Amid changes to Asheville's transit system and growing momentum for building more greenways, organizers of this year's Strive Not to Drive are hoping to shine a bright light on local alternatives to driving alone in our cars.
The annual campaign includes a week of activities designed to boost awareness of transportation issues and get people walking, biking, carpooling and bussing. And for the first time in several years, it was organized solely by volunteers — without staff support from the city of Asheville.
However, Rachel Reeser, a Strive Not to Drive Committee member and Asheville on Bikes special events coordinator, doesn't see the change as a sign of waning support for the cause. The city recently committed to constructing new greenways, bike lanes and sidewalks in the River Arts District as part of an incentive deal with New Belgium Brewing Company to build a major new production facility on Craven Street, she notes.
Officials from the Fort Collins, Colo., company have repeatedly cited the area's growing multimodal infrastructure as a key factor in its decision to expand in Asheville, creating an estimated 154 direct jobs and $175 million in investments. And having that kind of economic clout behind the push for bike lanes and greenways, says Reeser, is bound to help continue to get the attention of elected officials.
"I'm hoping that it's getting more infiltrated into city hall, by different means, because that's where policies get made," she notes. "We can be knocking on the door, and having 300 people show up on rides, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we need people in the system that support it."
Buncombe County officials also have been showing unprecedented support in recent months as they move toward finalizing a Greenways and Trails Master Plan that's been in the works for several years. The ultimate goal of the effort, explains Dwayne Stutzman, chairman of the Buncombe County Greenways and Trails Commission, is for "people to be able to utilize a connected system of trails, greenways, sidewalks — all systems working together" throughout the county.
Meanwhile, in conjunction with the Strive Not to Drive campaign, the Asheville transit system (now officially called "Asheville Redefines Transit") is rolling out new routes, schedules and other changes designed to grow ridership and improve performance, convenience and safety. Effective May 21, the makeover will be complemented by three weeks of fare-free service.
"We want people to focus on learning the routes, not 'How much do I have to pay? Did I bring change? Do I have my card?' We know that it’s going to be a very busy time during implementation," explains Mariate Echeverry, the city’s transportation-planning manager.
The city’s transportation department will absorb the lost revenue, estimated at $32,000, she notes. But in the long run, Echeverry thinks that riders who choose to ride the bus (even if they have other options) because they’re lured by the improvements could more than make up that amount.
"We hope people who don't ride the bus right now will be willing to try it, now that it's free for three weeks," she says. "We've seen in the past that every time we offer free fare, the ridership increases."
As part of Strive Not to Drive week, city and county leaders will hop aboard one of the system's new hybrid busses and take a private tour of "some of the multimodal improvements the city is committed to," Echeverry reports. "We want to show how transit is supported by sidewalks and bike lanes, and how the three of them integrate." Then, organizers will lead participating officials and members of the public on a bike tour with a similar goal.
"Hopefully we'll find a happy medium to educate people about some of the challenges we still face, and some of the successes we have made, and to be thankful for," Reeser says.
This year's coordinated effort among different transit advocates marks a positive evolution for Strive Not to Drive, adds Reeser, noting that it got its start years ago as an event that focused almost exclusively on biking.
"It's nice to have pedestrians and carpoolers supporting bicyclists. It's nice to have bicyclists supporting transit," she explains. "They all weave together. We have voices and more unity, and we can get more done if we band together."
You can make a pledge to Strive Not to Drive and learn more at strivenottodrive.com.
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.