Whose side are you on?

In a passionate display of concern for pedestrian safety, more than 250 residents packed a special City Council meeting called to address the lack of sidewalks in east Asheville. About 150 more were turned away from the Aug. 31 session after fire marshals deemed Groce United Methodist Church’s Asbury Hall to have reached full capacity.

Chris Pelly, president of the Haw Creek Community Association, led things off, noting: "It's clear by the turnout here that the lack of sidewalks affects everybody. We want to help City Council find a solution."

Pelly’s video presentation highlighted studies showing that the east Asheville neighborhoods on both sides of Tunnel Road collectively contain only 3 percent of the city’s sidewalks. “This doesn’t mean people are not walking along Tunnel Road — it just means they are not walking safely,” he pointed out.

The video also documented the ongoing efforts of the East Asheville Sidewalk Initiative, a group Pelly helped pull together several months ago to win the support of city leaders for their cause. More than 100 residents turned out for the group’s April "sidewalk summit," attracting the attention of City Council members as well as city and state transportation staffers. At that gathering, city Transportation Director Ken Putnam urged the group to draft a list prioritizing the areas most in need of improvements (see “Pedestrian Predicaments,” April 28 Xpress).

The residents immediately took that advice to heart, quickly zeroing in on a 0.9-mile stretch of Tunnel Road between the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry's Veterans Restoration Quarters and the VA Medical Center. Later in the summit, ABCCM staffer Stan Vincent explained that some 200 residents, many of them disabled, walk between the Restoration Quarters and the VA hospital daily. Many residents say the stretch — dubbed the "goat trail" because the vets have worn a path along the steep hillsides bordering the road — is dangerous.

In May, more than 200 marchers walked the path in another attempt to focus local officials’ attention on the problem. Among them was Restoration Quarters resident Darryl Sparrow, who described the trail as treacherously narrow and rocky.

"You could slip in the creek or the road,” he noted. “Hopefully it won’t take someone getting hurt or killed before they do something; I’ve had close calls myself.”

Council members sympathetic; budget tight

Judging by Council members’ reactions to Pelly’s presentation, the Sidewalk Initiative’s well-publicized efforts appear to have had the intended effect.

"We know we're going to have to dig deeper to make a bigger impact on these issues than we have in the past," Vice Mayor Brownie Newman said to huge applause. "I think we're very creative in finding funding to make things happen. But we need to be investing more than $50,000 a year in sidewalks."

City staff and Council members went on to discuss a wide variety of potential funding options, including a bond referendum and re-allocating the roughly $14 million that Council member Cecil Bothwell said the city is considering spending on a Biltmore Avenue parking deck.

"That's a huge decision that's coming up this fall," noted Bothwell. "That $14 million is going to come out of transit money that could be used for sidewalks. It could be used for bike lanes. It could be used for greenways. It could be used for a shuttle system downtown. There's lots of ways to use that money besides putting more cars downtown…

"I think sidewalks would be a better use of that money," he concluded to thunderous applause.

Council member Gordon Smith stressed that the sidewalk issue will be a priority at the Oct. 8 infrastructure retreat, when city leaders will discuss a wide range of potential capital-improvement projects.

"I'm really looking forward to Oct. 8, because it's going to be rubber-hitting-the-road time, and we're going to have to find some solutions for you," said Smith. "I want you to know that I think everyone up here on this Council wants to be able to provide you with walkable, bikeable, livable neighborhoods."

In the meantime, several Council members also urged residents to appeal to county, state and federal officials for help in funding the needed improvements.

"Almost every solution takes our county's participation, our state Legislature's participation, our federal government's participation," said Council member Esther Manheimer. "All of those things are at issue. … It's pretty complex."

Bothwell concurred, noting that in North Carolina, "State government controls a lot of what cities can do. It's an election year: Talk to the candidates running for state office in your voting district and ask them about these issues…

“Because unless the state helps us out here, we can't go it alone in this city. You can't pay for the sidewalks yourself; you can't get 200 miles of sidewalks out of your dime."

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at jfrankel@mountainx.com.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

7 thoughts on “Whose side are you on?

  1. J

    When Congressman McHenry held a town hall meeting at a church, Gordon wanted to know if that constituted a tacit endorsement by the pastors, and asked if McHenry believed in separation of church and state. (http://tinyurl.com/39pgmzh)

    When Gordon’s part of an official government function at a church, it’s cool, because he worked to bring it to you.

    I’m going to start living my life by the Gordonian principle: When you do it, it’s bad; when I do it, it’s cool.

  2. Ashevillejoe

    It seems as though a solution for the goat trail might lie close at hand if we leave the city government out of this. Asheville has lots of folks experienced in wilderness trail building, a plethora of low grade mulch being made from landscaping operations, and plenty of small trees from the same. We could make our own sidewalks pretty easy.

  3. UnaffiliatedVoter

    any new sidewalks are ANTI GREEN which is the more important goal. Concrete destroys ecosystems. Save the planet!

  4. @ Cecil Bothwell.
    Happy to see someone on Council suggesting alternatives to the $14,000,000 parking garage. Has anyone on staff done a comparison of a shuttle Vs. the parking garage? Seems to me $14,000,ooo would buy a slew of small busses to shuttle around downtown, and even from outlaying areas such at Asheville Mall, down to Biltmore Village, over to West Asheville, and up to UNCA.

    I’d be more than willing to pay for tokens or a monthly pass….and I suspect others would too. The shuttle would have to be clean, energy efficient and a pleasant ride.

    I’ve ridden on the St. Charles Streetcar line in New Orleans hundreds of times. It’s a great way to get around, and those streetcar drivers are world renown for their take no nonsense attitude…lol If you’ve been there and experienced them you know of what I speak. While that is a streetcar service, we can and should consider something like a downtown shuttle when large expenditures are being considered. I’m thinking bang for the buck here.

  5. Ron Walls

    Well, I watched your video with the large group of people walking beside the goat trail and I see the same thing I see on the sidewalks in my neighborhood–empty goat trail/sidewalk, lots of people walking in the street. Without the crowd, I see one or two people walking along a trail, as safely as they would if it were paved with concrete. I am all for building bike/pedestrian trails all over Asheville–no concrete, way less expense. Good for people and tourism. We don’t need miles and miles of empty, concrete sidewalks to be maintained by more and more government employees.

  6. GabrielV

    @Ron,
    Your comment that the goat trail pictured in the video could be used “as safely as they would if it were paved by concrete” is grossly inaccurate. It tells me that you choose to make your assessment without actually getting out of your car to walk it. As a frequent walker along that section, it could never be characterized as safe, especially after a good rain storm when it turns to a trail of mud forcing you to walk in the street.

    Unfortunately, so many care not for helping others anymore and the only time that many drivers care about pedestrians is when they are forced to slow down because one is walking in the street and then they only slow long enough to hurl expletives at them.

    Nobody says that we are demanding concrete sidewalks, but we do want safe pedestrian paths so that our children can walk to school; so the elderly and disabled don’t have to limit their activities because they don’t have a safe means to get around their neighborhood. Why do some think that only automobiles should have a safe means to get around.

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