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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Saying no to positive assets

Ask Joe Sanders what the bicycle community thinks of the current retreat from bike lanes and greenways in road improvement projects and he will gently remind you that you’re asking the wrong question.

“We need to understand that what they’re calling the bicycle community is a very small percentage of the population,” he says. “When you think about those people that would like to have something like this or those people that need something like this, now we’re looking at a much larger section of the population.”

In any case, whether it’s the so-called spandex warriors who would benefit from a safer ride on busy Kanuga Road or N.C. 280, a two-wheel commuter or a retired couple out for a morning walk, folks who ride or walk are losing.

Property owners along Kanuga Road don’t want a wider Kanuga. Homeowners on N.C. 280 in Mills River resist a greenway. Residential and business activists in Laurel Park work mightily to block a transportation improvement that has bike lanes, sidewalks and roundabouts. The self-appointed curators of the “character” of Flat Rock insist that Highland Lake Road must stay exactly as it is — with curves so hazardous they’re graced with lovely steel guardrails.

Elected leaders are responding by negotiating away the sidewalks, bike lanes and multi-use paths that would, if we would accept them, markedly increase our transportation options and make roads safer and more usable.

It’s understandable that three elected officials — County Commissioner Bill Lapsley, Hendersonville City Council member Steve Caraker and Flat Rock Village Council member John Dockendorf — sought rollbacks on the Kanuga and Highland Lake road projects when they met two weeks ago with acting DOT Division Engineer Brian Burch. But if we deal away the project’s better assets, what have we really gained but a faster road. In the NCDOT world, it’s called the Complete Streets program — a progressive approach that aims to add options that make roads and highways a path from point A to point B not just for the sedentary driver behind the wheel.

“Are we going to let public outcry kill things that in every respect make sense?” Sanders said in an interview. “And when I say every respect, you can reference the North Carolina Department of Transportation bicycle and pedestrian plan. It’s based upon health, safety, mobility, economy and the environment. And they have hard data that says biking and walking facilities address every one of these in ultra-positive manner.”

We’re still a ways off from final decisions on Highland Lake, Kanuga, U.S. 64 through Laurel Park, N.C. 191 in Mills River and the proposed N.C. 280 greenways. But these past few weeks have been discouraging. Cars and trucks v. pedestrians and bicycles is always a one-sided collision. Cars and trucks are still winning. We may be about to spend tens of millions of dollars, and have nothing new and better to show for it. Bicyclists and walkers should speak now or forever risk their lives.