Anticipating big changes to come in East Asheville, City Council unanimously OK’d a two-year corridor study of Tunnel Road at its regular meeting on Sept. 25. As explained by Vaidila Satvika, a city urban planner, the study will help lay the groundwork for Asheville’s transformation into a more transit-supportive city.
Satvika said the study would center around streets and their usage but also pull back to examine adjacent properties and affected neighborhoods within one or two miles. Those areas include the Innsbruck and Asheville malls, designated as urban and town centers, respectively, under the Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan. Denser development in similar centers throughout Asheville is expected to increase the appeal of bus transportation, thus reducing car traffic in the city.
Deliverables for the study, Satvika said, would include a public-supported vision for the corridor, a real estate and demographic analysis, zoning and urban design considerations, transportation analysis and implementation plans. He added that a request for proposals from outside professionals to conduct the study would be issued as soon as possible.
The effort was sparked by the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization, of which Asheville is a dues-paying member. Last fall, the MPO offered the city $157,500 (to be matched with $25,593 in local funds) for a corridor study of its choosing, with the goal of reducing automobile congestion and creating “an alternative to the auto-oriented cycle.”
Mayor Esther Manheimer shared the MPO’s hope that close examination of the busy thoroughfare will pay off in more manageable traffic conditions. “East Asheville is anxious for us to take a good look at Tunnel,” she said. “There are some great opportunities there to do something now so that it’s redeveloped in a way that’s a little more urban and walkable.”
In selecting Tunnel Road, Council effectively deprioritized Patton Avenue, which city staff had identified as the other option for the pilot study. Buncombe County, which also received funding from the MPO, had previously selected Hendersonville Road for its own corridor study.
Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler said she wished Council had resources to study all of its corridors but that Tunnel’s rapid pace of development made it the top choice. “There’s just so much that looks like it’s going to happen very soon that we did not want to miss a chance to have a look at it before things change and we wouldn’t have a chance to go back and fix it,” she explained.
Manheimer added that already-planned rezoning changes on Patton would provide a different approach to encouraging more urban development. “I just don’t want to feel like we’re losing Patton altogether, and I think with that rezoning effort, we won’t be,” she said.
After Satvika’s presentation, two commenters asked Council to consider options for improving safety along major corridors during power outages, as recently took place due to the remnants of Hurricane Florence. “It really was dicey out there, driving down Hendersonville Road without traffic lights,” one said. He suggested that the city explore backing up the lights through solar power or other means to avoid dangerous situations.