Letters to the editor

Guess who’s paying the price

Let’s set the record straight. Wally Bowen and [your] article [“Cable vs. Community,” May 17] would have your readers believe that Buncombe County and the city of Asheville have negotiated franchise agreements which make only Charter Communications pay for the start-up costs and the ongoing support of public, education and government (PEG) channels.

Wrong. Consumers also pay.

The Buncombe County franchise agreement states: “Charter shall have the right but not the obligation to pass this grant ($340,000 mentioned in your article) through to its customers on their monthly invoices in an amount of $0.23 per month.” It goes on to say that after the $340,000 start-up fee is collected: “Charter shall continue to pass through $0.23 per customer per month for the duration of this agreement. These fees shall be a PEG support fee.” Similar language is also in the city of Asheville’s franchise agreement.

It can’t be any clearer. Consumers — not Charter Communications — pay for PEG channel start-up costs and the ongoing support for PEG channels. That’s the way the local franchising process works across North Carolina. Mr. Bowen doesn’t want your readers to understand that they are the ones who are paying.

The Video Competition Act (HR 2047), on the other hand, goes to great lengths to make sure that both consumers and local governments benefit from a streamlined franchising process. It guarantees that municipalities and counties will continue to receive the same amount of revenues from the sale of video services, that they will get PEG channels from all video providers, that they can get supplemental PEG channel support, and that they will continue to have the same authority over right of ways as they have today.

In fact, the Revenue Laws Committee in the N.C. General Assembly projects that the statewide franchise process will annually collect $4 million more than is collected today by all the local governments in North Carolina, primarily because satellite TV will be taxed under this bill. This will make even more money available to local governments.

Survey after survey indicates that consumers want landline competition for more choices and better prices. Landline cable competition reduces cable prices. In Lexington, the only municipality in North Carolina which has two landline-cable providers, Time Warner’s cable prices are 25 percent less than they are in surrounding counties. The same thing is happening in Texas, which recently passed a bill similar to HR 2047.

The time has come for consumers to have more choice and more control over what they watch and what they pay for than they do under today’s local-franchising process. HR 2047 will make that possible and will not jeopardize local government’s ability to provide local programming.

— LaVoy Spooner, Area Director
BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc.

For whom the Bells toll

Your recent story [“Cable vs. Community,” May 17] repeated a number of claims made by Bell telephone companies and their friends in their effort to get special favors from legislators. While they claim to support lower prices for consumers, what they really want is a leg-up over their competitors.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act, which the Bells spent millions of dollars lobbying to support, expressly allows telephone companies to enter the video market. But rather than invest in upgrading their networks, the Bells have chosen to milk their old phone monopolies, while cable companies — like the small operators I represent, some with only several hundred customers — have invested over $100 billion in private dollars upgrading their networks for high-speed Internet. As a result, 91 percent (and counting) of the homes that cable serves nationwide have access to our broadband offering.

Instead of supporting Bell-backed state or national video-franchising legislation that would give telephone companies an advantage over their competitors, let’s agree to several principles:

First, there should be a level playing field among competitors. Cable and telephone companies should be required to abide by the same rules and obligations in the spirit of fair play.

Second, cable companies have agreed to anti-discrimination obligations for decades. Failing to prevent telephone companies from discriminating based on income or race would undermine core American values.

Third, local governments have a significant role to play in ensuring the well-being of their neighborhoods.

These should be principles with which we can all agree with [to] bring telecommunications competition to all, not just a few.

— Matthew M. Polka
President & CEO
American Cable Association
Pittsburgh, Penn.

Choose alternatives to slaughter

I marvel at the duplicity of the American people who lavish huge financial and emotional capital on injured Kentucky Derby-winner Barbaro, while subsidizing the abuse and slaughter of billions of horses, cows, pigs and other sentient animals for their dinner tables. Although we don’t eat horses, we slaughtered 88,000 last year for export to countries that do.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503 and S. 1915) would permanently ban U.S. transport and slaughter of horses for human consumption. Similar congressional efforts were thwarted by the USDA earlier this year.

