Two-wheeled commuters rejoice: New bike lanes are coming to downtown Asheville this fall.
As presented by Jade Dundas, the city’s capital projects director, during the Sept. 13 meeting of Asheville City Council, the lanes are slated to be installed along sections of College Street and Patton Avenue. The first will run between Spruce Street and Pritchard Park, while the second will connect Pritchard Park and Biltmore Avenue. The new routes will join with existing bike lanes on College Street and Lexington Avenue, as well as planned future lanes. Several new loading zones are also included in the project.
In March, the city began working with local nonprofits Asheville on Bikes and Connect Buncombe to finalize a design for the bike lanes, and staffers facilitated public outreach in April and May. Asheville on Bikes and Connect Buncombe funded the designs through local donations, and in June, Council approved the project, allocating $100,000 toward their construction as part of the capital improvements agenda in the fiscal year 2022-23 operating budget.
While Dundas’ presentation was meant to provide an update on already decided matters, Council member Sandra Kilgore pushed back against the project, citing concerns about increased traffic and safety issues. She also said Asheville on Bikes was too influential on city decisions regarding bike lanes. (Kilgore voted to approve the city budget in June.)
“Don’t get me wrong, I love bicycling. It’s a great recreation and sport. But the thing is, I don’t think the downtown area is where it should be,” Kilgore said.
“My concern is the relationship between the city of Asheville and Asheville on Bikes, who I feel is doing the driving as to where and how we do things,” she continued. “We should have a pedestrian committee that actually drives this. I think it’s being driven by one particular group.”
“There was a time in Asheville history [when] we had the second-best trolley system in the country. And now, we have the second-highest bike [and] pedestrian accident ratio in the state. And it’s not good for the people who live and work here or businesses or tourists,” countered Council member Kim Roney. “So we’re kind of getting out of where we are now to where we aspire to be. And it’s going to take some time and energy.”
Dundas said the city is prepared to accept bids for the project and that it should be ready for installation later in the month. Council will have to vote on approving the contract for the work, a matter usually handled on its consent agenda.
The process for approving the installation of bike lanes in Asheville’s downtown differed from that for other bike lane proposals on Merrimon and Biltmore avenues. In May, Council took a separate vote to reduce a section of Merrimon between Midland Road and W.T. Weaver Boulevard to one lane in each direction and add bicycle lanes; that project was approved 6-1, with Kilgore opposed. The issue came before Council outside of the budget process because it was part of a larger resurfacing project planned and primarily funded by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
And in August, a plan to add bicycle lanes to Biltmore Avenue between Patton and Hilliard avenues was put on pause after business owners raised concerns about increased traffic and reduced access to loading zones. That project was also being developed in conjunction with the NCDOT as part of upcoming repaving and restriping work and therefore would have required separate Council approval.
Council adopts remote meeting policy
Council voted to approve new remote meeting policies for city advisory boards and Council meetings. The city has had statutory authority to hold remote meetings since March 2020, when Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of emergency designation was lifted Aug. 15, meaning that the city no longer had explicit permission to continue holding remote public meetings.
The new policy will give Asheville’s boards and commissions the option to continue holding fully remote meetings should two-thirds of a board’s members vote to do so. Those meetings would be livestreamed by the city, but meetings held in person would not be.
For Council, members will be permitted to participate remotely in discussion, debate, public hearings, public comment and closed sessions. However, they would not be counted toward quorum or permitted to cast votes. Council will retain the power to conduct fully remote meetings and vote remotely under emergency circumstances.
Six members of the public spoke out against the new policies, saying that the changes would reduce access and civic participation.
“As proposed, the policy will make the meetings of boards that opt for in-person meetings less accessible than those conducted over the past two years,” said Patrick Conant, the director of local governmental transparency project Sunshine Request. “It’s 2022. Inclusive, accessible public meetings should be the minimum requirement for our city moving forward.”