The death of Anthony Ray Gilmore, 25, killed while running across Interstate 240 in an attempt to reach Hillcrest Apartments, has Asheville city officials examining the possibility of re-opening a pedestrian bridge leading into the area. The pedestrian access has been closed since 1994.
Gilmore, a Swannanoa resident, was struck and killed by a 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier headed west in the far fight lane, around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night, according to police.
Gilmore’s death re-opens an old debate. In 1994, the North Carolina Department of Transportation closed the bridge at the request of Asheville City Council in response to residents’ concerns about the drug trade. In May 1998 the matter was re-examined by Council, in a case closely resembling the current one.
“With the recent pedestrian fatality, as a result of an individual attempting to cross I-240 going into Hillcrest, the Housing Authority and the Asheville Police Department met with the residents’ association of Hillcrest Apartments to reconsider the bridge closing,” the minutes from that meeting read. At the time, residents seemed split on the issue, with some saying it had helped curb the drug trade, while others said it was a massive inconvenience to residents and often put those without cars or vehicles in the position of attempting a dangerous interstate crossing.
Currently, a rugged path leads up from under the Smokey Park bridge to an unlocked gate in Hillcrest. The bridge itself is barred tight from both sides, on the opposite end from the apartments, and an overgrown sidewalk leads into downtown.
Council member Gordon Smith took a tour of the area on Friday, June 18. He believes the time’s come to reconsider opening the bridge.
“It’s a real-eye opener,” Smith tells Xpress. “The most direct route from Hillcrest to downtown is to run across the highway, jump a fence and take the sidewalk. Right now there’s only one way in and out of Hillcrest. Anyone who’s a student of geography and world history who looks at neighborhoods that have been isolated, that only have one way in and out — I would challenge those folks to find me an example of where that’s work. The most important thing we can do is re-integrate Hillcrest with the rest of the city.”
Smith says he’s contacted Mayor Terry Bellamy and Council member Bill Russell, who chairs the Public Safety committee, to “get this heard as soon as possible.”
Walking around the area with Xpress, Smith pointed out the problems pedestrian traffic has.
“When you’re standing right here, it looks like the cars are really far away, then you realize how fast they’re going,” he says, adding that re-opening the bridge and clearing off the sidewalk — after consultations with the Asheville Police Department and Hillcrest residents — would be a temporary measure until a the construction of the Interstate 26 interchange better integrates the apartments with downtown. “Open the bridge, clear the sidewalk and we’re good … this has been going on too long, it’s time for Hillcrest to be part of the city again.”
— David Forbes, senior reporter. Photos by Jonathan Welch, chief photographer