Cycling advocates guided local elected officials on a bicycle tour of Asheville, highlighting recent infrastructure improvements and encouraging progress to continue.
The May 13 ride was part of the Strive Not to Drive campaign to promote multimodal transportation, which continues with events throughout the week. Participating officials included Mayor Terry Bellamy; city council members Gordon Smith, Cecil Bothwell, and Esther Manheimer; Buncombe County commissioners Brownie Newman and David Gantt; Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger; and city manager Gary Jackson.
Despite facing a severe budget crunch this year, Jackson told participants the city will continue to try to fund construction of infrastructure such as bike lanes and greenways.
"We're going to fight like hell to get more in this year's [budgetary] cycle," he exclaimed during one of the group's stops.
Ken Putnam, director of Asheville's Transportation Department, noted that the city is in the process of adding new bike markers, known as "sharrows," to about 6 miles of roads in north Asheville.
Cathy Ball, who heads the city's Public Works and Multimodal Transportation group, noted that as Asheville continues to grow, it will need to invest more money in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure or suffer from severe vehicle congestion.
Local entrepreneur Joe Eckert, who owns several popular establishments such as Laughing Seed, Green Man Brewery and City Bakery, emphasized the importance of such infrastructure to his businesses. Building more sidewalks and bike lanes, he said, will help bring more people downtown.
Likewise, Tyler Foos, a manager for New Belgium Brewing Co., noted that a significant number of those who visit the company's Fort. Collins, Colo. facility travel there by bike. He'd like to see the same thing in Asheville when the brewery opens its big new facility along Craven Street in the River Arts District, he said. And the company is already contributing money and resources into building the bike lanes and greenways needed to make it happen, he noted.
Meanwhile, Mike Sule, founder of Asheville on Bikes, thanked officials for making unprecedented infrastructure improvements in recent years, but said further progress needs to be made to grow the economy, encourage exercise, and ensure safety.
"This ride is about celebrating what we've accomplished together," he said. "And looking for opportunities for improvement."
Photos of the ride by Max Cooper: