Asheville’s “Big Ride”: Xpress checks out the city’s bus routes (from 2003 archives)

A compilation of experiences while riding most of Asheville’s bus routes, as reported in a 2003 series, “The Big Ride,” in which Xpress reporters climbed aboard to see what they could see.

Route 1: The best of the West by Steve Rasmussen | 01/29/03
When I met my true love and moved here to share the mountains with her, I finally had to get me a car. These Asheville buses shut down and leave you stranded after 6 p.m.—budget cuts, you know—and until those cone-heads over at the state Department of Transportation figure out how to paint a crosswalk or a bike lane, I won’t risk walking or biking from my job downtown to my home out there in West Asheville. That’s where you’re headed, too? Well sir, the bus you want is the No. 1.

Route 2: Merrimon Avenue Elly Wells | 09/24/03
This August marks Vasiliy Lebed’s second anniversary as a driver for the Asheville Transit System. Lebed is well-qualified for his work: After driving a tank truck in his native Ukraine, he emigrated with his family to Seattle. There he had a tractor-trailer route, but not on the interstate—it was round and round, in and about central Seattle’s maddening traffic. Even maneuvering the No. 2 bus down busy Merrimon Avenue is easier, and Lebed says he likes Asheville very much.

Route 4: The low-stress ride by Nicholas Holt | 12/18/02
I boarded the Route 4 Asheville Transit bus at the Coxe Avenue station at 11 a.m. on a chilly Thursday morning. Snow was still on the ground and the wind was icy cold, but when I stepped onto the bus, I was immediately forced to open up several layers of winter insulation—it was really, really warm inside. The bus filled rapidly to half its capacity, some riders greeting the friendly driver with a familiar “hello” or a smile as they dropped quarters into the coin counter or flashed bus passes. Soon the driver moved us out onto Patton Avenue.

Route 5: Charlotte, Macon, Kimberly Lara Ferguson | 04/02/03
To see what we’re missing, I decided to go one neighborhood over and take a ride on Asheville Transit Bus Route 5. For the sake of my story, I opted to hop on the bus at the farthest stop, so I could check out the whole route. Consulting my Asheville Bus Schedules booklet, I discovered that the Kimberly Avenue stretch of Route 5 is Dial-A-Ride service. In other words, you have to call ahead before the bus leaves the depot and ask them to swing by and fetch you.

Route 8: Biltmore Avenue/Shiloh by Tracy Rose | 06/04/03
Less than a dozen people climb onto the Route 8 bus, which departs about 4:30 p.m. from the Asheville Transit Center downtown. On this trip, it’s a mix of ages, ranging from three young children with a tired-looking mother in tow to the certifiably elderly woman across the aisle from me. Racially, blacks outnumber whites by a wide margin.

Route 9: Martin L. Johnson | 02/26/03
Outside downtown, many parts of Asheville today give little hint of the past. In these areas, new development has transformed the urban landscape almost beyond recognition, leaving barely a trace of the landscape, the farms, the neighborhoods that have been displaced. But Asheville City Transit Route 9 provides a window into what’s been lost and gained; in less than hour, it traverses a variegated slice of old and new Asheville. From the Asheville Transit Center, the bus first heads west across the French Broad River and on to Regent Park, a shopping center adjacent to Westgate.

Route 12: Oakley/River Ridge by Rebecca DeRosa | 07/02/03
Trotting down Coxe Avenue, I make it to the Transit Center and onto the Route 12 bus at the next-to-last minute. Sinking into my seat, I’m grateful that it’s cool and shady inside, in contrast to the heat and slime beyond the glass. My fantasies of moving to Iceland temporarily assuaged, I glance around. A handful of passengers sit patiently as we wait for the bus to get started. It’s relatively quiet, except for one chatty woman who’s talking to the driver. I gather from their conversation that she’s a landscaper taking the day off. The bus heads down Asheland Avenue, then McDowell. As he navigates the busy streets, the driver gives a running commentary, citing every single moving violation committed by the vehicles around him. He sounds like a cross between a football play-by-play announcer and a traffic cop.

Route 13: Tunnel Road by Steve Shanafelt | 05/07/03
Standing at the very front of the No. 13 bus, swaying and staggering as it lurches through Oteen and Haw Creek in rush-hour traffic, I briefly consider whether all my creativity is being sucked out through the window and swallowed by the dreary Tunnel Road streetscape. It hasn’t been a fun trip, and it’s getting worse.

Route 15: Patton Avenue/Deaverview by Tracy Rose | 10/22/03
On the first authentically crisp day of fall, a cheerful man in a motorized wheelchair glides through the Asheville Transit Center. “It’s got a bite in it today,” he remarks to another man waiting for a bus on this breezy day. “Yes,” the other rider agrees. Moments later, the No. 15 bus (which traverses parts of west Asheville and Leicester) cruises in shortly before noon, piloted by veteran driver Freddie Waters. I climb aboard and strike up a conversation with Waters, who guesses he’s been driving a bus longer than I’ve been alive. (He guesses wrong, but his low-ball estimate may give a hint as to why he’s so popular with riders.) Waters—an Asheville Transit driver for 30 years—graduated from the all-black Stephens-Lee High School back in 1963, years before integration reached the Asheville schools.

Route 16: Bingham Heights by Brian Sarzynski | 07/30/03
It’s the top of the hour, and the No.16 bus is pulling into the Asheville Transit Center—precisely at its scheduled arrival time. This is a good sign. Time is of the essence today, as I have a tight schedule and can’t afford any delays. Between now and the end of the workday, I’ve got to race through a laundry list of errands that will take me to the far reaches of Asheville proper. Usually, I can rely on my trusty little red Subaru to help me complete my appointed tasks. She’s a faithful steed who bequeaths me my freedom. But today will be radically different: Rather than being the captain of my own ship, I’ll be riding the bus. The wheel will no longer be in my hands, and the course will be charted by the dictates of mass-transit necessity—rather than my own decidedly selfish need to get to Kmart pronto. Upon boarding the 16, I’m greeted warmly by Don the Driver and Allen the Passenger. Allen, sitting close to the front of the bus, motions me to take a seat near him. We’re soon joined by a handful of fellow voyagers…

Route 18: Erskine, Flint, Broadway by Mickey Mahaffey | 04/30/03
Jim Valentine drives a bus for the Asheville Transit Authority. He’s made the No. 18 loop around downtown Asheville about 40,000 times: eight times a day, five days a week for 30 years. He says he pretty well has it down now. Two blocks from my home on Highland Street, I board the No. 18 bus at Mt. Clare and Hillside. It’s 6:30 a.m. on a cold, rainy day; still dark outside, too early for conversation. It’s warm and comfortable in the bus; two kids on their way to Asheville Middle School are asleep on the back seat.

Route 20: The secret to Tunnel Road sanity by Brian Sarzynski | 11/20/02
So when my editor asked me to report on one of Asheville’s bus routes, I hesitated, my mind quickly filling with tortured memories of amorous livestock. “You can cover an express bus—you’ll be back in no time,” he promised. I agreed. After all, it was Route 20—the mall loop down Tunnel Road—and it seemed unlikely that anyone would bring a goat on board. So I strolled to the downtown terminal on one of the last warm days of early autumn. Once there, it soon became apparent why the Transit System folks have made new signage a top priority: The remodeled facility boasts a climate-controlled waiting area, but it sorely lacks anything resembling an easy-to-read, comprehensive schedule/route map.

Route 28: Intercity Connection by Sammy Cox | 11/06/02
I splurged the other day and sampled one of the system’s longest, most expensive options. For a whopping $1, I racked my bike and boarded the Black Mountain/Asheville Intercity Route 28. Two other passengers and I left the Coxe Avenue transit center, traveling down Biltmore, through Kenilworth, and cutting across the sprawl of Tunnel Road. The outbound ride continued past the VA Hospital and on through Swannanoa. Within 45 minutes, we were sitting at the depot in Black Mountain: WNC’s scenic front porch.

Route 30: by Cecil Bothwell | 10/16/02
There’s a young man out in Haw Creek who actually walks to work. He gets up every morning before the buses start running and hikes past the mall and on through Oakley. Grazing Biltmore, he turns down Sweeten Creek and thence south to Givens Estates—six miles, give or take. He’s a groundskeeper at Givens, and you have to figure he’s right ready for a ride by the time evening rolls around. He can catch the #30 bus uptown and then the #4 to the Asheville Mall for the relatively short walk home along Tunnel Road.





About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism. Follow me @fobes

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5 thoughts on “Asheville’s “Big Ride”: Xpress checks out the city’s bus routes (from 2003 archives)

  1. Paul -V-

    Route #1 is my favorite route too. It’s on-time record is excellent, and it runs by the public swimming pool.

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