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Mountain residents can join Blue Ridge Bike Plan group, participate in survey, Facebook page
When you consider that the N.C. Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation has only a $6 million share of the state’s entire $4 billion transportation budget, you get an idea of its priority among budget makers.
But that is also why Western North Carolina cycling advocates and planners are grateful for a slice of the pie in a N.C. Department of Transportation grant awarded to the Land-of-Sky Regional Council to coordinate a regional cycling plan, know as the Blue Ridge Bike Plan, that includes Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, Swain and Transylvania counties.
More than 70 cyclists, transportation planners and others began work on the two-year initiative at a November meeting at Haywood Community College, in Clyde. The effort also has the support of advocates and several transportation organizations across the region: the Southwestern Rural Planning Organization, the Land-of-Sky Rural Planning Organization and the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization. And as of the end of 2011, about 400 people had already completed a public survey offering input into the plan. [See below for ways to join or participate.]
The study’s aim is to not only coordinate existing local and county bike plans, but also to assess the region’s current network of facilities for cyclists and formulate future policy recommendations to guide local and regional transportation investments and improvements.
One potential outcome of the planning process is a plan for long-term improvements that will create safe and useful recreational and transportation cycling routes throughout the region.
Lyuba Zuyeva, a transportation planner with Land-of-Sky Regional Council, said the plan is vital to improving the region’s cycling infrastructure that could include more miles of bike lanes, secure storage facilities, traffic calming techniques and road signs to accommodate cyclists on commuter and recreational routes, in neighborhoods and business districts.
New effort at across-the-region planning
With cyclists a common sight on area mountain bike paths and scenic roadways, there is a certain strong mountain biking and long-distance recreational riding culture in Western North Carolina, Zuyeva said.
“It’s when you get into denser urban environments where you need specific accommodations for cyclists,” she said. “We’re interested in recreational routes, but we’re also considering cycling for transportation. That’s an area we want to prioritize.”
The effort to regionalize bike planning is relatively new among transportation planners.
Until recently, municipalities and counties managed cycling and pedestrian planning in North Carolina. It’s only in the past couple of years that the method of planning has fanned out to include broader regions.
The Lake Norman Regional Bicycle Plan [PDF], adopted by four Piedmont counties, was the first regional cycling plan in North Carolina funded by the NCDOT. Approved by the department in 2010, the plan will lay the foundation for a continuous, multi-jurisdictional bike route around Lake Norman that will connect neighborhoods, business districts and other prominent destinations.
The Blue Ridge Bike Plan coincides with the start of another regional cycling project, managed by the High Country Council of Governments, headquartered in Boone.
Some improvements could happen fast
With $6 million statewide devoted to bicycle and pedestrian transportation, there’s a financial cap on what can be accomplished.
“If local towns or cities provide funds, improvements can happen fast, but on a state level it can be a longer process,” said Zuyeva, adding that small improvements such as road signs can be implemented relatively quickly.
The immediate challenge of developing the plan is the dynamics of assembling so many passionate cycling advocates in a single room. Currently, there are nearly 70 members on the plan’s steering committee.
Ultimately, organizers will present recommendations to local governments for adoption and, advocates hope, set in motion a wave of energy from stakeholders and policy makers to carry their vision forward.
Advocates in Swain, Haywood say regional plans needed
While many cities and counties in Western North Carolina have already embraced cycling, it’s typically in the less populated corners of the state where the volume of cyclists dwindle and resources and support fade.
But, cycling advocates suggest that an improved network of facilities for cyclists can impact the regional economy by generating tourist dollars as well as deliver health and environmental benefits by shifting transportation from cars to bicycles.
And by expanding the effort’s geographic scope, advocates hope to heighten cycling’s recognition as a viable mode of transportation and to engage more cyclists in the planning process.
Andy Zivinsky is one of them. He and his partner, Diane Cutler, own and operate Bryson City Bicycles, and he serves on the executive board of the plan’s steering committee.
Zivinsky is also member of the committee developing Swain County’s 30-year comprehensive transportation plan, in which cycling may be a significant element. Once completed and approved, that plan may improve cycling opportunities by, among other things, adding bike lanes and by developing commuter routes in Bryson City and the county connecting primary destinations such as schools.
“We do need more for recreational riding, but we want to do more to utilize cycling as transportation,” said Zivinsky, adding that he has observed more cyclists on the road in Bryson City carrying bags of groceries and schoolbooks.
Zivinsky and Cecil Yount, who is the chair of BicycleHaywoodNC, both said they believe that a regional blueprint will be more useful than plans fragmented by municipality or county. Yount, of Bethel, said it would allow cyclists to pool more resources and share ideas.
While Haywood County officials have embraced the recently completed a countywide bike plan, there’s plenty of room for improvement in the physical infrastructure, Yount said. “We’re still very car centric,” he said, and making cycling safer is a major goal of their work. For example, he said, shoulders need widening on major transportation corridors such as state Route 110 between Bethel and Canton.
“I think there is a cultural change that values alternative forms of transportation,” he said. But, he added, “the big elephant in the room is funding. If the dollars aren’t there, we know this isn’t going to happen.”
Ways to participate, find out more
- See the planning documents and follow the progress of the Blue Ridge Bike Plan here. Upcoming meeting schedules will be posted here.
- The organizations are gathering public input through a survey, which is available here.
- The Blue Ridge Bike Plan also has a Facebook page, which you can like and follow.
- Volunteer for a bike count, which may happen in the spring. Find out more here. [PDF]