Local leaders took a bicycle tour of the River Arts District May 19, rolling through an area that is set “to transform” into a center of multimodal transit, recreation and commerce, said Stephanie Monson, riverfront redevelopment coordinator for the city of Asheville.
The “Leadership Community Ride” was part of this week’s Strive Not to Drive campaign, which aims to encourage residents to find ways of traveling other than riding alone in cars. The roughly 50 bike riders made several stops in the River Arts District to discuss upcoming projects — such as bike lanes, sidewalks, greenways, transit stops and parking spaces as well as commercial and residential development, Monson explained. When it all comes to fruition several years from now, “it’s going to change your life,” she said.
Cathy Ball, the city’s multimodal transportation director, said that those projects are hopefully going to be fueled by a tentative plan to spend $50 million on transit infrastructure across the city over the next five years.
Also on the horizon: progress on building a new Interstate 26 corridor through the area, said Julie Mayfield, co-director of the WNC Alliance. As part of an influential group working with the N.C. Department of Transportation, she said she’s been advocating for the state agency to include pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure as part of the plans. She expects for the DOT to eventually build a 14-foot bike and walking lane on the Jeff Bowen Bridge, she said. Next year, the DOT will fine-tune its plans as it completes an environmental impact study, Mayfield said.
Mayor Esther Manheimer participated in the bike ride, telling advocates that the current City Council is committed to making progress. “You have managed to elect leaders who really believe in multimodal transit,” she said. “The idea of active transportation creates a healthier community and a greater sense of community. That’s what Asheville is about.”
In the meantime, however, Monson urged caution to riders, noting that the area is currently fraught with perils for bikers, including narrow shoulders, areas of sitting water and other hazards. Karen Tessier, who serves on the Buncombe County Cultural and Recreation Authority board, learned that the hard way on the ride, taking a few falls as she navigated the area’s tricky curves.
Other elected leaders on the ride included City Council members Gwen Wisler, Marc Hunt and Cecil Bothwell as well as Buncombe Commissioner David King and Chairman David Gantt.
In a lighthearted moment on the tour, a man on horseback joined the bike riders for a few minutes as they gathered at Jean Webb Park. Wearing socks and no shoes, he responded to a question by organizers asking if he was there for Strive Not to Drive by saying, “I’m multimodal.” After the crowd laughed, he opted not to trot along to the next stop, instead taking his horse back into a nearby trailer.
Slide show of photos by Jake Frankel
Strive Not to Drive events continue throughout the week.