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Village Council dumps $40,000 bike-ped plan

A bicycle-pedestrian study recommended a variety of greenways and trails in Flat Rock. The Village Council voted last week to kill the plan. A bicycle-pedestrian study recommended a variety of greenways and trails in Flat Rock. The Village Council voted last week to kill the plan.

The Flat Rock Village Council voted last week to kill a $40,000 bicycle-pedestrian study that envisioned an ambitious network of greenways and sidewalks linking popular destinations along public roads and through undeveloped land.

 

The board’s action was the latest in a series of moves by the newly elected council majority to roll back or kill projects that former councils had endorsed, including a sidewalk on the south side of Highland Lake Road, a crosswalk to the Park at Flat Rock and a paved bike path through the park.
Developed in a more than two-year process, the study identified miles of on-road and off-road trails that the village could develop. Beginning in October 2016 with a kickoff meeting, the traffic engineering firm Kimley Horn and a 14-member steering committee spent months collecting public input, drafting a plan, estimating costs and settling on recommendations. A grant from the NCDOT covered 90 percent of the plan’s cost, with the village paying $4,000.
By accepting the study, board member Anne Coletta said, the council would be signaling that greenways and trails could be constructed. The new council majority opposes nearly all of them, reflecting in particular broad opposition among homeowners along Little River Road.
“It looks (from the map) as though at some point the village or someone potentially may use your property for a path,” Coletta said. “I just think it should be deleted because it’s not reflective of adequate community input at this time.”
“I disagree, of course,” said Sheryl Jamerson, who has clashed with Coletta repeatedly over Highland Lake Road, the bike-ped plan and other issues that last November’s election pivoted on. “The language could not be more clear. The map does not identify approved paths but paths that could be considered by the village at some future point in time. That map does include possible places for trails in the future and that’s all it says it does.”
Coletta responded that “people see it on the map adopted by the village and they see it as something that might happen.”
Mayor Nick Weedman also opposed the study’s recommendations.
“To me, all of those trails and potential pedestrian-bike paths are located primarily on scenic byways and there are private owners involved, none of whom have been consulted,” Mayor Nick Weedman said. “And when you take a look at the cost, there’s never been a cost estimate with any of that.” Only a proposed path from Carl Sandburg Home to the Park at Flat Rock has a cost estimate, at $1.2 million.
“The cost concerns me and the fact that we’re identifying private property without any consultation also concerns me,” Weedman said.
Coletta’s motion to kill the bike-pedestrian study passed on a 5-1 vote with Jamerson voting no.

Joe Sanders, a Blue Ridge Bicycle Club representative on the steering committee, said the plan would have brought numerous benefits.

“It’s disappointing they do not recognize the value and the benefit on so many fronts of bicycle and pedestrian transportation,” he said. “It offers health benefits, environmental benefits and provides a low cost way for people to get around.” With the bicycle club’s agreement, “I had set aside $15,000 to help implement some of the recommendations.”

Cost up to $8.8 million


The largest historic district in North Carolina, the village contains 8.3 miles of officially designated North Carolina Scenic Byways. Although North Carolina Bike Route 8, a 120-mile signed state bike route from Brevard to Lincolnton, runs through Flat Rock along Little River Road, Greenville Highway and West Blue Ridge Road, the route “is not supported by any bicycle-specific infrastructure.” The draft plan recommended:
• A multiuse path from Highland Lake Road to Little River Road to connect the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and the Park at Flat Rock.
• Paved bikeway shoulders on Kanuga Road through Flat Rock.
• Four-foot paved shoulders and six-foot grass shoulders on Little River Road.
• A sidewalk along Erkwood Drive and on Greenville Highway from the roundabout to Highland Lake Road.
• A “streetside trail” from Highland Lake Road to the Claremont subdivision.
• Various off-street trails throughout the village.

The engineers projected costs at $150,000 per mile for 5-foot sidewalks, $220,000 per mile for 8-foot roadside bike paths, $220,000 per mile for off-street paths in open space or along streams and creeks and $2,000 per mile for 4- to 5-foot striped bike lanes. Cost of the highest priority projects was estimated to be $5.2 million to $8.8 million. Most highway grants to fund greenways and sidewalks require a 20 percent match from the local government bodies.

Inadequate public input


Coletta said the Village Council’s outreach was inadequate given the magnitude of the bike-ped plan.
“I think that we need to work on public input,” she said. “We had 50-something people participate — we’re a village of over 3,300 people. We really need to do a more comprehensive job of reaching out. To me it was boilerplate. Their solutions to me seemed very generic and did not take into account our historic character and frankly it would have taken a lot of our tree canopy.”
“I looked at all specifics, the population and demographics and I thought it was a very good document,” Jamerson said. “It has a great deal of suggestions about what could be done in the future to implement a bike-ped plan and specific actions that would be taken and by whom. I don’t see anything about it that was done improperly or done sloppily and I don’t think it was boilerplate.”


“Let me just say that the previous council twice considered this report and sent it back,” Weedman responded. “This was really in my opinion of marginal value. It didn’t do anything. It didn’t talk to any of the property owners, it didn’t offer any specifics” beyond cost estimates for sidewalks and bike paths. “To me that was valuable but there was very little else in it to me.”
Last fall’s bitter campaign over the Highland Lake Road project and other growth issues stirred up emotions that were not prevalent when the bike-ped plan was under development.
“The atmosphere has become incredibly political and divisive because people have decided they were very interested in these things (and) never were before,” Jamerson said. “Now they want to get involved. I think (Kimley Horn) did what we asked them to do, they did a great job.” Future councils could pursue or reject any parts of the plan it chose over time, she added. “I think there’s a great deal of information in here that’s usable. But to say now we’re wanting to get rid of it, we don’t want anything like this on record. It is on record, it was done, it was accepted.”
Weedman again said that the council rather than accepting the bike-ped plan had deferred action.
“It will be in the file,” he said. “Anybody that wanted to see it, they can. We just decided it doesn’t do much.”