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Leaders pitch Mud Creek greenway to replace Kanuga bike lanes

Bill Lapsley, center, and Steve Caraker (left) are shown at a joint water committee meeting in November. Bill Lapsley, center, and Steve Caraker (left) are shown at a joint water committee meeting in November.

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Bill Lapsley, center, and Steve Caraker (left) are shown at a joint water committee meeting in November.

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Elected leaders negotiating a scaled-back widening project on Kanuga Road have endorsed a separate greenway along Mud Creek to replace bike lanes they want scratched from the road project.

Henderson County Commissioner Bill Lapsley, Hendersonville City Council member Steve Caraker and Flat Rock Village Council member John Dockendorf said in interviews last week that the three of them pitched the idea during a meeting last month with NCDOT Division 14 Engineer Brian Burch, the top-ranking state transportation official for the 10 western-most counties.

During the meeting, Lapsley, Caraker and Dockendorf came up with a compromise idea of running a separate greenway along a city sewer line easement that follows Mud Creek. Mud Creek runs from Jackson Park, under South Main Street and White Street and behind the new Publix site on Greenville Highway (where the city owns a piece of property). The creek crosses Erkwood near Kanuga, runs along the bottom of the Crooked Creek and English Hills subdivisions and crosses Little River Road near Berea Church Road.

“Hopefully the county will approve a feasibility study that will show that we’re not completely throwing the bike-ped community under the bus,” Dockendorf said. “I’m hoping this is an elegant compromise and not an ugly compromise.”

On Monday night, commissioners did just that, after Lapsley described the meeting with Burch and urged his colleagues to endorse the greenway study.

“From my standpoint, I’m not an ardent bicycle rider but I understand there are a lot of folks that are,” Lapsley said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to mix bicycle transportation and pedestrian transportation in close proximity to vehicles. I think that’s a disaster waiting to happen. If you have sidewalks, get them as far from the roadway as you can. If you have bicycles get ‘em as far away from the vehicle as you can. In that case what do you do? Greenways.”

County planners estimated a study of a mile-long corridor from the Publix site to Erkwood Drive wold cost $50,000. The county plans to apply for a $40,000 NCDOT grant. Henderson County could match put up the required 20 percent match of $10,000, although commissioners asked whether the city of Hendersonville might participate in some way in the project.

Caraker is scheduled to talk about the negotiations with the NCDOT to trim the Kanuga widening project and also the Mud Creek greenway idea.

Although the three elected leaders said they talked only in general terms about the path, all left the meeting in support of the idea and got a tentative buy-in from Burch. When they asked whether the NCDOT could fund the greenway as part of the Kanuga widening project, Burch said no; it would be a separate project. That could be significant because bike lanes would come out of the NCDOT highway funds; the state agency's funding of separate greenways generally require a 20 percent local match.

“We’ve got to get it funded the same we’ve been doing with the Oklawaha Greenway and other projects,” Laplsey said. “He said, ‘I don’t think DOT would have any objection to that.’”

Caraker credited Lapsley with the idea. From his background as a civil engineer, Lapsley knew about the sewer easement running south along Mud Creek.

“So he suggested we put a walking path on top to offer a consolation prize to those folks that were disappointed with losing a bike path on Kanuga,” Caraker said.

Lapsley then suggested the county take the lead to apply for a grant for a feasibility study. The process has to be fast-tracked because applications for that pot of greenway money need to be submitted by Dec. 31. After Henderson County applies for the grant, the proposal would go next to the French Broad MPO, the regional planning agency that prioritizes road improvement projects.

“We’re not committed to building it,” Lapsley said. “We’re committing to have a study done and a year from now if it all makes sense we could apply for funding to build it.”

Lapsley, Caraker and Dockendorf all serve on the county Transportation Advisory Committee. On that board and on their own elected positions they have heard months of protest from residents opposed to the $20 million Kanuga project from Church Street to Little River Road that would expand the road to as wide as 64 feet. From from Hebron Road to Erkwood Road, initial plans showed a 5-foot sidewalk, a 4-foot bike lane and 11-foot center turn lane. The Hendersonville Lightning reported two weeks ago that Burch had agreed to the elected leaders’ appeals to shrink the widening footprint by eliminating bike lanes. Another potential compromise, Laplsey said last week, is a “valley curb” instead of traditional curb and gutter.

“It’s flat and it has a V in it and a car can actually drive through it,” he said. “So what happens is that in effect it replaces the drainage ditch so now you’ve eliminated a traffic hazard. It provides drainage capability of the ditch but it also provides additional width for the road.”

Although a valley curb would not replace bike lanes, it would give riders more room if they choose to use Kanuga.

“You’ve in effect given the bike rider 4 to 5 feet more width than he has today to ride and the car can ease around him,” Laplsey said.

On behalf of the city, Caraker suggested that a greenway could pass through city-owned property behind the Publix site and then follow the city sewer easement along Mud Creek.

“If the Ecusta Trail ever got built that ends up near Ecusta trail,” Caraker said.

That led to talk of a larger plan that would extend a Mud Creek greenway from the White Street-Greenville Highway area to Jackson Park. Separately, in yet another big transportation project in the pipeline, the NCDOT has plans to redo the entire Greenville Highway-Spartanburg Highway intersection. A Mud Creek greenway should be part of that discussion, Lapsley said.

“I think now is the time to do it,” he said. The feasibility study should add the Jackson Park link so local officials and engineers can “figure out how we could pass a greenway through that whole area.”

The elected leaders cautioned that the study itself is only a first step and that many hurdles remain, including private property concerns and funding.

“In the perfect world we’d be able to connect Flat Rock and Estate Drive and Gracewood and English Hills and Crooked Creek and a lot of the other residents and come out at the Chadwick corner,” Dockendorf said. “It would be a nice transportation corridor. It wouldn’t keep the mopeds off Kanuga but it would give biking and pedestrian access to a lot of people without taking a lot of front lawns and stone walls on Kanuga.”