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Cycling, walking face uphill climb in S.C.

The State.com: Cycling, walking face uphill climb in S.C.

South Carolina ranks near the bottom in commuting by bike or on foot

By JOEY HOLLEMAN - jholleman@thestate.com

South Carolina ranks in the top 5 states in obesity and the bottom five in bicycle and pedestrian safety.

It's no coincidence, according to cycling advocates.

South Carolina also ranks 47th among the states in percentage of its federal transportation dollars spent on biking and walking projects - just 0.4 percent compared to around 3 percent for the states in the top 10.

Non-vehicle commuters, by gender: About 90 percent of bike commuters in South Carolina are men, and 56 percent of pedestrian commuters are men.

The statistics compiled by the Alliance for Biking & Walking in an exhaustive national report indicate South Carolina has a long way to go to catch up to other states.

The report "clearly demonstrates that in order to make our streets safe and inviting for all citizens, and to reverse the obesity epidemic looming over South Carolina, state and local officials must make investing in bicycling and walking a long-term priority," said Rachael Kefalos, director of the Palmetto Cycling Coalition.

The state did make progress last year on one measurement in the report. Lawmakers passed new regulations in 2009 that require drivers to leave a safe distance when passing cyclists on highways and outlaw harassing cyclists.

"The bill actually put South Carolina in the position to lead other states in terms of our rights for cyclists," Kefalos said.

But laws are cheap compared to adding bike lanes and sidewalks. While the state Department of Transportation has shown some initiative by staging an annual bike/pedestrian conference to talk about changes in recent years, the level of federal funding for bike and pedestrian projects remains low compared to other states.

But there have been a few major success stories on the construction front. DOT included bike-pedestrian lanes on the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston and the S.C. 6 expansion over the Lake Murray dam. Both have been extremely popular, creating the unusual problems of not enough parking for people who want to walk at both projects.

"Data show that increasing investment in biking and walking could lead to more people biking and walking," said Jeff Miller, president of the Alliance for Biking and Walking, a national organization. "The more people who bike and walk, the safer it is, and the healthier the community. It's a virtuous cycle."