Council Discusses Transportation Freedom - TribPapers

Council Discusses Transportation Freedom

Will allowing scooters, skates, and skateboards downtown result in chaos that discourages even more people from patronizing local businesses? (March of Intellect by William Heath)

Asheville – Asheville City Council is looking into increasing transportation choices. At their October 10 meeting, they will be asked to reaffirm their support for expanding multimodal transportation and direct staff to continue pursuing plans to create bike lanes along College Street and Patton Avenue.

Mayor Esther Manheimer said the conversation about an “all modes of transportation ordinance” seemed to start with Councilwoman Sage Turner contacting members of council one-on-one, trying to build consensus via email. She said she understood how some on council may not have answered because “that’s not how we’ve been trained.” She therefore asked Turner to open a discussion in a public quorum.

Turner recalled divisiveness the last time council was asked to discuss modifying city ordinances to accommodate all modes of transportation. She said she had been talking to businesses at length to gauge support for allowing more modes of transportation downtown.

As is, automobile drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all have to stay on car lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalks, respectively, and often their legitimate lanes don’t take them where they need to go. Turner was therefore floating the idea of bike plus lanes, which would accommodate everything except automobiles.

Councilwoman Kim Roney pointed out that currently, roller skates, skateboards, and scooters are not allowed on the sidewalks. People going to the skate park cannot skate there because roller skates are legal only for recreational use downtown. Councilmembers thought it reasonable to ban commercial scooter rentals, like Byrd, but they supported letting people get from place to place with the vehicles of their choice.

Councilwoman Sandra Kilgore was outspoken in her belief that the city was being exclusive in the name of inclusion. Proposals for multimodal projects only change which groups receive wider opportunities. She was particularly concerned about the elderly.

Current plans call for removing 17 parking spaces downtown. It doesn’t sound like much, but Kilgore said people over 60 years old have stopped going downtown because they have to park in a garage. They want to frequent restaurants, but they don’t because of limited mobility and anxieties about navigating with their cell phones.

Kilgore said her comments were not intended to cater to tourists as much as locals. Aging baby boomers make up a large percentage of the local population. Now, with declines in local tourism trending, making downtown accessible to folks over 60 could help sustain small businesses.

Kilgore said she would wholly support multimodal accommodations if the city had wider streets. She also has no qualms about making bike lanes on side streets. Unfortunately, the main corridors in question are all very narrow, with no room for expansion. Emergency vehicles, delivery trucks, trash collectors, and other service vehicles all share the roads with business patrons.

She asked what summer nights would be like. Currently, the streets are packed with pedestrians. She only foresaw chaos from adding any kind of rolling vehicle to the sidewalks.

At several points in the conversation, it was clear that the city had commissioned so many piecemeal plans that nobody on council could remember them all. Often, one member would request data that another would say had already been collected for one study or another. Some recalled the city receiving a federal grant for one study, but nobody remembered seeing the findings.

One data set that had not yet been collected was requested by Roney. Assistant City Manager Rachel Wood said simply that staff had not yet had the time to analyze the demographics of cycle and pedestrian crash rates. Roney said Asheville had the highest crash rates in the state, and it was important to answer, “Who are we trying to help?”

Councilwoman Antanette Moseley wanted to read all the responses to the parking survey the city completed. Wood replied, as she had before to others, that that information was included in the packet council members had received. Anticipating Moseley’s next question, she said staff is still analyzing the demographics for this as well.

Turner wanted data on how many parking spaces were in the city, where they were, and how much they were utilized. Transportation Director Ken Putnam replied that the city only had that kind of data for public garages; keeping up with data for private parking areas was cost-prohibitive, not to mention invasive.

City Attorney Brad Branham said it would be November or December, at the earliest, before council could review proposed changes to the city’s ordinances. They would have to be approved by the Multimodal Transportation Commission and a standing council committee first, and their meeting dates will be subject to the holiday schedules of their members.