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Merrimon Widening Comment

Michele: An important way to reduce congestion on Merrimon Avenue is to make it convenient and safe for people who live and work nearby to get about on foot, by bicycle, or using public transit

From: Michele N. Dohse 
Date: Sat, Jan 20, 2018 at 6:21 PM
Subject: Merrimon Avenue widening: public comment
To: kbereis@hntb.com

RESPONSE TO PUBLIC MTG, 1/8/18, 737 E LARCHMONT RD

TIP No. U-5781 & U-5782

“Intersection Improvements oUS 25 (Merrimon Avenue) at Edgewood Road and WT Weaver Boulevard”

I attended the public meeting on January 8 with a long list of questions, few if any of which were satisfactorily answered. I saw very little that I deemed would “enhance safety.”  The only possible change I see as an improvement—and this was only on verbal assurance, not from the maps and other materials provided—is that sidewalks are to be extended where they are currently lacking.

It seems to me that an important way to reduce congestion on Merrimon Avenue is to make it convenient and safe for people who live and work nearby to get about on foot, by bicycle, or using public transit. Instead, NCDOT has ignored decades of planning and information-gathering by the City of Asheville (sanctioned and funded by NCDOT) to develop a plan that favors motorized, high-speed through traffic over other modalities. On information and belief, NCDOT did not even obtain Level of Service data except for motorized vehicles. It ignored principles of NC’s Zero Vision and Complete Streets policies as well as recommendations of City of Asheville including Asheville In Motion and Asheville City 2025 Plan. Guidelines of the  American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), supposedly incorporated into NCDOT bicycle policy, and NCGS 20-150, were also ignored.

At the meeting, I was told that bicycles, far from having a bike lane or even a climbing lane, were to be “accommodated” by an extra two feet in the travel  lane, for a total width of 13’ for that lane. My comment that this was totally inadequate was met with a shrug and a statement that “we’re trying to take bikes into account.” My bicycle handlebars alone are wider than two feet, and the guidelines mentioned above suggest that 4 feet, not two, is a minimum safe width (not counting gutter). AASHTO guidelines suggest that lane widths of 14 feet or greater allow cars to pass cyclists without encroaching into adjacent lanes.

I commute to work by bicycle from our home near UNCA to West Asheville (Covington Street) and feel  generally safe, as I am on city streets where the City of Asheville has provided bike-friendly infrastructure such as bike lanes (Haywood and Hilliard), climbing lanes (Clingman), and “traffic calming.” To get by bike to businesses on Merrimon, I  make significant detours on adjacent side streets to minimize my travel time on Merrimon, which I view as extremely hazardous.

My family lives off Mount Clare—the intersection where an ART passenger disembarking from the bus was struck and killed by a car is just blocks from our house. Residents had been trying for decades to get a traffic light at that intersection, by the way. The Merrimon corridor in this project  is used by many types of pedestrians: UNCA students, people (including families with children) going to and from Weaver Park and the greenway, transit users, and customers of the many businesses on Merrimon Avenue.   Most sidewalks have no, or very little, buffer from the car traffic speeding by and often exceeding the current 35 mph speed limit. NCDOT’s plan, which will make the road wider and straighter (thus encouraging higher vehicle speeds), and which is designed for a 40 mph speed limit, only increases the danger to pedestrians and cyclists.

I did not receive a satisfactory answer when I asked how a central turn lane—often called a “suicide lane”—was going to decrease congestion or increase safety for anybody, including drivers. The high number of adjacent business on Merrimon means that northbound and southbound traffic trying to turn left from that central lane will often come into conflict.  My question as to the feasibility of dedicated left-turn-only lanes at designated intersections, with traffic lights and travel lanes (here I am picturing the Merrimon  intersection across from Chick-Fil-A, which seems to work fine) was basically brushed aside. I get the impression that NCDOT is already invested in this one design and does not really welcome public input.

I also question the short timeline, lack of alternatives,  and cost of the project, and its disruption of local businesses and neighborhoods. NCDOT should take into account the extensive research and planning already done by City of Asheville, and work closely with the city. Many improvements could be done incrementally with less disruption.

Michele Newton Dohse