffic on Beaufain and Wentworth Streets by converting them from one to two-way traffic.

Opponents to the change did not welcome the concomitant reduction in traffic flow and thought the change would increase traffic flows on parallel streets above Calhoun, and probably lead to congestion. They claimed there were other means of slowing traffic such as speed bumps and traffic signals.

Why not two-way traffic from Broad to Battery?
Somebody asked why the extension of two-way traffic was not made for both avenues from Broad Street to the Battery. The Mayor responded saying the roads narrowed and although two-way traffic was possible, it would be achieved at the expense of necessary kerb-side parking. This was too a high a price to pay by the community.

We concede that a decision was a hard one for Council. In broad terms it was a matter of deciding in favor of local residents or for those who commute frequently into the City and face longer commuting times. The City Council unanimously favored the local citizens.

Move to allow horse carriages on Broad and Meeting Streets in peak evening hours rejected
But it was the commuters that Council favored in relation to horse carriage tour restrictions on Broad Street on the afternoon peak traffic period. Presently the ordinance does not allow carriage tours between the hours of 4 pm to 6 pm on Broad and Meeting Streets. The Tourism Commission decided that this was too onerous on the carriage companies. Mr. Tom Doyle who represents the carriage industry and is the principal of Palmetto Carriage Company, spoke in Citizens Participation in favor of the repeal but made no mention of the possible traffic congestion if the repeal were approved.

One citizen protests
Mr. Doyle followed comments by Mrs. Pat Jones who with others has been a frequent critic of the City’s carriage horse regulations. She pointed to the likely traffic congestion and the potential hazards to horses. She also reminded Council that it had hired a veterinarian consultant to advise it on shaping the Carriage Horse Ordinance The consultant stated at that time that horses should not be on major streets in peak traffic periods, not only because of their contribution to congestion, but the hazard to the horses and passengers. Staff assured him that the ordinance did not allow this. And here is the City changing its mind after "getting the nod" from the veterinarian for its Carriage Horse ordinance! Mrs. Jones also told Council that its ordinance was flawed as it took no account of the unlimited use of carriages at all times and anywhere, if they were engaged in “transportation purposes” and not tours.

A dithering performance by Council
The performance of Council when the issue was addressed raised a few questions. Before any discussion, Council member Lewis sought approval for the repeal and was quickly seconded by Council member Bleeker. It had all of the appearance of a likely “rubber stamping”. But then Council member Evans spoke of her unease, and of course, her great respect for the Tourism Commission. She was concerned about the traffic congestion that could be created. She was followed by Mayor Riley who went further and suggested that there should be no repeal because of the impact on traffic, and the creation of “unsafe conditions”. Council member Wilson comments echoed the Mayor’s with acknowledgement of respects for the Tourism Commission. There after it seemed to be confusion.

Had something gone wrong? Wasn’t this repeal supposed to sail through, Council members may have asked? Council members dithered as to what they were voting for. Council member Shirley sort of agreed with everybody and suggested that although he would reject the repeal, the ordinance should be tweaked in some way to assist the carriage operators.

Ultimately, Council member Bleeker withdrew her second and Council member Lewis his motion. Another motion was approved to reject the repeal as it stood but for staff to meet with the carriage operators and “tweak” the proposed amendment - whatever that means.

More disturbing were the concerns about Mr. Doyle’s happiness by enquiring Council members at the close of the session. A number clustered around him presumably to assure him of their future support. No one sought out Mrs. Jones!

$1 million gift for DockStreet Theatre
Another item of interest was a $1 million gift to the City by the Spaulding-Paolozzi Foundation, for the renovation of the DockStreet Theatre. There was no discussion by Council on this strange gift but my associate, Warwick Jones drew attention to the contravention of the purposes of the Foundation. He read out the purposes from a form submitted to the IRS by the Foundation (See Was the Spaulding -Paolozzi Gift Proper? July 27, 2005) and asked how the grant conformed to the purposes of the Foundation, defined by the late Countess. He noted that Mayor Riley was a trustee of the Foundation. Although the Trustees could legally make the gift, it was morally questionable, he said. It also was morally questionable whether the City should accept the gift.

We would have thought “trust” was the primary attribute expected of a trustee. And it certainly should be for a Mayor of this City!

Take lead from County and stop distributions to Charities
There was also a public hearing regarding the proposed 2008 proposed City Budget. As the public has not seen the proposed budget, it is hard to comment. But some non-profit groups thanked/pleaded for funds. I noted that the County has done away with distributions to “outside agencies” because of public pressure. It was appropriate that the City do the same. It was strapped for funds presently, largely because of the expense related to the Sofa Store fire. The charities seeking funds may be deserving, and engaged in worthy causes, but it was not the role of City government to support them.
City should support County’s effort to consolidate dispatch services
Both I and Warwick Jones spoke about the County’s plan to move ahead to consolidate dispatch services in the County. The County estimated the establishment cost at about $17 million and running costs of about $10 million a year, all of which it will fund without recourse to the cities or municipalities. Not only should there be a more efficient service, but the municipalities will no longer have to fund a dispatch service. We could not find a figure for spending on dispatch services in the City’s financial accounts for 2006 but guess the figure would run to more than a million dollars a year

All the municipalities cooperated in reviewing the consolidation, including the City of Charleston. But only the City of Charleston has signaled reluctance to join the effort. A formal request is still to be made by the County and the City may well join. But we don’t understand its reluctance, nor do many in the County. We can see no reason except pride, and the desire for the maintenance of control. This is not enough to keep the City out. Financial prudence and greater efficiency dictate that the City agrees to participate. If the City decides to go alone, then the citizens need a good explanation.