CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston could, and should, become a better place to walk and ride a bike, say the Imagine Charleston consultants who recently unveiled their draft plans for the city.
And Dennis Strawn, a longtime biking enthusiast and advocate, couldn't be happier.
"I looked at the plan and it looked great," he said.
Strawn was particularly struck by the "word cloud" the planners created from comments collected during public meetings, which highlighted the most frequent comments.
"The three that popped up were walking, biking and connections," he said.
"The things I've been talking about for years with my friends are also good for the city. It seems everybody else gets it too, which is wonderful."
Some improvements could arrive soon. Indeed, dual bike lanes for the Boulevard are already on the drawing board. But other changes will take time and money, and maybe a new attitude among motorists who seem to feel they own the streets, the consultants say.
"There's a non-urban kind of mentality in the state," said Craig Gossman of MKSK, author of the new Downtown Redevelopment Plan, which is part of the broader Comprehensive Plan. Both plans are in the final comment stage, pending final approval by City Council.
"That's not a criticism; it's a reality," Gossman said. "People drive in at 70 miles an hour, get off the interstate ramp and you ask them to drop down to 30 mph. It feels like you're standing still."
The cross streets in the downtown core provide natural impediments, he said.
"You don't see people speeding up Capitol Street. You just can't." It's narrow with people crossing, parked cars and trees.
But some longitudinal streets, up to four lanes wide with timed traffic signals, almost encourage speeding, Gossman said.
"When you drive on portions of Lee and Washington Street, with blank building walls and empty sidewalks, motorists get the message they can go 40, 50 mph."
The solution, said Comprehensive Plan author Brad Strader of LSL Planning, could be a concept called Complete Streets.
"It's using streets for all types of transportation, not just cars," he said. "It's a national trend. I think around 100 cities around the country have adopted it."
One "complete streets" project is already underway, said City Manager David Molgaard.
"One of the early things to come out of the plan, even before the final draft was written, is the bike lanes between Patrick Street and Magic Island," he said. "Brad Strader was very much in favor of that."
The city has hired engineers to design dual bike lanes that will run along the river edge of the Boulevard, using space carved out by eliminating the median strips and narrowing -- but not removing -- the four lanes for motorists.