A group of local elected officials and community leaders gathered May 18 for the Mayor’s Leadership Ride, an annual bicycle tour designed to highlight recent transportation-infrastructure improvements and upcoming projects in Asheville.
For the second consecutive year, Vice Mayor Brownie Newman rode for Mayor Terry Bellamy. City Council members Cecil Bothwell and Gordon Smith and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt also took part in the Strive Not to Drive event.
Mike Sule, founder of cycling-advocacy group Asheville on Bikes, led participants on a tour that included a stop at the Asheville Transit Center, where officials from the city’s transit department discussed upcoming changes to the bus system, including the purchase of new hybrid buses. From there, the group coasted down Haywood Road on a new bike lane, stopping in the River Arts District to hear a greenway update by Marc Hunt, chair of the city’s Greenway Commission and candidate for City Council. He described the district as an upcoming transit and greenway hub, envisioning expanded bicycle and pedestrian areas that will help connect downtown to West Asheville and Montford.
The owners of the Wedge Brewing Co. and Clingman Café also addressed the group and said that the district’s improved bicycle lanes benefit their businesses, noting that improved bus service to the area might also help.
Participants then pedaled over to the end of Roberts Street, just past the intersection of Trade Street. There, they heard from Bothwell about recent improvements to an adjacent stretch of sidewalk that ends with stairs that wind toward the intersection of Interstate 240 and Patton Avenue. The nearby pedestrian bridge that crosses I-240 into Hillcrest Apartments was recently re-opened after being closed for years due to crime in the area. Now the surrounding land is being considered for a mountain bike park, bike lanes and a greenway that would stretch along the end of I-240 to downtown.
“It’s really exciting to see all the things that are happening. … We’re a more bike-friendly community than we were a year ago,” declared Newman at the end of tour. “But going on rides like this also helps remind us what we still need to do. … We need to go faster on making these projects happen.”
Buncombe commissioner elections bill passes Senate, will become law
The North Carolina Senate passed a bill May 18 to expand the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners from five to seven members; it also mandates district representation in place of the current at-large elections.
The law establishes three commissioner districts, with the same boundaries as the county’s three state House districts. (Those districts may change: State legislators redraw all North Carolina districts this year.) Voters in each district will choose two commissioners who will have to reside within the district; the board chair will still be elected at large.
The Senate vote reportedly fell along party lines, with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it. An identical bill, sponsored by Buncombe Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt, passed the state House May 2. That vote also fell mostly along party lines, with three Democrats joining 66 Republican legislators in supporting it and 48 Democrats opposing. Since the bill only deals with a local issue, the governor doesn’t have veto authority. The law should take effect before the 2012 elections, when all the sitting commissioners face re-election.
Democratic representatives in the House and Senate tried unsuccessfully to amend the legislation to require a countywide binding referendum before it could become law.
The current commissioners — all Democrats — were unanimously opposed to the measure, with board Chair David Gantt asserting on several occasions that he thought it would limit democracy by taking away residents’ rights to vote for all of the commissioners. Board members also said they were upset that they were not consulted or informed about Moffitt’s bill before he introduced it in the House.
However, leading up to the votes in the General Assembly, Rep. Moffitt said he didn’t feel the election changes were controversial, arguing that they would make commissioners more accountable to underserved parts of the county and give candidates of more moderate means a better chance of winning.