It makes no ethical sense to cherish our horses, dogs and cats while paying for the abuse and slaughter of billions of similar animals that are not part of our family. With the great abundance of soy-based meat alternatives in every supermarket, it makes no practical sense either.

— Alex Chilter

Strike three for Congress

I recently expressed concern about Bush’s surreptitious surveillance project to Sen. [Elizabeth] Dole, Sen. [Richard] Burr and Rep. [Charles] Taylor. Burr wrote back: “The President has repeatedly asserted that he is acting within the law and the Constitution. … The Administration contends that the work of intelligence gathering … is intended to prevent terrorist attacks.”

I responded: “Your faith in the President is quite troubling to me given his record of blatant prevarication. This is a man who time after time has lied to Congress, to the American people, and to the world. And it’s not just little fibs he tells, but gigantic lies that have led to a disastrous military invasion and occupation costing tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet when he asserts and contends about his illegal snooping, you believe this serial liar.”

Dole wrote back: “It has been long recognized that the president can conduct warrantless surveillance.”

I responded: “I’d like to know who has recognized, and when they did, that the President can violate Amendment IV of the Constitution.”

Taylor has not responded.

All three of these responses are typical, in my experience, [of] our sagacious delegates in Washington.

— Kim Carlyle

I just can’t help myself

From his bully pulpit, President Bush intends to put us on our knees to confess our addiction to oil. Addict, only a power greater than yourself can restore you. Turn your life over to the care of that greater power. Allow it to remove all your defects of character, most currently your addiction to oil.

I have experienced an awakening — it’s time for rehab! I’ll call my employer and admit the exact nature of my wrong: I am addicted to oil. Maybe he’ll hold my job for me. I’ll have the utilities send my bills to the White House while I get clean. Surely the bank and the mortgage company will do likewise. I’ll stop frequenting gas stations and stores that push addictive oil products. I will cease operating machines that require addictive oil — cars, lawnmowers, battleships, helicopters, tanks. I’ll throw out my lipstick, 3-IN-ONE, Vaseline and, uh, the Wesson. Just say no to oil!

Mr. Bush, in his wisdom greater than ours, fingered the problem, and he’s pointing at you and me. Let’s all go to rehab! Hang a sign on the Liberty Bell: Freedom is canceled indefinitely … America is in rehab. Whatever shall we do when the greater power declares America is addicted to food, soap, toilet paper?

There are those in D.C. who, along with their comrades around the world, became bored acquiring their stolen billions and are addicted to greater power for the greater high. They gather at their U.N. headquarters and scheme, using crisis after crisis to lure freedom-loving people everywhere to sacrifice liberty for false security. They create and justify war, disease, famine, terrorism, any means no matter how ghastly to accomplish their evil goal of absolute power on a global scale. Oh, pshaw, that’s probably my addiction talking.

— Nancy Monaghan

Editor’s note: Auto pilot Jackie Snyder really got the wheels turning with her May 17 letter, “Bicyclists Should Stop Being Selfish,” and we have been run over — as it were — with reader responses. Here is a collection of the thoughts expressed. Although some of the letters have been shortened to avoid duplication, we thank everyone for contributing to the dialogue.

Take the safer route

Riding a bicycle can be much more than simply getting exercise. Riding to and from work, school or errands is a legitimate and viable means of transportation. And although determining what is “selfish” is quite subjective, I certainly do not believe that it applies to people who wish or need to commute by bicycle.

