Friday, May 18, 2018

Carolina Carpocalypse- Buses and Boats are Better

When a broken bridge is adding an hour to your morning commute, you should park your car and take the bus. It saves time. You can use your time on the bus which would be wasted sitting in a car. I've been salvaging my extra 40 minutes on the bus thanks to free WiFi, mobile computing and the cell phone.

The steel cable which held the Westbound span of the Wando River Bridge together was installed in the 1980s and ratcheted to the high tension required to hold the bridge together during hurricanes and earthquakes. I-526 was the 1950s sanswer to our future.  We were promised free flow traffic conditions for our cars. Now we're being told a thirty year old bridge may be at the end of it's useful life.

Our traffic savior turned on the Lowcountry before it reached middle age. It’s likely to be a while before we get it back. If repairs are actually completed on June 11, it will be the first major emergency repair job in human history completed as planned without discovering other problems which need to be fixed.

Heavy steel cable like those needed used to be made by Americans at Georgetown steel, seventy miles up the coast but that mill is closed. The union men at Georgetown Steel who made the cables which holds up the Ravenel bridge are now frying burgers for tourists in Myrtle Beach. Replacement cable may have to come from far away, perhaps Europe or Asia. Daniel Island, North Mount Pleasant and the Wando Port Terminal have boomed on the promise of a quick direct trip Westward to the employment, interstates and business that is in N. Charleston.

I take the CARTA #40 bus from the stop at Shelmore Blvd. to the Visitor’s Center in Downtown Charleston to get to my law practice on Church St. After I reach the visitor’s Center, I transfer to the DASH 211, CARTA 20 or HOP bus to complete my trip. I leave home at 8:15 am, get on the $40 bus at 8:30 and walk into my law office at 8:54.  It’s a trip of 6.5 miles and takes, door to door, 39 minutes from my morning egg to my stack of active files. I’ve been making this trip, or one similar to it since 1978.

This morning we got up an hour earlier and boarded the #40 bus, which arrived on time.  Unfortunately, before the bus had gone a mile, traffic locked up on Mathis Ferry Road, the frontage road and Highway 17 South in Mt. Pleasant. I arrived at my law office at 8:45, meaning the entire trip now takes 90 minutes, over twice as long.  Of course, anyone who decided to try to reach Charleston or N. Charleston at their regular time must have faced a worse delay.

However, if we’re going to live in gridlock, it’s better on the bus. A professional Amalgamated Transit Union driver fights the traffic. A 31,500 pound 1996 Atlanta Olympics legacy American Flyer transit bus iin the hands of a skilled diver is vastly superior weapon for the war on the roads we’re committed to at the moment.

I am able to work on my tablet and phone. My son Jackson finished his homework on his laptop and submitted it online using the free WI-FI. I did 45 minutes of paid work on the bus this morning. I still had time to contemplate the vast disaster our over-reliance on cars and roads has brought us to which one can see in every direction from the top of the Ravenel Bridge.

You are going to lose an hour every morning and afternoon fighting the Carolina Carpopolypse if you are sitting in your car. You can use that hour on the CARTA bus.
The CARTA express bus blew past my stop, avoiding the traffic on the main highway by running on the frontage road. CARTA drivers at dispatch are working out ways to shave minutes off our express service and get the buses back to the time table which is their religion.

Just use Google Transit on Google Maps to figure a trip from a place you can park to where you need to go downtown or in N. Charleston. Make sure your phone and laptop are fully charged. You can’t take your morning beverage on the bus due to sanitation concerns, but you can talk with frinds, do your work, make your morning phone calls and look out at the view of gridlocked roads and open water which surrounds us in the Lowcountry.

That water wasn’t gridlocked this morning. Our creeks and rivers offer as a alternative transportation system just waiting to be used.  The new Daniel Island Ferry makes its first run Thursday.  There are boat landings all through North Mt. Pleasant which can be pressed into service now as ferry landings. We have a vast fleet of commercially licensed tour boats and water taxis tied up to our docks. Like the allies and Dunkurk, we must call up our fleet to save us from this emergency.

I honestly love the bus. I’m legally blind and I’ve never been able to drive. I’ve fought successfully as the Executive Director of Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit to win the 2016 referendum, to get new bus stops built, to raise awareness of what transit can do for the Lowcountry and to successfully run the first CARTA Kino game at the Recovery Room on King St. I’ve done all of this work with the help of wonderful, often struggling people. I’ve grown to like a hard fight, against long odds shared with people who have problems.

Our problem is that the automobile and highway have finally betrayed us. We’re facing a week of rain and high tides with a broken bridge leading us into a major tourism weekend and the Spoleto Festival. Our politics is screwed up in ways the rest of this newspaper can tell you. Our country is screwed up. We wasted the muscle and treasure of the republic for 50 years importing Arab oil while we neglected our transit, industry and infrastructure. (It’s infrastructure week Ironcally.) Now the Satan must be paid for our autocentric sins.

However we are Charleston. We’ve been through Hugo, the Civil War, pestilence, earthquakes and worse. We’re a water going people and ferry’s and rivers were our transportation system for the first 150 years of our history. The rivers, boats and docks are still there. I could take a boat to work. I did it two years ago when the Ravened Bridge locked up. Once you are downtown the free DASH buses take you everywhere. Our elected leaders need to call up the fleet, shut down the excuse makers and put our community back on its boats.  The elected leader who steps up and leads this effort now will get a promotion in the next election. The ones who don’t will likely be sent home with an appreciation plaque.

Then I’ll need to decide if I want to take the bus from the Shelmore bus stop or the Ferry from the I’On Communty dock on Hobcaw Creek. It’s a choice I welcome. A little more freedom is a good thing for an American.

William J. Hamilton, III
Executive Director
Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit, Inc.
Home- 32 Sowell Street (I’On), Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464
Work- 171 Church St. Ste. 160, Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 870-5299

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