Plans taking shape for “transformative” Five Points road, pedestrian overhaul

·3 min read

It looks like Five Points could be going on a diet.

A “road diet,” at least.

The state Legislature approved $850,000 in the coming year’s budget that will go toward a sweeping pedestrian safety project in Five Points, according to state Rep. Seth Rose, a Columbia Democrat. That money will pair with $4 million the state Department of Transportation already has set aside for the project.

While the plans have not yet been finalized, a study commissioned last summer by the transportation department suggested a number of changes, including reducing the number of traffic lanes along sections of Harden and Devine streets, improving pedestrian signals and crosswalks, and putting in curb “bump-outs” that would reduce pedestrian crossing distances and times.

The Department of Transportation is set to have a public information meeting about the project from 4-7 p.m. on Aug. 3 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, according to Rose.

Rose noted there will likely be numerous aspects to the overhaul, and he thinks it will be “transformative” for the more than century-old hospitality district.

“Imagine walking through Five Points and seeing people out pushing strollers,” Rose said. “It’s going to be amazing.”

Last year the Department of Transportation published a road safety audit for Harden Street through Five Points. Parts of that report showed the corridor is one of the most dangerous in South Carolina for pedestrians and bicyclists.

According to the audit, from Jan. 1, 2013 through Dec. 31, 2018, there were 232 vehicular crashes in that corridor and there was a “high frequency” of crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists, which helped trigger the road safety audit. The audit noted, because of its commercial and entertainment uses, Five Points experiences a “high volume” of pedestrians throughout the year.

Of the 232 crashes reported in the audit, a total of 17 of them involved bicyclists or pedestrians during that time period.

Rose said Harden Street through Five Points currently is almost like a”four-lane interstate” with vehicular traffic, and he said pedestrians are often left “playing Frogger” when crossing the street, a reference to the famed 1980s arcade game.

“We can’t turn a blind eye to that,” Rose said of the pedestrian dangers and crashes in Five Points. “It’s an historic problem and issue.”

Steve Cook is the president of the Five Points Association and the owner of the neighborhood’s Saluda’s restaurant. He noted a traffic and pedestrian plan, in one form or another, has been bandied about by the association for years. He said initial talks centered on how neighborhood stakeholders didn’t like how “Harden Street kind of feels like a highway” that runs through the heart of Five Points.

He said the association is in support of a pedestrian safety overhaul, and he wants to see more people walking or biking into and through the district from nearby neighborhoods.

“We’d love to increase neighborhood connectivity,” Cook said. “We want to be easy to get to from Shandon, easy to get to from US and all the different areas around us. We want to increase walkability of the neighborhood and public safety. This could hit all of those. ... A lane diet would hopefully transform lower Harden to look a little more like Saluda Avenue.”

Cook said he knows there could be pushback from some on the possibility of traffic lane reductions, but said he is looking forward to public dialogue on the matter.

At-large Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall said pedestrian safety in Five Points is critical for the longtime shopping and nightlife district. He is keen on the idea of making the neighborhood more walkable and bikeable.

“I certainly think it would be a more attractive place during the daytime, and I think it would be a safer place after dark,” Duvall said of the pedestrian improvements. “That would be catering to two different crowds of people, but both of them are important for the vitality of that neighborhood.”

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