May 17, 2022
70 Court Plaza
Asheville, NC 28801
Dear Asheville City Council,
On behalf of Asheville on Bikes’ Board of Directors and its members (over 800 strong), I’m writing to encourage you to vote in support of the Merrimon Ave road reconfiguration.
NCDOT, Division 13, City of Asheville staff, members of the Multimodal Transportation Commission have all worked in good faith to produce a public input process that clearly defines the benefits and tradeoffs of a 4 to 3 conversion on Merrimon. The final voice for a more complete Merrimon rests with you on May 24th. This is your opportunity to lead and advance safety and dignity of our public rights of way for all people traveling by a variety of modes.
For those of you concerned about the political repercussions of supporting a safer street configuration, I direct you to the outcome of the public process where 59% of more than 4,000 respondents supported a 4 to 3 conversion on Merrimon Ave. This 59% is a historic result in support of this conversion.
More importantly, please take a moment and listen to this public comment from Gaia to the Multimodal Transportation Commission made on 3/24/2021. Gaia’s courageous statement helped catalyze the support that brought this vote to you. Gaia was struck by a motorist while crossing legally on Merrimon Ave and, as a result of that collision, has suffered dearly. I invite each of you to draw upon Gaia’s courage and examine the opportunity before you. Your vote either advances safety and dignity or re-commits our community to the existing conditions of carnage.
Each vote in support of the Merrimon road reconfiguration is a vote to affirm our collective commitment to public safety on our rights of way. Help lead our City in a direction where these articles become untrue:
- Asheville continues to lead in North Carolina in pedestrian and bicyclist collisions
- Asheville Citizen Times, A troubling trend: Asheville ranks first in the state for pedestrian deaths per capita).
According to NCDOT and the City of Asheville, the Merrimon data shows that:
- “ …there is approximately a 150% higher rate of crashes on Merrimon compared to other similar roadways across the State (for every 10 crashes on other similar roads, Merrimon gets 15) (City of Asheville Merrimon Ave Story Map, Crashes)
- Approximately 23% of crashes on Merrimon involve an injury and property damage estimates total more than $7 million.
- Merrimon experiences about 13 crashes every month. The chart below summarizes the corridor’s crash statistics.
If the current design results in nearly one crash every other day and produces nearly three injuries / month, how can we allow those conditions to continue for the next 10 to 15 years?
Advancing public safety means designing for people moving by a variety of modes and prioritizing for our most vulnerable road users. 8.3% of City residents do not own a car; the City has the obligation to provide safe and accessible infrastructure for these residents as well as motorists.
NCDOT and City of Asheville’s analysis states,
“a potential 29% crash reduction factor, which, if realized, could lead to approximately 50 fewer crashes and 10 fewer injuries on Merrimon every year. If applied evenly across the board, these crash reductions could reduce property damage by about $300,000 every year.”
Considering the existing conditions and the potential return on the investment resulting from a road reconfiguration, the Merrimon Ave re-stripping is a low cost, low hanging fruit, high yield investment in public safety. The current configuration isn’t working for anyone so it’s time to apply a new approach and a more complete design. The Merrimon road reconfiguration is an initial intervention which elevates safety and dignity on our streets.
NCDOT and the MPO are currently studying whether to make similar improvements to Biltmore Ave, McDowell St, Tunnel Rd, and Asheland Ave. Decisions on those recommendations should be coming to you within a year. These future opportunities to improve safety on our streets will be in jeopardy should you hesitate now to make this commitment on Merrimon Ave.
There are lessons to be learned from the Charlotte Street road diet that apply to your vote. The Charlotte Street project was kicked around for 20 years before a road diet treatment was finally approved by council over the concerns and objections of some residents who loudly objected. Like Merrimon, sidewalk improvements were outside the scope of the project but the road diet and new bike lanes have increased pedestrian use. As a result of the success and the calmer conditions, the City of Asheville and NCDOT are expanding sidewalks on Charlotte Street to I-240. When the City leads, NCDOT follows. We need your leadership now.
While the road diet is often framed as controversial, the public support is strong and well informed; citizens desire safer streets and more mobility options. Charlotte Street, Wilma Dykeman Greenway, Coxe Avenue all endured moments – often months or years of moments – of controversy before being supported by City Council. Each one of those projects has been a success, and Merrimon will be too. On behalf of Asheville on Bikes, I urge you to vote in favor of safer streets and approve the Merrimon Ave road reconfiguration.
Executive Director, Asheville on Bikes
enc: AoB Research Addendum For City Council