February 13, 2023
City of Asheville
70 Court Plaza
Asheville, NC 28801
Dear Asheville City Council,
On behalf of Asheville on Bikes’ Board of Directors and its members (over 800 and growing), I’m writing to you in strong support of Asheville City Council providing a letter of commitment and entering into a formal agreement with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to co-fund the proposed betterments and aesthetic improvements in the I-26 Connector project. We strongly recommend funding the $1.9 million increment of aesthetic treatments that the Aesthetics Committee has recommended which is above the amount recommended by city staff.
AoB is dedicated to advancing safe, predictable, and dignified active transportation facilities that provide people with a variety of mobility options to connect them to the places they need to go.
Council’s approval assures the inclusion of more than five miles of safe active transportation infrastructure. Those new facilities will interconnect densely populated areas in much of West Asheville and northward into Woodin – including many lower-income neighborhoods – with each other and into downtown. Active transportation is a component of affordability and congestion mitigation as it reduces reliance on single occupancy vehicles as identified in the City’s Living Asheville, Comprehensive Plan (adopted 6/19/2018). The full aesthetics package will result in significantly advancing Asheville’s active transportation network and address several of the connectivity and access issues outlined in the recently adopted, “Close the Gap Plan” (adopted 10/25/2022).
AoB recognizes that the total $7.3 million price tag is substantial relative to the City’s financial capacity. Please consider that DOT will be funding the bulk of the total costs and the city investment will be extremely well-leveraged. Furthermore, if these robust safety improvements are not included now, it’s unlikely they will ever be built as the City simply doesn’t have the capacity to retrofit a project of this scale.
Your vote in support of the Aesthetics Committee’s recommendations is a vote to elevate Asheville’s active transportation network which will provide people with safe and dignified mobility options. Asheville continues to lead in North Carolina in pedestrian and bicyclist collisions, a distinction that our community was reminded of, once again, with the recent deaths of Jason Dean Wyatt (died 11/10/22) and Vernon Bernard Whicker (died on 2/9/23). Both people were killed commuting on NCDOT controlled roads at night. It’s noteworthy that the Aesthetics Committee package includes improved lighting along the project as well as many other safety improvements. We have to design our way out of the continued carnage that is all too prevalent on our public rights of way. 8.3% of City residents do not own a car; the City and NCDOT have the obligation to provide safe and accessible infrastructure for these residents, too.
Now is the opportunity to invest in safe and robust active transportation facilities. The fact that the funding to NCDOT can be spread over several years would make it more tolerable. I’m confident the city will have opportunities to leverage significant additional funds from the TDA and maybe others. AoB is ready to strongly support grant requests by the City and other funders.
AoB has one significant design aspect to draw to Council’s attention. It appears that in the preliminary design of the Riverside Drive part of the project, traditional bike lanes are planned alongside motorized vehicles lanes with design speeds of 40-45 mph are included. Traditional bike lanes should not be implemented along this section of road. Federal Highways Administration recommends separated and protected bike facilities on urban streets with design speeds over 35 mph (Bikeway Selection Guide, Federal Highways Administration, p.23). Consider the recent research that demonstrates protected bicycle facilities increase ridership between fifty-seven and seventy-eight percent in a variety of cities through the United States (Why US Cities Are Investing in Safer, More-Connected Cycling Infrastructure). The safety of our most vulnerable road users needs to be the design priority.
AoB recommends that the planned multi-use path be widened from the planned 10’ width to 16’ width as this configuration will allow for a protected cycle-track adjacent to the multi-use path. This configuration would mirror the River Arts District, Wilma Dykeman Greenway design which is wildly popular and accommodates a variety of uses. Continued active transportation investment along the river corridor should anticipate the types of uses of Wilma Dykeman Greenway.
City leaders have a responsibility to establish a safe and dignified active transportation system and this project is the next opportunity to expand upon a successful design in partnership with NCDOT. I ask you to direct staff to strongly pursue this outcome in coordination with NCDOT.
Please approve the full package of recommendations from both staff and the Aesthetics Committee and direct staff to ensure the best-possible design configuration for Riverside Drive which is a protected cycle-track adjacent to the multi-use path.
Many members of Council and community leaders – with the strong backing of citizens – have worked very hard over many years to assure the best possible result in the project. We applaud all the efforts, have eagerly supported them, and been part of it along the way. Thank you for your consideration of follow-through at this critical moment.
Thank you for your leadership and ongoing support for the needs of all our citizens.
Asheville on Bikes Executive Director