Hilton Head won gold for being a bike-friendly community. Here’s what that looks like

Hilton Head Island is the most bicycle-friendly community in South Carolina, according to a ranking by the League of American Bicyclists.

The island’s gold ranking was announced in a town news release Tuesday.

What does that mean?

The Washington, D.C.,-based league looks for investment in bike-friendly infrastructure, education programs and promotion of bicycling.

Locally, it looks more like construction, traffic studies, crosswalk safety and beach bike rides.

American communities are ranked from bronze to diamond each year based on applications to the league. This is Hilton Head’s second time achieving the gold distinction, according to the news release.

Bicyclists, escorted by a Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputy, arrive at Town Hall after a commemorative ride in 2013. Staff photo

Here are four ways Hilton Head is addressing bike friendliness and safety on the island:

Completing the last stretch of mid-island bike pathways

Nineteen percent of the total road network on the island is accessible by bicycle, according to the island’s report card from the league.

That number is getting bigger: The final stretch of bike path along U.S. 278 between the south end and Mathews Drive was started last week in the Shelter Cove area.

Shelter Cove.jpg
The proposed plan for the intersection of U.S. 278 and Shelter Cove Lane at the entrance to Hickory Tavern on Hilton Head. Town of Hilton Head Island presentation, released.

The work led to turning lane closures for drivers on Thursday, Friday and Monday.

The pathway is part of the larger Shelter Cove corridor road project, which aims to make turning into the shopping centers and crossing the road easier between the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and Palmetto Dunes.

Assessing crosswalk safety

Another component of a bike-friendly community is improving bicycle safety on high-traffic streets, the league writes in its community guide.

After town engineers added new crosswalk treatments to 11 different un-signalized crossings where the speed limit was 45 mph or higher, town leaders asked for input from the public.

The U.S. 278 crossing at Central Avenue on Hilton Head Island, has pavement markings that read “PED XING” for both eastbound and westbound drivers. The yellow crossing signs and markings have been added to 11 crosswalks on U.S. 278 that do not have traffic signals. Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

The new crosswalks include reflective signs and pavement markings that alert drivers a crosswalk is near, and overhead lighting has been approved at the intersection near Yacht Cove.

In the 308 responses to a town survey about the crosswalk enhancements, around 86 percent of respondents said they noticed the new improvements and 45 percent said they were effective in improving crosswalk awareness.

Studying traffic on U.S. 278

The league recommends using data-driven road safety operations to get to a “Vision Zero” — or zero deaths on town roads.

Six pedestrians and cyclists died in Beaufort County last year, according to the Beaufort County Coroner.

Two of those were pedestrian deaths on Hilton Head’s U.S. 278 — Charli Bobinchuck, 11, and Ron Titus, 84, were both on or near a crosswalk, according to reports from S.C. Highway Patrol.

Although there haven’t been any deaths on U.S. 278 in 2019, a 65-year-old bicyclist was struck and killed by a dump truck March 20 in Sea Pines near the Plantation Drive-Calibogue Cay Road intersection, The Island Packet has previously reported.

In March, S.C. Department of Transportation officials presented their findings about a speed study on U.S. 278. The agency found that 84 percent of drivers speed on the road — which has a limit of 45 mph.

Traffic barrels past the front yard of Isabelle Stewart’s home in the Stoney neighborhood of Hilton Head Island about 50 feet from the shoulder of U.S. 278. Drew Martin dmartin@islandpacket.com

Council members showed interest in learning about “complete streets” initiatives in late January, although that presentation has not been scheduled yet.

The presentation will be based on a national initiative which advocates for streets designed to serve all users, “including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities,” according to its website.

Holding bike month events

Mayor John McCann named May “bike month” on Hilton Head, and the local Bicycle Advisory Committee is marking the month with several events:

Related stories from Hilton Head Island Packet