Asheville has constructed about 18 miles of new sidewalks since 2006, but that’s a far cry from what advocates say is needed to improve pedestrian safety in the city’s neighborhoods. A new report released by city government shows that it’s fallen well short of its goal of building 108 miles of sidewalk.
A 5-year $132 million Capital Improvement Plan, passed by Asheville City Council this summer, focuses sidewalk investment along major arteries such as Hendersonville Road, Charlotte Street, Leicester Highway and the River Arts District. That leaves only $550,000 for building new sidewalks in residential neighborhoods – enough for about one mile of new pathways, according to City Council member Chris Pelly.
“I believe there is a significant pent up demand for neighborhood sidewalks in Asheville. Our budget however does not adequately respond to this demand,” says Pelly. “Budgeting for one mile of new neighborhood sidewalk every five years is not adequate to meet this demand.”
A long-time advocate, Pelly’s grassroots push to bring more sidewalks to East Asheville in 2010 helped catapult him onto Council the following year.
The new report came at his request and, despite his ongoing concerns about the pace of progress, he also notes that it highlights improvements. Since 2011, a mile-long stretch of worn grass and rocky paths along Tunnel Road — previously known as “the goat trail” where veterans walk each day between the Veterans Restoration Quarters and the VA Medical Center — has been paved. Ordinances have also been strengthened to require some new private developments to include sidewalks, Pelly notes. All new subdivisions exceeding 20 housing units must now include sidewalks, he says.
The total mileage of all new sidewalk expected to be completed in the next five years is still being determined, says Ken Putnam, Asheville’s transportation director. His department is currently working on drafting a Multi-Modal Transportation Plan that “will look at the system in a comprehensive way and will measure mobility deficiencies city wide and will develop and establish a priority system.”
The Multi-Modal Plan is scheduled to be completed by September 2015, and several public meetings will be held to solicit feedback between now and then, says Putnam. The overarching goal is “to create an effective and progressive plan that encourages health oriented and sustainable transportation, reduces barriers to access transportation and connects residents and visitors with the places they want and need to go with improved safety, efficiency and accessibility.”
Pelly says he regularly hears from neighborhood leaders advocating for sidewalk improvements on a long list of roads such as Lakeshore Drive, Johnston Boulevard, New Haw Creek Road, Bear Creek Road and Beaverdam Road. At the upcoming public meetings, Pelly says he’s “hopeful neighborhoods desiring sidewalk improvements will make their voices heard.”
No public meetings on the Multi-Modal Plan have been confirmed at this time — stay tuned to mountainx.com for details as they are announced.