I could very easily make the argument that riding a bicycle is far less selfish than driving, especially if you consider the immense resources required for [the writer] to drive — probably alone in her car — along Bear Creek Road. Compare this to a bicyclist taking the same road. A bicycle does not pollute the air that we all breathe. A bicycle does not consume petroleum products, which contribute to our national dependency on oil. A bicycle does not require large swaths of asphalt (for parking) in an otherwise beautiful setting. A bicycle does not endanger the lives of pedestrians in a crowded environment. A bicycle does not cause wear and tear on the roads — [with] repairs paid for by taxes. Yes, a bicycle may slow down [the writer’s] commute by five minutes or so. However, by my calculations, Ms. Snyder is the selfish one in this scenario.

Check the NC-DOT driver’s handbook. Bicyclists have a right to the road.

Ms. Snyder concludes her letter by saying that there are “a lot of things in life that I deprive myself of doing because it may put someone else’s life in danger.” Perhaps she should take her own advice and ride a bike instead of a car. In March, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report showing that in 2003, motor vehicle traffic crashes were the leading cause of death for the age group four through 34. Physician, heal thyself.

— Lance Ball

Donations — or SUVs — cheerfully accepted

Jackie Snyder seems to be greatly concerned with “inconvenience,” so let’s discuss that concept first.

Aside from Asheville’s uninspired and unimpressive public transit system, my only mode of transportation is my bicycle. I do not (specifically) ride for health reasons, I do not wear spandex, and I do not expect anyone to give a damn one way or the other. I have nothing to prove — I am simply trying to get from point A to point B. This is true of about 40 percent of my friends as well, who simply cannot afford cars. I also cannot afford to live downtown; I must ride five miles from Woodfin. Mrs. Snyder’s notion of “inconvenience” is frankly absurd and frighteningly narrow-minded to me.

At times, the arrogance and rage of automobile drivers in this town is astounding. I am not suggesting that this letter writer has ever entertained these notions, but it is quite common to have bottles thrown at you while riding a bike, not to mention verbal abuse and harassment.

I understand that being behind the wheel of a huge SUV gives people a sense of power and authority that is lacking otherwise in their lives, and the traffic conditions in Asheville are frustrating and unpredictable, but Jackie, it’s not my fault. Constant construction work, ill-advised city planning and clogged intersections are 10 times as frustrating on a bicycle.

Mrs. Snyder also says that there are many things she deprives herself of because it may put someone’s life in danger. I would suggest that honking at someone on a bike is one more thing she should deprive herself of.

Lastly, in regards to the suggestion that riders “go get a mountain bike and take it out in the woods,” not all of us are blessed with the cash to just go out buy something merely because our lives are inconvenient to others. If she would like to make her life more convenient by buying me a mountain bike (or, hell, an SUV), then …

— Blair Beck

Let’s really clear the road

I agree most heartily with Jackie [Snyder’s] conclusions, and I too think that the mile or two of bike lane on Riverside Drive should be plenty of room for all the cyclists in Asheville, or they could ride back and forth all day at Beaver Lake. The other thing that bugs me is school buses. You know, those things are very inconvenient for other drivers, stopping at practically every driveway. They are so slow that sometimes I’ve had to spend 20 or 30 seconds behind one before I could pass. I think they should just give kids their drivers licenses at 10 and let them all drive themselves to school.

Garbage trucks are another huge annoyance. Not only do they block the road, they also stink. It takes entire seconds before you can pass one on a twisty mountain road or in a neighborhood. And, like bicycles, it’s dangerous to go into the other lane to pass them. People really ought to be able to just throw their trash out back of their houses or down the local ravine like they used to, instead of expecting me to wait around while the garbage truck stops at their houses. Get these monstrous, inconvenient vehicles off the street. The same for the mailmen. Their cars aren’t as big, but they drive much too slow and tend to swerve dangerously in and out of my lane while they try to lean over and sort the mail. Why couldn’t all the mailboxes be put in central locations like large parking lots [so] people could just drive up and get their mail, which would be much more convenient.

I could go on and on — about funerals, fire trucks, ambulances, old people. All of these inconvenient obstructions to other drivers should be abolished. They are selfish, while I — as a car driver — am completely altruistic and just trying to make things better. After all, my time is much more valuable than theirs, and my way of seeing the situation is valid while theirs and the bicyclists’ are not.

