From Critical Mass to the World Naked Bike Ride, Asheville residents have shown no lack of enthusiasm for bicycles. Nonetheless, the city has been notably lacking in bike lanes.
As is often the case, city residents seem divided on the issue. One letter writer in the May 17, 2006, Xpress unwittingly hit a nerve, advising: “Why don’t you bicyclists stop being so selfish? Go get a mountain bike and take it out in the woods, where you can enjoy it without bothering others!” That unleashed a torrent of indignant letters from local cyclists whose credo seemed to be “share the road.” And when Asheville solicited public input for a bike plan, some 800 people submitted comments online.
Now, however, the city’s proposed Comprehensive Bicycle Plan aims to make peace. “Because bicyclists’ needs have been historically underserved,” it states, “the current transportation system does not function well … and precipitates conflicts between motorists and bicyclists.” According to the plan, which is slated to come before City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 26, upgrading roadways to accommodate cyclists will make transportation safer and more enjoyable for everyone.
The proposed master plan calls for establishing a 181-mile network including 43 miles of bike lanes, 64 miles of shared roadways, and linkage to existing greenways. The Toole Design Group—a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that also designed Seattle’s bike plan—compiled the 110-page draft with guidance from the city and the N.C. Department of Transportation. “We got lots and lots of feedback,” notes Transportation Planner Barb Mee, who helped develop the plan. “It’s something [people have] been asking for.” Asheville and the DOT provided most of the funding, with the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club kicking in about $1,000 as a show of support, says Mee.
The first open house was held nearly a year ago, in March of 2007. Mee believes the plan could eventually make Asheville substantially more bike-friendly. “This is going to make a difference over time,” she says. “Some of the projects will be low-cost and easy to implement; some will be longer term. I would hope to see [the proposed short-term goals] happen over the next year.”
Longtime local cycling activist Claudia Nix—who serves on Asheville’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force—read the hefty document cover to cover. “The whole time I’m reading through, I’m going, ‘Yes—this is what we need!’” she reports. Nix, co-owner of Liberty Bicycles in south Asheville, says she often cycles around town when running errands. And over the next couple of weeks, she aims to marshal public interest in the plan. “We’re hoping to create a lot of buzz, so that City Council sees how much support there is for this,” she explains. To that end, says Nix, “We’re going to ask people to wear helmets” when attending the Council meeting.
The wheels are turning on other bike-related initiatives as well. Asheville on Bikes, the group that garnered Spirit of the Parade and Best Overall awards in last December’s Holiday Parade, is working to promote The Bike Locker Project, which seeks to install 25 lockers around downtown Asheville. The weatherproof containers enable commuters to store their bikes and belongings, safe from would-be thieves. The group is also planning a “Bike Love Party” and fundraiser at The Wedge gallery in the River District on Saturday, Feb. 23, to give the locker project a boost. Organized in collaboration with Arts2People, the evening will feature performances by Toubab Krewe’s Justin Perkins and Drew Heller playing in Count Clovis, Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work, and Pro Bikes owner Marty Gallagher in Red Dirt Floor. French Broad Brewing will provide the beer.
“Asheville on Bikes intends to use the celebration to spread awareness about Asheville’s possible bicycle infrastructure and more importantly inspire participation in the passing of the network map,” explains organizer Michael Sule. “Our goal is to get people involved in advancing Asheville’s urban bike culture. We want stakeholders.”