Getting In, Getting Around Charleston
In Charleston, everything moves at a slower pace -- including the traffic. While visiting Charleston, get used to taking your time and enjoying the ride. Here are some tips on how to get around the city:
From the Airport
The Charleston International Airport (5500 Charleston Blvd) is located about 10 miles north of downtown Charleston and is easily accessed from Airport Boulevard off of Interstate 26. The airport has two concourses and is very easy to navigate. With more than 100 flights daily, it also has general aviation facilities, which you can check on at the airport's Web site.
Rental car: Several rental car companies; including Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty; have their own designated section not far from the airport's baggage claims area. The company car lots are just outside the terminal so you can easily walk to your car. When exiting the airport, just follow the signs to Interstate 26 east and to downtown Charleston. It's less than a mile and a fairly straight shot.
Interstate 26 is mostly elevated and you'll be able to see the rivers in the distance on both sides well before they start narrowing down toward the city proper.
Public transportation: The Charleston Area Rapid Transportation Authority or CARTA serves the airport with the No. 11 bus that leaves almost every 30 minutes. The bus will take you from the airport to Rivers Avenue, which becomes Meeting Street and goes directly into the heart of downtown Charleston. The 50-minute ride has five scheduled stops along the way and the trip will cost just $1.25.
If you want to use CARTA or the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) during your stay in Charleston, you can buy an all-day pass for $4 or a three-day pass for $9. You may purchase the pass on any CARTA bus.
Taxi: Taxi passengers from the airport can expect to pay about $25 to $29 for a trip to the heart of downtown Charleston. The cost is $2.15 per loaded mile for the first two passengers, and each passenger after the original two will be charged a flat rate of $12 per person per trip. Taxi drivers aren't allowed to charge for babies being carried.
Public transportation: A shuttle leaves every 15 minutes from the airport to the peninsula, and the cost is a flat rate of $12 per person. It's a shared ride and can make several stops along the way depending on its number of passengers. The fixed rate for a ride to anyplace in the airport vicinity is $9 per person and can't exceed $27 per trip.
Most people driving into Charleston will arrive by Interstate 26 from the northwest, which dead-ends right at Highway 17. Those arriving from the north or south will rely on Highway 17, otherwise known as Kings Highway or more recently Septema Clark Highway. Anyway you come, the closer you get, the more marsh and water you will cross.
Once you cross Highway 17, depending on where you are staying, you will need to take either East Bay Street on the eastern edge or Lockwood Drive along the western side or, if you prefer, take Meeting Street through the heart of the city.
Rush hour: Rush hour is a relative term because no one rushes in Charleston. The biggest traffic slowdowns happen on the bridges coming across the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers as people from the suburbs make their way in or out of the city. Backup traffic across the Cooper River has diminished considerably since the Arthur Ravenel Bridge was opened in 2005 to replace two older bridges.
Traffic slowdowns also occur from drivers filtering in and out of Interstate 26, but the biggest traffic jam can occur on Highway 17, where all arteries converge. You'll need your patience from 8 am until just past 9 am, and then again from 4:30 pm until about 5:30 pm.
Another factor to expect is heavy pedestrian traffic when you're driving around downtown Charleston. The University of South Carolina Medical School and the College of Charleston are both located in the city's Historic District area. The thoroughfares of Ashley and Rutledge Streets can become quite busy with pedestrian traffic when students are walking to class throughout the day.
Rules of the road: For the most part, the locals drive slowly, so it's best to bring your patience and go with the flow. There are a lot of one-way streets and right on red is allowed. Pedestrians have the right of way in the crosswalks.
Public transportation, fares: The Charleston Area Rapid Transit Authority or CARTA serves Charleston and its outlying areas from the Trident Medical Center in North Charleston, to the Isles of Palms in the east, and James Island in the west.
If you want to take a ride on CARTA or the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) during your stay in Charleston, fares cost $1.25 a ride. You may want to purchase an all-day pass for $4 or a three-day pass for $9. You may purchase the pass on any CARTA bus. Senior citizens fare is 60 cents per ride Monday through Friday in the downtown Charleston area.
Taxis, on foot, or by bike: Charleston isn't like New York, where you can stand on a street corner and hail a cab. Taxis in Charleston need to be summoned. Taxi fares are $2.15 per loaded miles, so expect to pay about $3 to $4 for a trip somewhere in the city. A trip to or from the Charleston International Airport averages about $25 to $29 for two people. Each passenger after the original two will be charged a flat rate of $12 per person per ride. Taxi drivers aren't allowed to charge for babies being carried.
Pedicabs are bicycles with a dual seated carriage on the back, which are used as a taxi in Charleston. They are a good way to see the city while traveling short distances, and usually can be used with set rates for specific locations in the city's Historic District.
If you want to walk or bike ride around town, thank goodness it's called the Low Country. This is about the flattest city you could choose to explore by bike or by foot. The downside is that it's such an old city that the streets are barely wide enough in some places for a car, much less a bike. Toss in the fact that some of the most interesting streets are cobblestone and you have a true adventure on your hands.
Still, bike riding is a great way to take in the surroundings. A proposal is presently under consideration that would create a series of bike paths throughout the city. The East Bay Street bike path is the centerpiece of the plan and would link the Charleston Historic District to the bike path across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge and across the Cooper River. For some maps on the best bike routes in and around Charleston, check out the Coastal Cyclists Bicycle Club Web site.
Charleston is a blend of old and new, and a visit to the city enables you to enjoy the best of both. On the next page, read about some of Charleston's special events and attractions, including the Old City Market and the region's Low Country Oyster Roasts.