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Greening of West Ashley

City Praised for First Phase of Work on its Bikeway

Harry Lesesne, the executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy stands 
on the new and improved West Ashley BikewayHarry Lesesne, the executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy stands on the new and improved West Ashley Bikeway

February 12, 2018
By Bill Davis | News Editorl

All Harry Lesesne sees is opportunities as he walks down the newly finished parts of the city’s renovation of the West Ashley Bikeway.

“Over there could be a community garden, over there could be planted with ornamentals, maybe a playground there, or a community gathering spot there,” says Lesesne, the executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy

So much has happened in the city’s first phase of work beginning at Playground Road and going past St. Andrew’s Boulevard that Lesesne finds himself turning around backward as he walks to take it all in.

Dubbed the Forest Acres Drainage Improvement Project, more than 27,000 yards of soil has already been excavated in the city’s effort to not only guard the area from flooding, but to also beautify a host of neighborhoods from East Oak Forest down to Washington Park.

Underlying it all is a reworked combination of a dual box culvert pipe drainage system along with more than four football fields of open channel. The gravity system of drainage replaced an antiquated and overmatched pump station located at the path’s intersection with Playground Road.

But it’s how the city handled the surface elements of its linear park that excites Lesesne and Steve Kirk, the city’s project manager.

“Whenever the city has a major drainage project like this one, where we have to literally tear something up, we are always looking for the opportunity to ‘dress it up’ at the end of the day,” says Kirk, who wanted to make sure the landscaping did more than just cover up the drainage improvements.

“The bikeway was definitely not attractive, and not at all safe to ride on, as it had roots pushing up in areas,” says Kirk.

To make the bikeway more visually attractive, the city planted more than 100 trees around what is now a meandering asphalt bike path, says Laura Cabiness, Director/City Engineer at City’s Department of Public Service. This augments the various patches of open water and new grass, among other design elements.

According to Cabiness, the project is evidence of how Charleston wants to join with other cities that “live with” water. “We want to make it an asset, not just hide and push it behind someone’s backyard … we work hard at making [water] something everyone can appreciate and restore habitat while we’re at it,” she says.

Birds have long found a niche along the bikeway, with cranes often taking up elegant repose in ponds along the old path while standing next to all kinds of refuse, like shopping carts, that has been deposited.

The work, which began in January of last year, was long, and according to one resident who lives alongside the bikeway, very loud. Especially on cold winter mornings.

Johnny “Puke” Hanley has lived along the bikeway for the past 10 years, having just purchased his rental home located behind a church parking lot last year.

Hanley and the church’s plots served as an ersatz parking lot and turnaround spot for months on end, as Magnolia Road was blocked right in front of their adjoining properties.

Hanley likes what he sees, and knows it’s already added  to the value of his home to have a landscaped municipal park right out his back door. But, living next to a construction site was especially tough for him, as he works down the street as the bartender at Tin Roof.

“Sometimes I wouldn’t get off until 3:30 a.m. and wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until 5:30 a.m.,” and then the crews would start warming up the engines of their machines just a few hours later. “It was like living next to an earthquake some days,” Hanley says, still pleased with the results.

Cabiness says special care was taken in trying to preserve the quality of life of those living along the construction corridor. She says the toughest part of the first phase was not the digging or the engineering, but acquiring the easements to work on the land.

As excited as Lesesne is about what’s been done along the bikeway, which cuts through the woods just a few hundred feet from his office’s home at The Schoolhouse, he also sees some areas needing improvement.

Standing at where the bikeway intersects with St. Andrews Boulevard, Lesesne wonders how people are supposed to get to the other side. “We’re mid-block, and the nearest street light is a quarter-mile away,” he says as pre-rush hour traffic zooms by.

He likens the situation to where the bikeway nears Savannah Highway, within a few tantalizing blocks from the West Ashley Greenway. “At least there’s a light there,” says Lesesne.

And, he says, there could be a better “way” for bike traffic: meandering paths may be more visually pleasing but a “straight shot” approach would better serve cyclists looking to commute.

Next up, the city will be continuing subsequent phases further up the bikeway away from the Ashley River. Next up for Lesesne and the Parks Conservancy will be finishing a fundraising effort to create a master plan for further improving the bikeway and the West Ashley Greenway.

Standing along the bikeway on the inland side of where it intersects with Magnolia Road, Lesesne stares at where the future phases will take place. “The good news is, it’s already cool,” he says.


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