I am submitting input on the Merrimon Avenue widening project as an Asheville resident, a public health professional, and an enthusiastic-and-extremely-concerned bicyclist. NCDOT’s proposed plan for widening Merrimon Ave from W.T. Weaver Boulevard to Edgewood Road completely misses the mark with both process and design, and fails to meet the needs of all residents who wish to travel this corridor on bicycles and on foot.
The process used to develop this plan—particularly the apparent complete lack of engagement with the City of Asheville, and the fact that no alternatives were presented to the public—is incredibly troubling. Further, the proposed design itself would make this corridor (which is already notoriously treacherous for bicyclists attempting to travel between North Asheville and the downtown area) even worse. This design mimics some of the worst roads in the Asheville area and runs completely counter to the groundswell of support in Asheville for people-centered road design that allows residents and visitors to move throughout the city safely and by many different modes.
The City of Asheville has already invested years of effort to develop thoughtful, comprehensive plans for improving multi-modal transportation in our community, including the Asheville in Motion (AIM) plan and the Asheville City 2025 Plan. NCDOT’s Division 13 should partner with the CoA Transportation Department to align designs for improvements to Merrimon Ave with these existing plans.
The current proposal does not even align with NCDOT’s own Complete Street Policy, or with NC’s Vision Zero Policy, which both call for close coordination and partnership with local government to design complete streets that optimize mobility and safety for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit users. NCDOT Division 13 should ensure that the process it uses to develop alternatives for the Merrimon Ave corridor, as well as the details of those alternatives, align with the existing guidelines in these policies.
Finally, the current proposed design does not meet existing federal standards or align with evidence-based design guidelines from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). In particular, the proposed 2-foot bicycle lane along with a planned 40 mile per hour speed limit is a glaring failure to align with AASTHO recommendations of at least 4 feet bike lanes. Sub-standard design is a recipe for even greater safety issues for bicyclists and pedestrians.
I am disappointed and extremely concerned by the total lack of engagement with the City of Asheville, the lack of proposed alternatives, and the proposed design which leaves bicyclists effectively fending for themselves against high-speed vehicular traffic. As a bicyclist I am convinced this design will leave me and my fellow bicyclists far worse off than we are now. I encourage NCDOT Division 13 to go back to the drawing board and work closely with the CoA, local businesses, and residents, to design a Merrimon Avenue that works for us all.
Emily Kujawa, MPH, RD
Executive Director, Kujawa Consulting