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Strive Not to Drive week urges residents to diversify transportation

Cyclists helping launch Strive Not to Drive week ride through downtown Asheville during the Mayor’s Leadership Community Ride. The weeklong event — which coincides with a major overhaul of Asheville’s transit system — urges businesses and individuals to use alternative modes of transportation. Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

As Asheville’s bus agency launched its reworked system Monday, alternative transportation advocates urged residents to park their car and join a weeklong campaign to walk, bike and ride the bus instead.

With bikes in hand, new and experienced cyclists, public officials and residents crowded Pack Square Park Monday afternoon to cheer on the introduction of the Asheville Redefines Transit system and the launch of Strive Not to Drive week.

“With each year we’re around, we gain a little more momentum, a little more knowledge,” said Ching Fu, outreach specialist at REI Asheville and one of the coordinators of Strive Not to Drive’s Workplace Challenge.

Fu and other organizers use the week to urge Asheville residents to use alternative methods of traveling to work. The event has taken place in different forms for 21 years, incorporating diverse events, sponsors and partners, such as Liberty Bikes and the Asheville transit system.

The Workplace Challenge asks companies to recruit their employees to pledge to ride the bus, walk or bike to work the entire week. Companies compete for awards and bragging rights.

Fu said the number and variety of businesses involved this year in the challenge increased to more than 35 organizations and 220 individuals. That’s up from the 218 individuals and 21 businesses and organizations who pledged in 2011, according to the Strive Not to Drive website.

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Of the at least 12 REI employees pledging this year, many already ride their bikes to work regularly. Fu, who rides her bike from her home in West Asheville to REI in South Asheville, attributed this to the outdoors-focused culture of the company.

Padraic Hirsch, who works at REI in South Asheville, holds up his dream road bike. Hirsch uses a single-speed bike to get to work. He’s one of a group of REI employees to join the Workplace Challenge of Strive Not to Drive Week. Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

REI offers incentives for participating and houses shower facilities for its employees.

Other businesses may not have those amenities, but are still finding ways to participate.

The food delivery company Valet Gourmet is involved in the Workplace Challenge for the first time, with five out of its six office employees pledged, said employee Kenan Hopkins in an e-mail.

The nearly 9-year-old company is also launching its bicycle delivery this week.

“Riding bicycles to work in the morning kicks the day off to a perfect start and gives us something to look forward to in the afternoon/evening,” Hopkins said.

The company decided to join the Workplace Challenge, he said, because “many of us are cycling enthusiasts who really like the Asheville area and wish to help raise awareness for alternative transportation.”

That motivated the Dripolator Coffee Bar’s involvement in Strive Not to Drive, too, said owner Jay Weatherly. Five out of eight Dripolator employees are signed up to participate.

“An event like this raises awareness, encourages us, promotes us to create the type of community and the model of living in a community that, I believe many, if not most, in Asheville want to be a part of,” he said.

But challenges to using alternative modes of transportation to get in and around Asheville remain, both Weatherly and Fu said.

Fu said the biggest challenge to recruiting more people has been to convince them it’s possible.

“I think it’s just them realizing how easy it is,” she said. “We realize it doesn’t take that much  longer than driving.”

Greg Lieb, a Dripolator barista and Arden resident, said if he lived downtown he would definitely ride his bike to and from work. However, even if the public transportation system was improved, he would not take the bus over his car.

“If I had to, I would,” Lieb said.  “But I like to be able to come and go.”

But Asheville’s redesigned bus system will bring new options for public transportation to Evergreen Community Charter School in East Asheville, said teacher Lynn Player.

“One of the challenges that we face is our location,” she wrote in an e-mail. The school is located several miles down Haw Creek Road, and before Monday, the bus didn’t come to the school. “This new change brings new opportunities for our employees, students and families who want to use multi-modal transportation to get to school.”

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Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy said the changes were made to streamline its bus services and to improve on-time performance and usability – all without a city budget increase.

But cyclist Jarret Porter said he thinks Asheville could do more. He said his car broke down two months ago, so now he’s relying on his bike to get around town.

Shirtless and helmet-free, Porter joined in the Monday afternoon bike ride. And he said raising awareness and informing drivers of cyclists is important statewide.

“Driver education,” he said, “is really lacking.”

Fu agreed.

“I want people to be educated about the benefits of riding and that we have a right to be on the road,” she said.

And, she said, whether you bike, walk or ride the bus, she thinks it’s important to consider getting where you need to go without your car.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story quoted Ching Fu about challenges in participation. Those challenges are universal, not specific to her workplace.

Katie Bailey

Katie Bailey is a contributing reporter and photographer with Carolina Public Press. Contact her at bkbailey@live.unc.edu.

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