Strive Not To Drive, a week of multimodal awareness events held throughout Asheville, held its first ever walking tour this past Tuesday, May 19, to showcase concerns and problems facing pedestrians, bikers, people with disabilities and motorists in downtown Asheville.
“This is the first year that we are doing a ‘Walking the Talk’ where we’re specifically addressing the issues of our urban pedestrian infrastructure,” said Mike Sule, chair of Strive Not to Drive and founder of Asheville on Bikes.
Led by Sule and Don Kostelec, head of the design firm Kostelec Planning, participants of the tour met at the Asheville Community Theatre for a walk around downtown Asheville.
Kostelec began the tour by asking for volunteers to help him demonstrate some of the fundamental issues concerning various types of transportation.
Two participants were given hula hoops and were told that they represented pedestrians, while Councilwoman Gwen Wisler was handed a paper crown to wear and was told that she was the “car.” Tristan Winkler, a transportation planner with the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organization, volunteered to ride in the wheelchair. Sule represented the bikers since he brought his own bike along for the tour.
“As we walk, I want you to think about the experience you had and the feeling you had at each segment that we walked previously,” Kostelec said to the group about the tour, also saying that they would go at a slow pace and stop at each crosswalk for discussion and feedback.
The first stop was made at the crosswalk between North Market Street and East Walnut Street. It was here that Janet Barlow, president of the company Accessible Design for the Blind, pointed out a major concern she had with this crosswalk.
“Well from my perspective as an advocate for people who are blind, this detectable warning doesn’t cover the whole area that’s flat with the street,” she said as she pointed to small rectangle on street corner. “So a blind person could walk right out into the street and never know it.”
Inadequate or even nonexistent detectable warnings — plates with grooves and raised bumps on the surface that are designed to warn visually impaired people about curb edges, ramps and other hazards — were a noted problem among other crosswalks that the group saw.
At one section, Kostelec revealed to the group the danger of lack of visibility. Squatting on the ground, he demonstrated that without the aid of the curve extension, a child would not be able to be seen if a car was coming in that particular area.
“(If) I were my six-year-old daughter wanting to cross here [without the curve extension], I’m not visible in this space,” he said.
Winkler was asked at the crosswalk between Broadway Street and Woodfin Street to reach over and press the walk button. He was able to only reach one crossing button; the other would require him to go out into the road.
Under the bridge between Broadway and Merrimon Avenue, Kostelec picked up a piece of “car shrapnel” and held it out for the group to see, saying that finding these kinds of objects are indicators that it is not a safe place for pedestrians to walk.
Sule ended the tour by explaining the mission and importance of Strive Not to Drive.
“We do have a lot of issues with pedestrian infrastructure and the city can’t do it alone,” Sule said. “The next rung we have to climb is to get other agencies, who have an interest in this safe transportation infrastructure for the people, to come and participate and understand the discreet things that need to be done to promote pedestrian safety.”