A 3-block stretch of Harden Street in Five Points, from Blossom Street to Gervais Street, is the most dangerous in the South Carolina for pedestrians and bicyclists, according to a Road Safety Audit being conducted by the S.C. Department of Transportation.
Also, the Blossom Street/Devine Street corridor through Five Points comes in at No. 10 on the list.
The ranking has the Five Points Association and the village’s state representative and senator calling for the busy street to be narrowed from four lanes to two. Harden Street is the main artery through the urban village near the University of South Carolina.
“We are talking about the future of Five Points,” said state Rep. Seth Rose, a Democrat. “We have a charming urban village down there with what feels like a four-lane highway running through it.”
The audit shows that the 0.44-mile-long Harden Street corridor had 12 car-pedestrian/bike crashes during the study period from 2013 to 2017. That’s a rate of 27.3 crashes per mile.
The 2.42-mile-long Blossom/Devine Street corridor, which runs from Huger Street to Holly Street and also includes a block of Harden street, had 16 crashes for the same period, or 6.6 crashes per mile.
Of more concern is that most of the Harden Street crashes — eight — occurred from midnight to 3 a.m., said Rob Perry, the state’s director of traffic engineering. That’s a time when Five Points is flooded with young people, mostly college students who have been partying in the village’s numerous bars.
The other peak time, around lunch, saw three collisions.
“That’s almost three times as many crashes after midnight than at the other peak time,” Perry said. Perry said he did not believe any of those collisions resulted in deaths.
The narrowing of Harden is backed “100 percent” by the Five Points Association, a merchant’ group, said president Steve Cook, owner of Saluda’s Restaurant.
He said preliminary plans calls for the sidewalks along the street be widened. The median could be widened, but on-street parking would remain. The widened sidewalks would be an enticement for new businesses, he said.
The village, and particularly Harden Street, is undergoing a transition as the liquor licenses of late night bars that cater mostly to college students are being challenged by neighbors, and some are closing.
“If I’m a business — a coffee shop or cafe — and heard that wider sidewalks were coming, that would be a really nice feature that is not currently there,” Cook said.
The other hot spots for pedestrian safety in the the state include two locations around Myrtle Beach and six locations in the greater Charleston area. “They’ve got a ton of foot traffic between tourists and the (College of Charleston),” Perry said. “Especially later at night.”
Perry said a number of methods can be used to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. They include better lighting and improved cross walks as well as narrowing streets. Eliminating lanes — called a “road diet” — is the most expensive of the methods, Perry said, especially if utilities have to be relocated.
The state has $15 million in federal funds available over the next three years to calm traffic at some of these locations. Those priorities and funding estimates will be set when the survey is completed in April, Perry said.
State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, said state funding would have to augment the federal funds. “And it’s something we will look at hard,” he said.