Brevard is frequently referred to as the Cycling Capital of the South, due to the hundreds of miles of world-class recreational riding in our community. But when it comes to fostering and creating a cycling and pedestrian friendly environment, we’re always striving to make things better.
After all, our multi-use bike path is fantastic, but there are many destinations that it doesn’t reach. There are some intersections without crosswalk buttons, and narrow road shoulders can be challenging for cyclists. Fortunately, some dedicated community members have begun working behind the scenes to make our county more bike and pedestrian friendly.
Mark Burrows, the county’s planning and community development director, has been working with his team and a list of about 24 community volunteers to form a steering committee, with the goal of implementing a county-wide bike and pedestrian plan.
Local officials have also gotten involved by participating in the N.C Department of Transportation’s Watch For Me NC campaign. Aimed at reducing the number of pedestrians and bicyclists injured in crashes with vehicles, Watch for me NC involves two key elements: 1) safety and educational messages directed toward drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists; and 2) high visibility enforcement efforts by area police to reduce violations of traffic safety laws.
In conjunction with that program, local law enforcement is encouraging drivers to pay more attention to cyclists and pedestrians. The city has painted some temporary bike lanes throughout the city to remind drivers that they’re not the only ones on the road.
There are also some DOT projects in the works that will make more room for cyclists on our county roads.
Burrows said that he has seen the initial designs for a modernization of N.C 280 from Food Matters, a local grocery store, to downtown Brevard. NC DOT aims to remove the center turning lane from this four-mile stretch of five-lane highway and install a tree-lined median, meant to increase the aesthetics of the drive into Brevard, serve as a buffer for noise and make the road safer for everyone. That design includes bike specific lanes down each side of the road, with the possibility of roundabouts to improve traffic flow and cycling safety, according to DOT officials.
Improvements to the entrance of Pisgah National Forest are also in the works, with the possibility that a roundabout will be installed to help with traffic leaving the forest during the busy summer months. The DOT is going to widen the road, creating two exit lanes to help with congestion, and extend the two lanes to Avery Creek Road, also known as the horse stable road.
Plans for singletrack have also been drafted, with the aim of funneling riders from the local bike shops, the Eastatoe path, Pilot Cove and Davidson River campground off the pavement and keeping them safely on the dirt.
All in all, Burrows said patience and good attitude are the most important components of this plan. Many of the projects will take years to finish, like the relocation of Wilson Road, which runs along the east side of the French Broad River and serves as one of the main arteries for road cyclists cruising the river valley.
Roads like Wilson enable cyclists to ride from Fletcher to Rosman without much climbing, but Burrows said some residents have expressed concerns about the high number of cyclists. By widening some of these roads, improving the shoulders and working with the cycling clubs, Burrows hopes to improve relationships.
As more and more people embrace a healthy lifestyle that includes cycling and walking, everyone will need to become more accustomed to sharing the road. Finding the best way to do that through community action and smart DOT planning now can have drastic changes to transportation infrastructure just a few years down the road, which will have an economic impact as well.
Joe Sanders, former president of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club, works diligently as a cycling advocate throughout the region. Sanders is optimistic that the more we do now, the better off we will be in the future.
“You see, I’m a (baby) boomer,” he said. “Our generation went to where the jobs were when we were young professionals. Now, young people find the places they want to be and they find a job, or they create their own.
“Interestingly, I do a lot of work with AARP, and retirees are searching for places to go where they don’t have to rely on cars. We’re going to have to give up our driver’s license someday, so if we can still get out for a walk or ride on a bike path, then we will be able to age gracefully. And companies are going to want to relocate to places where there is green infrastructure.”