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Bicycle-friendly vision slowly becoming reality

Asheville Citizen-Times: Bicycle-friendly vision slowly becoming reality

MAY 17, 2010

Western North Carolina has become a destination for bicyclists eager to take in the Blue Ridge Parkway vistas or go off trail on mountain bikes in Bent Creek or Mills River. Cycling is popular recreation for many on the weekends, but Asheville is slowly transforming itself into a friendlier city for commuters willing to ride their bikes to work during the week.

Expect to see more folks out on two wheels this week, as well as busier sidewalks and fuller transit buses as the community marks “Strive Not to Drive Week 2010.” A series of events through Saturday will encourage families to find alternatives to driving their cars everywhere, by taking bikes, buses, carpooling or just stretching their legs.

Mayor Terry Bellamy kicks off the workweek at 4 p.m. today in Pack Square Park with the third annual Mayor's Leadership Ride, highlighting the successes the city has had in making bicyclists more welcome and safer on our streets.

Asheville has made strides in the past year, doubling the number of streets with bike lanes from five to 10 miles, according to Barb Mee, a city transportation planner. Using federal stimulus money for repaving roads, the city will be able to add bike lanes along Kimberly Avenue and Coxe Avenue. Following behind the water department's new pipeline project, the city was able to add a climbing lane on Lexington Avenue, painting stripes for only $1,200, Mee said.

That's a start toward the city's comprehensive bicycle plan that calls for creating a 181-mile network in the next 20 years, including 64 miles of shared roadways, 43 miles of bike lanes, and 17 miles of climbing lanes that allow cars to safely pass cyclists on hills. Those improvements can only bring out more cyclists and help relieve the pressure of more cars congesting our busiest thoroughfares.

The average American drives some 15,000 miles a year, but isn't always getting anywhere in a hurry. Some reports estimate that average commuter will spend the equivalent of a full week each year edging through rush-hour traffic.

The convenience of automobiles can't be argued when it's pouring down rain or for a long-distance trip in a region where passenger rail service hasn't been available in decades. But too many people will drive less than a mile rather than stretch their legs with a good walk, or zip along on a bicycle.

Not all of those miles may even be necessary. A 2008 report by Rails to Trails Conservancy estimated that half the trips Americans make are only three miles long, the 20 minutes that a bike can cover, and a quarter of the trips Americans take are only a mile, which a pedestrian could walk within 20 minutes.

With high gas prices and sudden gas shortages in recent years, more than a few residents look to save money and improve their health by biking to work. A quick survey last September by the city bicycle and pedestrian task force members and friends counted 920 bicyclists at 51 intersections in a two-hour period, including 61 bicyclists riding through the intersection of W.T. Weaver Boulevard and Broadway, Mee said.

The benefits aren't hard to see. Besides saving on high-priced gas and expending no emissions that cloud our mountain views, cyclists are improving their own health. The American Medical Association reported up to a 50 percent reduction in Type 2 diabetes among people who engage in moderate physical activity — such as bicycling to work — on a regular basis.

With a worrisome trend of more children overweight or even obese in Buncombe County and across the nation, making sure that more children are able to ride their bikes safely to school most days can only be good for growing bodies.

“We want to make bicycling, walking, taking the bus just as normal as getting in your car and going somewhere,” Mee said.

The weather looks promising this week. So pump up the tires on that bike in the garage and try cycling to work instead of driving. It might even be more fun than creeping through traffic.

For information on the week's events, go to http//strivenottodrive.com/.