By Frank Mansbach and Mary McGowan
We at Bike Walk Greenville recently posted a disturbing photo on social media showing the tire tracks of a reckless motorist driving directly through the center refuge island at the intersection of state Highway 253 and the Green Line of the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail system. @GVLToday shared the photo with its readers.
The post received several hundred comments, and many said we need safer infrastructure: “let’s build a bridge.” Others commented that they have seen too many near misses at this location and thus would never attempt to cross by foot or by bike. While the safety hazard posed by this intersection is immediately apparent to all, we believe the community must better understand the challenges of getting safer infrastructure funded and built.
What we have witnessed since we founded our nonprofit in 2013 is that limited budget allocation for safe biking and walking infrastructure and very long implementation timelines are preventing the completion of projects that would bring real, meaningful changes to our community.
The Greenville County Recreation Department had investigated a bridge over Highway 253 and found that due to adjacent high-voltage power lines and the required length and height of the bridge, the cost would exceed $3 million, and no such public money was available.
With more than 5 million users to date, the popular Swamp Rabbit Trail is a prime example of safe multimodal infrastructure, and the continued expansion of the SRT network will be a great thing for our community. The city of Greenville has dedicated a significant amount of hospitality tax money to the SRT network, including $4 million for bridges for the SRT extension from Cleveland Park to CU-ICAR. Greenville County has invested over $10 million to create and maintain the SRT system since 2009.
The Greenville Pickens Area Transportation Study will dedicate 10% of all funding starting in 2024 for biking and walking projects. Its long-range transportation plan funds the SRT expansion to Mauldin in 2024-30, and the Simpsonville SRT is funded in 2031-40. That seems a very long way off to us.
Unfortunately, the safety of the SRT does not translate to our local roads and streets. The dangers to people on foot and on bike whose travels require braving roads that have been designed to move only motor vehicles is obvious. For example, the report Dangerous by Design 2019 documents nine pedestrian deaths (2008-17) within a mile of the Highway 253 and SRT intersection.
Through our experience in local advocacy over the years, we have concluded that bringing meaningful impact to the safety of people walking or biking along major thoroughfares is not realistic under the current budget and timeline limitations. The cost to retrofit our car-centric roads with modern people-centric design with wide sidewalks separated from traffic, street trees and protected bike lanes — “complete streets” — simply requires funding and urgency that is currently nonexistent.
So, what can be done?
Bike Walk Greenville will continue to advocate for increased government funding for safe biking and walking projects. We will also endeavor to accelerate timelines by looking for opportunities to develop new public-private partnerships. The Lakeview Link project that now connects Lakeview Middle School to the SRT had no projected timeline for constructed until we raised private funding to partner with the county.
Individuals in our community also have their own roles in making their voices heard. All of our elected officials at the state, county and cities need to understand from their constituents that we have been designing our community around cars for too long. A forward-thinking investment in multimodal infrastructure will reap economic, societal and public-health benefits that will benefit Greenville for generations. Now is the time to start designing our community for people.
Frank Mansbach is the executive director of Bike Walk Greenville and became an advocate after being hit on his bike by a distracted driver in 2010.
Mary McGowan is a board member of Bike Walk Greenville who commutes by bike and witnesses too many distracted drivers.