Drivers and cyclists share the road, for better or worse


Jonah Levy

A hybrid bike some cyclists prefer to ride in both urban and off-road settings.

Jonah Levy, [email protected], Contributor

The conflicts between drivers and cyclists raise questions about road safety and the need for improved infrastructure to accommodate both groups.

“I think in general, people should be more aware of bikers, pedestrians, or anyone who uses the road,” said Carson Land, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Asheville who frequently commutes and travels around town with his bike. 

According to the United States Census Bureau, only about 0.6% of commuters use a bicycle to get to work. However, there is still a need for improving the roads for cycling.

“I was the state’s first professional bicycling advocate, which means advocating for cycling is my job,” said Mike Sule, the executive director of Asheville On Bikes, a non-profit organization centered around cultivating the culture of urban and commuter cycling.

Sule said he believes roads should be improved for cyclists. “The community enabled me to have this position because they felt like their issues with cycling were not being addressed.”

Asheville On Bikes hosts cycling events, educates youth on cycling and tells commuters how they can ride a bicycle to work.

“Asheville injures more cyclists than any other city in the state of North Carolina,” Sule said.

Bicycle deaths continue to increase as the years go by, according to the National Safety Council.

“I’ve had a couple of close encounters with cars almost hitting me while I was riding my bike,” Land said. “The closest I’ve come to a car hitting me was when I was on the way to the UNCA campus.”

Passing cyclists on the road can prove dangerous and can cause some expected challenges for drivers when they aren’t patient.

“Slow down and leave plenty of space for cyclists when passing on the road as a motorist,” Sule said.

One major accomplishment for Asheville On Bikes is the ongoing change of Merrimon Avenue.

“Rearranging how a road is laid out can create a lot of excitement, sometimes resentment, sometimes concern,” Sule said. “There are elements of my work that are not welcome by members of our community.”

Merrimon Avenue used to have two lanes going in each direction, but the changes include one lane for each direction and bike lanes on either side with one dedicated turning lane in the middle, according to the City of Asheville.

“Give it time. Let the project finish. I know there’s a lot of opposition to it, but I think this is the direction that we need to be going in. Providing more options than just using your car,” said Chris Pelly, president of the Haw Creek Community Association, a non-profit organization that serves the residents of Haw Creek Valley in East Asheville.

Although cyclists can now enjoy the effects of certain areas of the road, others have voiced their concern for the change on Merrimon Avenue.

“In my opinion, adding a bike lane anywhere will improve the road, but Merrimon Avenue is so bike unfriendly already, I feel like the change might be pointless,” Land said. “I already try to avoid Merrimon Avenue when I’m cycling at all costs.”

The residents of Asheville have created a petition called Save Merrimon Avenue. This petition already has 3,000 signatures and seeks to revert the road back to the original way it was.

The Merrimon Avenue project is slated for an early May completion date.

“I think bike lanes are important because there are a lot of unsafe drivers out there, so having a dedicated lane for bikes is important,” Land said. “I do think in some areas, the bike lanes could be wider.”

According to the Department of Transportation, bike lanes must be 5 feet wide and against a curb or adjacent to a parking lane.

“Sometimes I take my bike down to the River Arts District because sadly I don’t feel safe cycling in Haw Creek,” said Pelly.

Haw Creek is a beautiful middle-to-upper-class neighborhood nestled in Haw Creek Valley just a 10 minute drive from downtown in East Asheville, but one amenity does not include cyclist friendly roads.

“Pedestrian safety and cyclist safety have always been a concern out here, the roads are narrow,” Pelly said.

Things like greenways, sidewalks and new parks will all work to make things safer for cyclists, the president of the Haw Creek Community Association said.

“We do have a sidewalk coming this year on New Haw Creek Road which will run from Beverly Road to Bell Road. It’s not ideal for cyclists, but it’s the best we can get,” Pelly said. “There’s just no room for bike lanes on New Haw Creek Road.”

For the residents of Haw Creek, drivers and cyclists remain locked in a battle for the road.

“The message our organization puts out when concerning drivers sharing the road with cyclists in Haw Creek is that everybody has to be flexible,” Pelly said. “The roads aren’t just for vehicles, they’re for cyclists, too.”