The city gaveth, and the city must taketh away.
I have been on a crusade of sorts for the last year and a half. At issue is the city's inept, ineffective and dangerous attempt at traffic calming in north Asheville, on Charlotte Street and on Macon and Kimberly avenues.
In the spring of 2008, City Council was considering a proposal to install traffic-calming features on these and adjacent streets. The deliberations followed a long process, including a petition by local residents in the area to get approval for the plan. Most of the people who signed this petition had no clue as to how poorly thought-out, draconian and dangerous the measures would be.
I expressed my protests, along with many others, including Emergency Services Director Jerry Vehaun, who had serious concerns about the measures' effect on emergency-vehicle response time.
Council would not listen to the plan's opponents, as they were attempting to placate a very small and influential group of people who lived in the neighborhood and were angry at the Grove Park Inn for building The Fitzgerald condominiums on Macon Avenue.
Many residents — who believe that these streets belong to them and that the rest of the community has no right to travel them — joined the chorus of support for the plan. Council basically extorted the $375,000 cost of the traffic calming in exchange for its approval of the necessary permits.
The option of going back to the planning phase, to consider alternatives, and to avoid the predictable mistakes and horrible results that ensued, was not even considered.
The project consisted of placing concrete dividers and "bulb outs" (globs of concrete that stick out into the street from the side of the road with the purpose of narrowing the road) throughout the area.
The design of the curbs appears to be an extremely vicious attempt to punish the scofflaws who go through this hallowed neighborhood. Instead of the curbs being low with rounded corners — so that if they are accidentally hit, a car tire will run up over the curb — they are 6 inches high with square corners, so that if struck, they will at the very least burst a tire and break a wheel and maybe an axle, but at the worst, the car will bounce off them and carom into oncoming traffic.
The unsightly warning signs placed in the concrete islands have been knocked down so many times that the city had to hire a pin-setter from the local bowling alley to set them back up. In some places, the city has designated bike paths, but the obstructions require that the bikers weave in and out of traffic to negotiate the street.
These obstructions have caused accidents numbering in the hundreds, which I dare say are more accidents than have occurred in this area in the last 10 years. I would estimate that motorists have suffered damages between $500,000 and $1,000,000 since these obstructions have been installed. The city has had numerous claims filed against it, and I suspect there are more to come.
Luckily, to my knowledge, no one has been killed or seriously injured to date, but that is, unfortunately, just a matter of time.
I live in this neighborhood and walk or ride through it daily. It is heartbreaking to see these drivers on the side of the road with their damaged cars. I can only imagine the extent of their trauma.
The worst part is that the outcome has been abysmal. All this expense and all the dangerous situations that have been created have not necessarily slowed the traffic on the main arteries. If one chooses, one can still run these streets at 40 or 50 miles per hour.
The city has even gone so far as to plant bushes in the middle of these islands, with the expectation that volunteers will take care of the gardening. We know from the experience on Montford and Murdock avenues how long this will last. Eventually maintenance will be an additional expense to the city.
You can put green lipstick all over this pig and it will still be a deadly wild boar that is going to kill somebody.
The only positive thing that has come out of this entire process is that the gentle speed bumps on such streets as Evelyn Place and Country Club Road are effective and have slowed the traffic without being dangerous and unsightly. Also, Macon got a much-needed sidewalk, although its poor design may cause safety problems in the sharp curve at the top of the hill.
The solution to the problem of getting people to drive through the neighborhood at a reasonable and safe speed is simple, but will cost money:
• First, all of the concrete obstructions must be removed.
• Then, after careful study, strategically install the same type of speed bumps that are on Evelyn Place and Country Club Road.
• Put up proper signage, so that both locals and visitors will be warned and aware of the speed limit, and install several speed boards (flashing signs that alert motorist of their speed). Unlike the temporary boards you might have seen used in the city, these devices are available in attractive designs.
• Finally, install a traffic light at the intersection of Charlotte Street and Edwin Place.
If you have an interest in effecting a change in this situation and would like to help, please contact me at email@example.com.