A screenshot from the draft bike map for Asheville, produced by the Blue Ridge Bike Plan effort, shows corridors deemed "dangerous" or "desired." Click to go to the website containing all 12 draft plans produced for seven counties and several municipalities.

Launched last November, the Blue Ridge Bike Plan is moving closer to forming a seven-county cycling transportation network plan to help link important activity centers such as hospitals, schools, workplaces and shopping districts.

“The first few months of the planning process has really built momentum,” said Lyuba Zuyeva, a transportation planner with the Land of Sky Regional Council and member of the effort’s steering committee. The project, funded by a N.C. Department of Transportation grant, is focused on cycling condition and infrastructure in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, Swain and Transylvania counties.

More than 100 people attended public meetings held in the seven-county area in May and June, and leaders have also collected 450 survey responses. Survey results may be read here. [PDF] Both aided leaders’ efforts to develop a two-tier mapping system that prioritizes primary commuter/transportation cycling routes and a second tier that identifies recreational routes.

Current draft maps for each county and several municipalities are posted on the plan’s website and will serve as the basis for recommendations when the study is completed, which is expected to be in June 2013. The maps will be used to identify and improve bicycle facilities and infrastructure such as wider shoulders along commuter and recreation cycling routes. They also identify dangerous cycling routes and desired recreational and commuter corridors.

It’s one part of the overall effort, which aims to develop and adopt a plan for a bicycle network of commuter and recreational routes and to prioritize future bicycle-facility improvements.

Coming up, Zuyeva said, the group plans to gather more details about current cycling transportation conditions and needs.

“We’ll be doing a lot of data collection between now and December,” she said.

Plan leaders also hope to connect with more commuter cyclists to gather information about improvements needed for people who use bicycles primarily for transportation rather than recreation. Already, they’ve brought together a diverse group of stakeholders from the seven-county area, including rural and urban transportation planners and recreational and commuter cyclists, to work on or offer input into the effort.

“It’s much easier to find safe recreational routes than to commute by bicycle in the mountains,” she said. “Recreational cycling opportunities are great, but one of the region’s challenges is just getting from town to town.”

The regional effort overlaps with a one-year statewide bike and pedestrian study that started in July 2012. The N.C. Statewide Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan was developed by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation in collaboration with state agencies and regional, private and industry stakeholders.

“The state plan takes our work one level higher. It’s really great timing,” Zuyeva said. “The more information we can provide the state, the easier it will be to connect key regional and state bicycle routes.”

One of the challenges of gathering information about current cycling transportation corridors, Zuyeva said, is that not every county has a local cycling advocacy organization, which can make it difficult to solicit input from less populated parts of the region.

For instance, Zuyeva says the stretch of N.C. 213 between Marshall and Mars Hill is a particularly dangerous due to narrow shoulders and blind curves. The corridor has been identified as a desired, but dangerous, commuter route on Madison County’s draft route map.

Organizers hope to engage with more cyclists at public events in October and November (dates are not yet available) in the seven counties and at other information sharing opportunities such as at the Southern Green Living Expo, planned for Sept. 14-16, in Asheville.

Zuyeva also encouraged cyclists to submit comments on the Blue Ridge Bike Plan Facebook page or on their website.

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Jack Igelman is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jack@igelman.com.

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