— Sandi Childs

No death wish here

For the past 20 years, I’ve been an active cyclist — riding, racing and commuting in Connecticut, New Mexico and, most recently, Western North Carolina. During this 20-year period, I have learned that drivers fit into two simple categories:

(1)People who are considerate.

(2) People who are [not considerate].

Jackie, when a cyclist is waving you by with his/her arm “in a manner suggesting/insisting that [you] pass,” it is because the road up ahead is clear. There is no oncoming traffic approaching. Remember, we’re in front of you, and can see farther ahead. Driver’s Ed 101. Why would I wave you into traffic?

I don’t enjoy holding up drivers when I ride my bike. I know I am in the way. I want you to have the opportunity to pass. I will let you know when it’s safe for everyone (by the arm waving motion). On the other hand, I don’t have a death wish. A 20-pound bike weighs a whole lot less than a 2-ton automobile. A car will always win.

Lastly, I have found that when a driver is “stuck” behind me waiting to pass, the average time that they’re delayed is about 20 seconds. Twenty seconds! You mean to tell me that you don’t have 20 seconds to spare in your day? Wow, you are busy. Isn’t it ironic that you call cyclists selfish?

— Michael Dolan
Black Mountain

Relax and enjoy the ride

As a dedicated bicyclist, I took no offense at Jackie Snyder’s anti-bike-commuter letter. I feel similarly about the dangerous situation of mixing cars and bicycles on the road. The majority of America’s roads were designed for car traffic, not for pedestrians and bicycles. This was done long ago to practically force all Americans to own and drive cars. It worked. Most of us know it is very difficult to navigate our society without driving. Most people cannot imagine another way to live their lives.

Of course, this has led to an obese population, foul air, the destruction of the ecosystem and the division of families.

Driving a car is a definite convenience, but it makes people lazy. Every time someone starts their engine and hits the road, they are actively playing a part in environmental destruction and oil wars.

If you ride a bike instead, you are engaging in one of the healthiest and most liberating experiences life can offer. Riding a bike is a pleasure — yet also a sacrifice. It is hard to do, especially in the mountains. But the payoff is huge — for health, finance and spirit.

As a bicyclist and pedestrian, I do take offense at cars and the damage they do. Every driver on the road is spewing poison everywhere they go. I can dodge cars all day long, but dodging noxious fumes is impossible.

My advice to all of the frustrated drivers on the road: Relax, you will get there.

If there is a bicycle in your way, commend the rider for [making the] effort. Also, envy them, because the odds are they are happier and healthier than you are. Most of all, give them some space, because they are trying harder than you to make the world a better place.

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” (H.G. Wells)

— Ro Drake

A new fuel source?

Way to go, Jackie! I commend you for your candor and courage in writing your eloquent and well thought-out commentary. We both know that our viewpoint is an unpopular one in this overwhelmingly “green” town.

However, I must add that your promise to “not share the road” doesn’t go far enough to confront the scourge that we face in our daily quest to get where we need to go. The scourge I speak of is, of course, the growing number of bicyclists who selfishly pedal down our roads, drawing in more than their fair share of oxygen — oxygen that could be more efficiently utilized to ignite gasoline and produce sufficient power to haul not only us, but all our belongings to boot, while simultaneously conditioning our air and playing our favorite tunes.

Well, Jackie, I have a modest proposal that I’m certain you will find agreeable. Instead of risking life and limb going around bicyclists, [let’s] simply install a mechanism on our cars that scoops those selfish jerks right up, converts them into fuel and feeds them straight into our gas tanks! With the price of gas skyrocketing, such a device will pay for itself within a few trips to the mall. And I’m sure that anyone who is queasy about the moral implications of such a plan will do an about-face when they consider how effectively this will reduce our reliance on foreign oil.

Now if we can do something about all those pesky pedestrians endangering our lives by trying to cross the road, we might have something!

