ASHEVILLE ON BIKES
What neighborhood do you live in? Why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
I live in Shiloh. When I moved to Asheville in 2012, I had a very modest budget. I looked at properties all over the City, and made an offer on a little house in Oakley, which was outbid. In the end, I was very lucky to find a lot for sale here in Shiloh at a price I could afford and built a small “compact cottage.” One thing that appealed to me about the location was that, according to the 2010 Census, my new home was located in the most integrated neighborhood in all of Asheville. It’s also a pretty walkable place. I can walk to my local Ingles and several local restaurants. I can even walk to my doctor’s and dentist’s offices.
I spend a lot of time in my neighborhood; I work from home and enjoy taking long strolls all around our hilly terrain. I’m fortunate to have friends who live all around Asheville, so I enjoy visiting neighborhoods on all the compass points—North, South, East, and West. I used to spend more time downtown than I have lately, partially due to the pandemic, and partially because our influx of visitors can make it feel less hospitable to those of us who live here.
I cherish the green spaces and parks and greenways along the French Broad. I consider the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay a real success, providing benefits to residents and visitors alike.
Tell us something about your transportation habits. How do you most often get around Asheville?
One thing I hadn’t anticipated, when I first moved to Asheville, was how much more car-dependent I would be. (I lived for almost 20 years in Washington, DC, previously—and I used public transportation for the overwhelming majority of my in-city travel.) Here, my 2010 Yaris is my primary means of transportation. It gets pretty good gas mileage, and I try to plan my car use so that I can run errands and fulfill other obligations as efficiently as possible.
Because of Asheville’s hilly terrain and my hinky right knee, a bicycle isn’t a practical option for me. I wish it were. When my budget allows, I’m definitely interested in exploring e-bike options. (I recently learned that Denver has an income-sensitive program to partially subsidize e-bike purchases for its residents—what a great idea! https://www.bicycling.com/news/a39786401/denver-launches-nations-best-e-bike-rebate-program/)
How do you feel about the transportation options currently available in our city? Can all of our residents affordably get where they need to go? If not, what will you do to improve transportation in our city?
Aside from private cars, for those lucky enough to have them, and bicycles (for those fit enough to ride them and brave enough to share the road with automobiles), residents’ options are pretty slim. Our public transportation is infrequent, its schedule is unreliable, and its hours fail to serve many of the people who need it the most (like service workers whose shifts end after bus service hours, who end up paying Uber prices to get home). It’s based on a hub-and-spoke model which simply doesn’t adequately serve our population. It operates big, clunky buses which often travel nearly empty.
I’d like to see the City explore a more agile, convenient, responsive, lower-carbon-footprint transit option: smaller, electric shuttles, perhaps dispatched on a predictable schedule on primary routes during peak hours, but also available on-demand on off-peak hours. The technology exists to run what would essentially be a public ridesharing-style service—that could reach deeper into neighborhoods and negotiate hilly terrain better. I can see a service like this becoming really popular, ultimately taking more private vehicles off the road. (Ultimately, one day, these shuttles might be self-driving as well.)
If someone came to you with a proposal to build a new piece of public infrastructure in our city (road, bridge, etc.), how would you evaluate whether or not that project was worth implementing?
The first questions for every large public infrastructure investment are: 1) who and what would it harm? and 2) who and what would it help? (The damage done to Asheville’s Black community, for example, by the construction of I-40 and 240, as well as the “urban renewal” that created Charlotte St, was devastating.) If you build infrastructure to support automobile travel, your car traffic will increase. Who does that serve? Who does it harm?
What environmental impact will the new infrastructure have? Will it affect stormwater drainage, will it withstand the increasingly extreme weather due to climate change? Will it serve a broad spectrum of the community: pedestrians, cyclists, those with special mobility needs? Will it contribute to the beauty of our city or be an eyesore? Is it going to serve a currently unmet need, especially for those who have the least access to amenities?
And from a budgeting perspective: how much will it cost and is this the best and most urgent use for those fiscal resources? How will it be paid for, and on whom with the fiscal burden land most heavily?
Which of these projects are most likely to improve the health and wealth of WNC residents. Rank each project. 1 is the most impactful. 5 is the least impactful.
Swannanoa Greenway/Complete Street: 5
AVL Unpaved (Natural Surface Trail Network) 4
Hellbender Regional Trail 3
I-26 Connector (STIP Number 12513) 1
Future Exit 35, New I-26 Interchange (STIP Number HE-0001). 2
Elaborate on your impact list, explain your ranking.
I’ve answered these questions as if you were asking about the health and well-being of ASHEVILLE residents. I don’t believe that I’m qualified to respond for all the residents of WNC—and as a City Councilmember, my first responsibility will be to our residents.
The Swannanoa Greenway has the advantages of being on level terrain and offering ADA-compliant access to all. It has stormwater management integrated into its design and planning. I can see it becoming a very popular route for pedestrians and bicyclists, and for recreational use by people of all ages. I like the idea that it’s intended to provide easy access to public transportation at regular intervals.
The AVL Unpaved network of walking and biking trails shows great promise in providing connections between a variety of neighborhoods and communities, and access to natural environments. The big challenge will be to see how much of it can be made truly accessible for a wide range of users.
