By Susan Hill Smith for Island Eye News
Isle of Palms City Council Member Susan Hill Smith accepted a challenge issued by the nonprofit advocacy group Charleston Moves for elected officials to take at least one trip a day by foot, bike or bus for eight days in celebration of Car Free Week. Here are excerpts from a journal of her efforts to get out and move.
Saturday, Sept. 22
I stayed on Isle of Palms and did not drive or ride in a motor vehicle all day.
In the morning, I walked to the beach and back with our family’s two dogs. We are fortunate to live two and a half blocks away from the ocean, but my husband and I usually golf cart to the access path at the end of our street.
It was a brilliant day for a beach walk, and I chatted with friends, including one resident who wants the city to do more maintenance of our beach access paths.
Midday, I ran errands by bike, visiting Delta Pharmacy and Harris Teeter grocery store – and I remembered to bring my reusable bags. The stores are only about half a mile away from my house, but I would usually drive over to shop. I used my friend’s pink beach cruiser, which had a basket that helped me get my groceries back home, but I still felt limited in what I could purchase. This prevented me from overbuying ice cream on sale, so maybe for the best.
Sunday, Sept. 23
We wound up golf-carting over to Isle of Palms First United Methodist Church Sunday morning, like usual, and I wondered if I get partial credit for using a battery-powered golf cart.
My son had a sleepover Saturday, and after the Praise Service, the four boys I brought stayed for Coffee House, a new church program for teens, as I went back to the house to make breakfast. I purposefully neglected to pick the boys up so they had to walk back. More partial credit for me?
During the afternoon, I biked 12 blocks on Waterway Blvd. to attend a birthday party for a favorite friend’s 2-year-old son. Bumps and wear related to tree roots and other factors make it difficult for bicyclists to use the multi-use path on Waterway successfully, so I stayed on the two-lane road like many cyclists do.
City Council budgeted money to determine a better long-term solution for improving that multi-use path for cyclists and pedestrians, and we have talked about adding paved bike lanes along the road. We’re hoping to get county transportation funds to help make improvements a reality because they won’t be an easy fix.
After the party, I cycled through interior neighborhood streets and stopped to talk to a friend on Forest Trail. It probably goes without saying, but traveling by bike and on foot clearly opens up more possibilities for interacting with people on the island.
Tuesday, Sept. 25
I walked to our City Council meeting tonight – 4,231 steps there and back. My route to Isle of Palms City Hall took me past the Palm Blvd. shops and through our island’s busy traffic light intersection at the Isle of Palms Connector.
City Council recently heard we will receive county transportation funds to make this intersection more pedestrian and bike friendly, with particular care for those entering the island off the connector, where cyclists turning right get squeezed.
Honestly, you don’t see a lot of pedestrians trying to cross any of these multi-lane crosswalks here. But I was surprised on the return trip that the button I pushed to trigger a crosswalk signal actually worked for me in as little as 30 seconds.
Another return trip bonus: Seeing our church at the S curve lit up at night from a pedestrian point of view.
Yesterday, I biked over to church for a Monday morning meeting. I can’t say that I have been entirely car-free this week, but I am on track to fulfill my pledge.
Wednesday, Sept. 26
My husband, Mic, and I took our dogs for a beach walk during morning off-leash hours, which I try to do as many times a week as possible. Like many others, I love the freedom off-leash time allows people and dogs to exercise and socialize by the ocean.
City Council recently attracted attention with an initial vote to require all visiting dogs to register with the city. We have since discussed scaling that back so city registration is only required for dogs in off-leash situations at the beach and our Bark Park, where that added layer of accountability and assurance of rabies inoculation would help most, for the sake of everyone in the mix.
To make it enforceable, we’ve talked about a switch from a metal tag to a colored collar to show a dog has been registered with the city, similar to the setup Sullivan’s Island has had for several years, but with a less expensive registration fee of $5 for residents and $10 for non-residents.
To me, that’s very reasonable for the off-leash opportunities the city provides and the related costs of our Bark Park, animal control officers – and even poop bags. However, the future of the proposed ordinance changes appear uncertain.
Thursday, Sept. 27
Mic and I biked over to the Isle of Palms Farmers’ Market – held from 3-7 p.m. Thursdays through October. This is the market’s second year, and they made some changes to the setup at Isle of Palms County Park that make it even more comfortable and inviting – for example pushing it closer to the ocean and park facilities – with the city covering free parking on site.
I enjoyed Snickerdoodle gelato, caught up with my IOP friend at her booth, Suzi’s Creations, purchased some local honey from R&R Acres in a reusable bottle and loaded up on vegetables from the sweet folks at Freeman Produce, where they always seem to throw in something for free.
How lucky are we to have a Farmers’ Market a few steps from the beach? Feeling blessed at all the opportunities we have on the island.
Friday, Sept. 28
My friend Ellen Smith usually takes CARTA to her work as a nurse at Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC in Charleston, and I joined her Friday morning for my first CARTA bus ride ever.
At 7:30 a.m., Ellen picked me up and drove us from Isle of Palms to her stop by the “old” Walmart at Wando Crossing Center in Mount Pleasant. She picks up the Express 2, which has minimal stops and usually gets her to Hollings by 8:15 a.m.
Ellen balances a busy life that includes two children and involvement at IOP First United Methodist Church, where her husband is pastor. When she’s on the bus, she gets stuff done like work on church projects. For other regulars on the route, the ride is more social.
Many are headed to MUSC and College of Charleston, and with their ID’s they ride CARTA for free. While I had to pay $3.50 one way for the Express ride – in cash with exact change – passes are available to reduce the overall costs.
Even though Ellen was named Cancer Nurse of the Year at Hollings this spring, it could take as many as five to eight years for her to move up the waiting list for a preferred MUSC parking spot, and while she has other options, CARTA Express is the one that makes the most sense for her. Her CARTA routine also results in reduced gas costs and less vehicle wear and tear, with the silver lining that it’s better for the environment.
If she could start her bus ride from Isle of Palms, she says that could be even better. Right now, CARTA does not have any routes to the island, but that looks like it could change.
IOP City Council’s representative to CARTA, Jimmy Ward, and our city staff have been talking with CARTA folks about establishing an Isle of Palms route that could help us with seasonal traffic issues. That sounded like a good idea to Candice, the bus driver on my return trip, who said she fields questions from folks who want to ride CARTA to the beach but have no mass transit options.
Saturday, Sept. 29
As the challenge came to a close, I scored another personal first by bicycling the entire Isle of Palms Connector bridge with my husband.
The ride was much easier than I expected, and with the 10-speed Mic rehabbed from our neighbor’s trash pile, I didn’t have to get off and walk to get up the hill, coming or going.
Altogether, our 7.8-mile round trip, which took us past Target band back, took 44 minutes and 12 seconds.
While each side of the bridge includes space that walkers and bicyclists can use, I would have enjoyed the ride more without vehicles whizzing past us doing 55 MPH and up. In a better world, there would be some kind of barricade for greater protection, like they have on the Cooper River bridge, and as I enjoyed views of Gray Bay I wondered if we can work with S.C. Department of Transportation to do something more.
Clearly, the Car Free Week challenge was designed to get us moving and thinking. For that, I would like to thank Charleston Moves and encourage others to challenge themselves to become less dependent on vehicles to get around.
Over the course of the eight-day week, I gained valuable perspective, connected on a different level with my community and was reminded several times over that we live in a fantastic place. I also feel good about the calories I burned – and the gas I didn’t.
Learn more about Charleston Moves at charlestonmoves.org.