Keep on truckin’ Jackie!

— Rob Livingston

What the doctor’s gonna say

As a driver and bicyclist myself, I would like to respond to the cyclist’s letter in the May 10 issue [“Bicycles Deserve Some Respect”]) and the driver’s response in the May 17 issue.

Instead of bicyclists and drivers being angry at each other, I suggest that they band together and get angry at the powers that be, and demand more bicycle lanes! Our area has a national reputation for being a great place to bike, and such a reputation should be nurtured by public policy and legislation to further improve rights and access for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

By the way, every time a driver honks at me or tries to run me and my bike off the road, I revel in this little fantasy: That driver will be sitting in his or her doctor’s office someday and the doctor will say, “You’re overweight and are in danger of developing heart problems. I want you to get a bicycle and start riding at least five times a week.”

— Kate Mathews

Be nice

I would like to ask Jackie Snyder (and others who feel the same way) to take a moment to seriously reconsider her attitude towards bicyclists. Her assumptions are shortsighted and her anger scares me.

First of all, health and being conscious of the energy/environmental crisis that this nation/world face are not the only reasons people ride bikes. Besides the aforementioned, I also ride a bike because I can’t afford a car. How am I supposed to work or get around for other reasons? Maybe a cleaner, safer world doesn’t concern the writer, but she thinks because she has more money, she has more of a right to public roads?

It’s true some roads are scary for cars and bikes alike. No matter how fast you gotta get to Wal-Mart, you need to stay behind the biker until it’s safe to pass. In all reality, what’s the longest Ms. Snyder has actually had to stay behind a bike? Honking at someone on a bike could cause them to lose control and get hurt or killed. If you know you have to be somewhere, leave early. And yes, it is illegal to ride a bike on the sidewalks.

Anger towards people for wanting a cleaner world, a healthier body and a way to get around — because it inconveniences you — is an attitude that could lead to something real ugly. Instead, why not do something constructive with that rage? Petition for more bike lanes (especially on Merrimon and Biltmore). Fight for a livable minimum wage. How about sustainable energy sources? Be nice.

— Mandy Shupe

Bring on the bike lanes

It looks like we both want the same thing — more bike lanes! But the problem with only riding in bike lanes is about 1 percent of the roads in Buncombe County have them, and there are no bike lanes near my house. The closest bike lane is at the edge of Broadway, where it goes under 19/23. Then the lane magically disappears.

This also leaves out the notion of how I get to those bike lanes. I live about a mile from Riverside Drive. Unfortunately that bike lane will drop me off around A-B Tech, a short four miles from my destination. An average person walks a mile in about 20 minutes, so my mile walk to Riverside, my 20-minute ride on Riverside, and then my four-mile walk to work would take me two hours. That seems a bit inconvenient — just so someone does not have to drive behind me.

According to the Blue Ridge Parkway Web site: “Bicycles may be ridden only on paved road surfaces and parking areas.” The authorities want us on that road. [Chasing] us off would be against the law — and we all know we are law-abiding citizens.

And what do roads have to do with taxes? The Blue Ridge Parkway was conceived and implemented during the Great Depression to give people jobs. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp paid young, unemployed men $30 a month to build the 469-mile road. Where does the government get its money? From taxes — ahh, now we get the connection.

I just want us both to coexist. I need to go down Charlotte Street; you need to go down Charlotte Street. Let’s just relax and give each other room and be cool about it. [But] if we really want to get out of each other’s way, let’s petition for more bike lanes. They are currently considering widening Merrimon Avenue to five lanes for around $36 million dollars. City staff recommended creating a central turn lane and shrinking Merrimon to three lanes. This would leave room for bike lanes — a solution I think motorists and bikers would love to see, and that would cost merely $2.5 million.

Let’s work together to get something we both want: safer ways for each of us to get from here to there. Voice your [opinions] to local government so they can do what is right for us, the people.

— Mark Strasser

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