Asheville On Bikes

Step Right Up // Julie Mayfield Answers AoB’s Candidate Forum Questionnaire

Tell us something about your transportation habits. How do you get around Asheville?

As a long time member and chair of the city’s transit committee, my first choice for my work commute is to take the bus. At times in the past that has been three to four days a week but, more recently, I’m lucky if I can ride one or two days a week. I am also a fair weather bike commuter when my schedule allows. And on the days I cannot do either of those, I drive my husband’s Prius or my 1997 Honda Civic. I also carpool when I can, and I have used the Uhaul Car Share program to help get around town when I ride the bus or bike or cannot carpool to meetings during the day.

In the evening and on weekends, we will frequently walk to Haywood Road in West Asheville for a meal, and we sometimes go for urban bike rides on weekends that involve grocery shopping and/or the Wedge.

What do you consider to be the most significant transportation advancement in Asheville and what impact does it have on our community?

While the City has invested heavily in bike lanes and sidewalks in recent years, I believe the most significant recent transportation advancement in Asheville is the introduction of Sunday bus service. For years, this was the number one request from riders, and the City finally put limited service in place in January 2015. As of April, Sunday trips have ranged from a low of 840 on the first day to a high of 1391, averaging 1180 trips each Sunday (that number has surely gone up since April). This is about one-third of the City’s normal Saturday trips, and a little less than one-quarter of the weekday trips. Though still the lowest day of the week, those numbers represent hundreds of people who are getting to work, going to church, going shopping, visiting friends or doing something else fun – all things they could not do before on Sunday without finding other, sometimes expensive transportation.

Please identify one way in which you’ve worked to make Asheville safer for pedestrians, transit users, and / or cyclists. What did you learn from this experience?

I have served on the City’s Transit Commission/Committee for six years, chairing it for three. I have also served on the Multi-Modal Commission since it was formed two years ago. In these roles, I have spent countless hours working to improve our bike, pedestrian, and bus infrastructure.

I have learned many things from this experience, but I have gained the greatest appreciation for the fundamental need to provide safe, easy, and affordable transportation options for people who do not or cannot have a car. When I first joined the Transit Commission, my primary goal was to entice elective riders onto the system. And while I continue to believe that is important, I now understand that the City’s primary obligation in the transit/multi-modal arena is to support and enable transit-dependent riders to get to work, school, shopping, church, and social opportunities. In other words, ideally, to live lives that are not so different from mine.

While we have made progress, our buses still do not run frequently or late enough, we do not have enough sidewalks to allow people to safely walk where they need to go, and our roads are still too often dangerous for cyclists. We owe it to our transit dependent population – which includes not just poor people, but also people with disabilities, young people, and our ever increasing population of older adults who no longer drive – to build a system that allows them to live fully engaged lives and to move safely around the City. I want to build a system that results in transportation being the easiest part of someone’s day, not the hardest. And if we build that system for people who do not drive, many, many others will benefit from it as well.

What do you consider to be Asheville’s primary transportation challenge and how do you propose to fix it?

I believe Asheville’s primary transportation challenge is funding to build a successful multi-modal system. If we build a system that gets people where they need to go safely, they will use it – whether that is a bus system that runs frequently and into the night, a network of sidewalks and greenways that allow people to feel safe when walking, or bike lanes that provide a safe place for cyclists. But those systems take a level of investment we don’t currently have.

The City has steadily increased its investment in the transit system, but it is still years behind the schedule laid out in the 2010 Transit Master Plan. Any new operational investment in the transit system is significant and must be ongoing, unlike a capital investment that has a clear end point, and the City simply does not have the resources to invest what is needed to make our bus system as useful to its core riders as it needs to be. We should be building a transit system that makes life easy for people without another option (roughly 63% of our current ridership), but we will not get there at our current pace of investment.

The City has also included close to $50 million for multi-modal projects in its 5-year capital improvement budget, but that is also not enough. And funding from the state for sidewalks, bike infrastructure, buses, and greenways is shrinking. Therefore, if Asheville wants these improvements – and we do – then we will need to find the resources and make the investments ourselves. I recommend exploring the creation of a dedicated source of funding for transit and other multi-modal infrastructure. I am not endorsing a particular solution, but it will likely require residents and visitors to contribute more for this community benefit. Asheville is about to complete its first multi-modal transportation plan, and it is appropriate for a community conversation about funding to quickly follow.

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