The Hellbender Regional Trail is an ambitious project that looks to have both regional and Asheville-local benefits. Providing car-free routes from outlying areas of the city that connect to existing and projected greenways closer in seems like a great way to create broad-based practical and recreational use. I can also see the potential economic benefits from biking enthusiasts looking to do longer tours of our region.
The Future Exit 35 from I-26 is clearly being created in service to the new Pratt & Whitney plant. It may also provide some benefit to car traffic by linking I-26 and Brevard Rd. None of this strikes me as especially helpful to the well-being of Asheville residents.
I’ve rated the I-26 connector lowest because I think it’s going to be a massively disruptive project, negatively impacting the livability of every area through which it passes while under construction. I’ve yet to be persuaded that this connector is even desirable in the first place. It’s likely to enable increased car throughput, which I do not consider beneficial.
Please identify one way in which you’ve worked to make Asheville safer for people who use sidewalks, ride transit, and bicycles. Share the outcome for the community and what you learned.
I can’t make any special claim to have made Asheville safer. I did advocate for the Charlotte St. road diet, which was receiving a lot of resistance from some segments of the community. I’m very pleased that now some of the most vocal opponents to the reconfiguration have conceded that traffic flows even more smoothly, and that cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians are all safer. I think the businesses along Charlotte St. also agree that the new configuration has had no downside for them.
Do you support the Merrimon 4-3 conversion? Yes.
Elaborate on your position regarding the Merrimon 4-3 conversion?
Merrimon has an unconscionably high accident and injury rate. The proposed conversion will make Merrimon safer for cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. A three-lane conversion will calm traffic flow, make it more predictable, and reduce the opportunities for collision significantly. A less stressful traffic pattern will encourage pedestrian and bicycle use, and local businesses will likely benefit. As mentioned, it worked for Charlotte St.!
This is a clear case where the purported “common sense” idea that four lanes carry traffic more safely and efficiently than three is just plain wrong. The two innermost lanes both essentially function as ‘left-turn aisles,’ holding up traffic in both directions. One center turning lane accomplishes the same result, allows for bike lanes, and promotes safer driving.
If elected would you vote for the City of Asheville to adopt National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) design standards?
Yes, for lack of a “maybe” option in the response options.
Elaborate on your position regarding the adoption of NACTO design standards.
Until I started preparing to answer this questionnaire, I had no familiarity at all with NACTO and its proposals for urban design and transportation. I applaud its mission to promote street design that puts pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation first, and its emphasis on making safe and easy movement through the public landscape a priority for all (including redressing past and present inequities).
I’ve answered “yes,” to this question, because “no” seems too definitive a rejection. But the reality is that I don’t have enough familiarity with NACTO’s design standards to be able to say unequivocally I would vote to accept them *as is,* without any modification. There may be circumstances or situations specific to Asheville that might not lend themselves to NACTO’s guidelines. NACTO also indicates that its guidelines will evolve with practice and experience. I am, however, willing to learn more, and from what I’ve seen so far, they look like a great place to start.
If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?
Honestly, I feel that the City of Asheville needs to revisit the UDO from the ground up. It’s become a patchwork of overlays and exceptions and it needs to be reshaped with smart, climate-resilient, public-transport-friendly, affordable-housing-promoting growth in mind.
But if I could only change one thing, it might be to make the construction of ADUs permissible city-wide on residential property—and perhaps even provide tax incentives for those who build and make them available for long-term rental at affordable rates. We need more affordable housing, and well-considered infill is preferable to sprawl.
Investment in ped / bike facilities has been criticized as an agent of gentrification yet according to the US census lower socioeconomic groups use active transportation at disproportionately higher rates as compared to more affluent individuals. What are your thoughts regarding active transportation investment and gentrification?
If people primarily think of walking and bicycling and public transport as leisure or recreational activities only, then they likely lead lives of relative privilege. For lots of working folks in Asheville, those modes of transportation are the norm.
Gentrification can come with the assumption that every has, or should have, a car. But neighborhoods that are close to the city center often become more desirable as people with resources see added value in “walkability” and access to downtown amenities.
I believe government should lift up and support those who have been systemically excluded or mistreated, and those who are most economically vulnerable. I also believe that greenways, bike lanes, and great public transportation will serve not only those for whom active transportation is a primary necessity, but ultimately benefit everyone in our community.
What is the most impactful transportation investment city council could approve to advance transportation? How would you measure the return on this investment?
I’d like to take a deep dive into the data of our current ART bus system: learn everything about ridership, scheduling, usage patterns; do surveys of current and prospective users. Then I’d like to devise a short-term, budget-limited pilot program to test the viability of the idea I mentioned earlier: on-demand, ridesharing-style shuttle buses that would be more flexible and responsive to riders’ needs. (Obviously, there’s a technology element, the software to manage the system and the apps for riders to use, that would either need to be leased or developed.)
Return on investment would be measured by surveys of riders’ attitudes about the new service, levels of uptake, the demographics of those who use it, geographic areas of popularity, reduction in car usage, and — if electric vehicles are available for the pilot program — calculations of resulting reduction in the city’s carbon footprint, a valuable ROI. It would also be interesting to compare riders’ time spent getting from point A to B using the current system to the proposed new one. My expectation is that riders’ travel time would be significantly reduced, which I’d consider a great ROI. I’d also expect “fuel” costs to be significantly lower for electric vehicles than ICE buses.