The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, February 25

Mayor Riley gets his way on bike lane
A resolution on shore power - palliative rather than substantive?
Marc Knapp

Mayor Riley is never happy being on the losing side of an issue, and who is? We suspect that he would be particularly unhappy if Council voted against the creation of a bike and pedestrian (b&p) lane across the T. Allen Legare Bridge. He has invested much time in the project and generated considerable excitement within the cycling community and amongst employees of the City hospitals. Rightly or wrongly, directly or indirectly, the City alerted the interested groups of the pending debate and their members showed up en masse last night to speak in favor of the b&p lane.

There were probably about 40 speakers in Citizens Participation, certainly many more than normal. In such situations, the Mayor usually limits speakers to two minutes or less. But no limits were imposed last night, at least for about the first hour. Thereafter it was 2 minutes. It seemed to us that the Mayor wanted supporters to get as much time as necessary. Fortunately, few spoke longer than about 3 minutes. But Citizens Participation still stretched for more than 2 hours, and the Council meeting for more than 5 hours.

The media has given much though not full coverage of the issue. At last night’s meeting, Council did vote in favor but there was a lot of opposition. The five Council members voted against approval were Moody, Alexander, Waring, White and Wagner. They were not opposed to the creation of a b&p lane as such, but this one would be at the expense of a traffic lane. To take away a traffic lane was going to cause difficulties, perhaps major difficulties and in only a few years. The Council members all noted considerable opposition to the traffic lane closure by their constituents.

Traffic and Transportation Director Pena gave a presentation to Council highlighting the plan, its history and estimates of future traffic flows by the SC DOT. The b&p lane would be on the northern side of the bridge and exit on to Lockwood Boulevard. Another traffic lane would be added to the single lane exit on to Bee Street. There was much data on projected traffic flows and at different future dates. But in short, the traffic should slow with the removal of one lane from the 4 lane entrance to the bridge and help improve safety. Although traffic flows will increase in time, significant congestion was unlikely for many years – probably not before 2030.

Council member Alexander was not happy about these projections and noted that traffic flows may have remained flat over the years immediate prior to 2011, but they had since accelerated. He speculated that with the development underway in the City and beyond, traffic flows would increase at a faster rate than that predicted by the City. He thought that extreme congestion levels could be reached by 2020 which could necessitate the conversion of the b&p lane back to vehicular traffic. He concluded with the observation that the b&p lane would be completed by 2016 at an estimated cost of $1.5 million – a high price for something that was likely to last for only a few years.

Interestingly, there was only one citizen who rose to speak against the lane closure – me. My view coincides with the opposing Council members. I think the possibility of accidents will increase and that congestion is likely sooner rather than later. I also think that this is another situation where the will of a very well organized and shrill minority has prevailed against the majority view. We will need to wait for the lane closure to occur to measure its full impact. We could be wrong, but we expect a backlash from citizens.

On reflection, we are surprised that the issue came before Council only 2 weeks ago. The concept has been around for some time and been studied by the County. From the reaction of some Council members, it seems that the opinion of Council had never been asked. We confess to imperfect recall, but we can’t remember the issue ever being discussed even though the concept had been fully aired in the media for some two years or more.

Not all of the speakers in Citizens Participation last night were there for the bike lane issue. Some were there to air their view on Shore Power for cruise ships and indeed some were there to speak on both issues. Before Council was a resolution supporting the introduction of shore power to serve cruise ships at the port. In fact, there were two resolutions; the first prepared by Council member Gregorie and which was in the public information package. The second was prepared by Mayor Riley and distributed to members at the meeting.

Neither resolution was binding. Indeed how could they be as the City does not have jurisdiction over the Ports Authority or Carnival Cruise Lines? Council member Gregorie’s resolution had 5 paragraphs, of which 4 were simply “feel good” expressions. The Mayor’s had only one and in many respects it was similar to the final paragraph of Council Member Gregorie’s.

Herewith is Council member Gregorie's proposed final paragraph.

Now therefore be it resolved by the Mayor and City Council of Charleston, in City Council assembled that City Council supports and encourages the South Carolina General Assembly enacting, and the Governor signing legislation that accomplishes the goal of installing shore side power capabilities for the planned cruise terminal for Charleston.

And the the Mayor’s proposed resolution.

Now therefore be it resolved by the Mayor and Councilmembers of Charleston, in City Council assembled that City Council endorses the actions taken, and to be taken, by the State Ports Authority in maintaining and improving the air quality at the Union Pier terminal and supports the efforts by the General Assembly to assure that funding is available for the installation of shore power at the new passenger terminal, as and when needed.

Council member Gregorie had issues with the above resolution but they seemed largely semantic. He acquiesced and accepted the Mayor’s proposal, an acquiescence that possibly reflected a perception that he lacked votes. Council ultimately voted for the Mayor's resolution with Council members Riegel and Williams voting against. They thought that the SPA and Carnival knew what they were doing, had in mind the best interests of the citizens, and that the resolution was not needed.

Mr. Jim Newsome, CEO of the State Port Authority gave a presentation at the beginning of last night’s session. He spoke of the environmental gains the SPA had achieved over recent years at the port, particularly with the retirement of old and inefficient trucks and the use of fuel with lower sulfur content. He also spoke of scrubbers, their introduction on the Fantasy and the reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions. New marine engines were far more efficient and emitted lower levels of pollutants. This and the mandated use of low sulfur fuel after 2015 would lead to further pollution reductions. The Fantasy, he said, has been using low sulfur fuel since the end of last year. As noted already in the press, the SPA plans to install an air monitoring station at Union Pier to supplement stations already at Wando and North Charleston.

Mr. Newsome clearly indicated that he did not think shore based power was needed now. It could be needed in the future and the new terminal at Union Pier will be constructed to allow its introduction if necessary. But shore based power was not promised and indeed, Mr. Newsome indicated that new technologies and engines might make shore power redundant. He added that the cost of installing shore power could be as much as $20 million.

We didn’t count the number of speaker favoring shore power but it was probably more than 20. Only two spoke against it, or more accurately, its immediate installation. The two speakers were my associate Warwick Jones and myself. There was probably nothing new said on both sides of the issue that has not already been said so we won’t burden readers with a repetition. We expect something more will be posted on this site in the next few days.

However, there are some things we will say about the new resolution. Tyrone Richardson of the Post and Courier who covered the issue at Council seemed to think it was a victory for the shore side power agitators. But was it?

The resolution was just that – not binding. But even if it were binding, does it commit the SPA to installing shore based power? “When and as needed” depends on the judgment of the SPA. It may never judge that it is needed. More interestingly, the resolution relates to Union Pier, not to any other pier such as Columbus Street. So does this further commit Council to the SPA plan to develop Union Pier and ignore the demands of those cruise ship opponents who want to move the terminal to Columbus Street? The resolution may not split the ranks of the cruise ships opponents, but it might make a dent.

We never asked spoke to Mr. Newsome for his reaction to the resolution, but the Post and Courier reported his satisfaction.

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