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Merrimon Widening Comment

Vann: If Merrimon becomes “Hendersonville Road North”, which community connector is next?

Dear Mr. Hood:

I am a resident of North Asheville and regularly use Merrimon Avenue to locally shop, to go to UNC Asheville events, to connect to I-240 and to go downtown.    I think everyone agrees that the entire length of Merrimon from Beaver Lake to downtown needs review and improvement.  I write to express my concern that the Project identified above does not reflect consideration of community interests and is not the best we can do as we look forward to the Asheville of tomorrow.   

The issues with the Proposal are too numerous to fully address in this letter.   present them in bullet form and request that NC DOT extend its period for public comment and meaningfully engage with the City of Asheville, its neighborhoods and its citizens to design a new Merrimon Avenue that serves us all.   

I oppose the project for the following reasons: 

  • Economically unjust, this Project is solely for the benefit of the car driving public, disfavoring those who can’t afford cars, can’t drive cars due to disabilities or choose not to drive.  Although the Proposal contains improved and widened sidewalks, pedestrian traffic will be negatively impacted by a widened thoroughfare more difficult to cross with increased traffic travelling at higher speeds.  In addition to a fifth lane, lanes would be widened making difficult crossings even more perilous for all, particularly the elderly and disabled. 

  • Environmentally unsound as its sole purpose seems to be more cars at higher speeds.    The Project addresses moving cars, not people, and ignores the environmental benefits of alternative transportation.    It fails to consider the obvious environmental costs of more fossil fuel produced by increased vehicular traffic.  The Project fails to consider what Asheville needs in the future, as the inevitable increase in ride sharing and autonomous vehicles will revolutionize surface transportation and make possible more “complete streets” usable by all. 

  • Failure to consider “Complete Street” alternative proposals that would enhance livability and business viability.  Concepts such as a “road diet” (shrinking four to three lanes with expanded bike paths and sidewalks) and design of Merrimon to serve as a “complete street” that brings neighbors together and balances the interests of walkers, bikers, and businesses with those of drivers were not considered. 

  • Destructive of neighborhood cohesion and small business growth, because the Proposal would reduce Merrimon’s use as a “neighborhood connector” in favor of enhancing it as an ”arterial” through road like Hendersonville Road in South Asheville.  Studies have shown that slower traffic improves business success while speeding commuters have the opposite effect.  

  • City and neighborhoods have not had an opportunity to voice what we want our neighborhood to be.  Because Merrimon is a state road, DOT has plowed ahead without reasonable notice and an opportunity for voices to be heard.  Only one hearing was held on a Monday in the first full week after New Year’s.    The City was not consulted at all.  And the public was given just a three week comment period.  We are all playing catch up and need more time to be heard.  

  • Design is contrary to City’s development plans and recent changes to Merrimon zoning intended to make it more business and people friendly.   Asheville requires consideration of greenway access, bike traffic, and bike climbing lanes if changes are made to City roads.    The proposal would not do anything to connect the greenway east of Merrimon to the greenway west of Merrimon, thus requiring joggersbikers and parents pushing baby carriages to cross the road at an unsafe intersection which would be about a third wider.   

  • Road would be made more unsafe.  While proposed changes are intended to make Merrimon safer, the additional width of travel lanes an additional lane of traffic, and roadway design changes would have the perverse effect of making the road more unsafe, with more motorists travelling at higher speeds and with pedestrians and bikers having to traverse wider intersections.  

  • Newly created bike lanes would be unsafe and not meet four foot width standard.  While the creation of a bike lane would be an improvement, the Project would create two foot lanes adjacent to two foot gutters, rather than a four foot lane designed for bike safety.  The seam between the two foot lane and the two foot gutter is unsafe for bikers. 

  • The design is an unnecessary expenditure of several million dollars.  DOT’s own statistics show no increase in Merrimon traffic in the last two decades.  No statistical data suggesting need to accommodate more cars.  Alternative design concepts, including a “road diet” can be explored by using temporary barriers and paint, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.  

This is not just a Merrimon/North Asheville, issue.  DOT controls many similar roads around Asheville.  If Merrimon becomes “Hendersonville Road North”, which community connector is next?  DOT should delay consideration of the Project; extend the period for public comment;   consider input from Asheville’s elected officials;  and  schedule additional meetings in various City neighborhoods in order to hear from the public.  Any proposal to modify Merrimon should connect greenways, provide for safe four foot bike lanes;  enhance bus or other alternative mass transit; and focus on enhancing Merrimon as a neighborhood connector rather than an arterial thru way.   

Vann Vogel