Asheville – A 1.5-mile-high section of Merrimon Street has been converted from four lanes to three, and the controversial diet has been no less divisive since its inception.
The diversion began on October 10 and ended on October 13, but while drivers on the North Asheville main lane will notice significant changes in traffic pattern, repaving has yet to take place. Meanwhile, the lack of signs on bike lanes caused confusion for many Asheville residents.
This diversion is one phase of a larger resurfacing project for the NC Department of Transportation and is approximately 2.5 miles from Merrimon Street from I-240 to Midland Road in Beaver Lake.
From this 2.5-mile section of Merrimon Street due to be resurfaced, only the road from Midland Road to WT Weaver Boulevard was on the road diet, with 5-foot bike lanes installed on either side of the road.
The lines drawn from October 10 to 13 are only temporary, and new lines will be drawn after the driveway resurfaces, according to Section 13 structural engineer Nathan Moneyham.
Currently, signals work on timers. Traffic light operation will be improved when vehicle detection rings are installed in the finished surface.
It will start appearing. 17, followed by permanent traffic signs with an expected completion before Thanksgiving, according to NCDOT spokesperson David Uchiyama.
“If a bike lane is not created by including sidewalk signs, it is not a bike lane,” said Mike Sully, executive director of Asheville on Bikes and a staunch supporter of the road diet. And I think that creates a lot of confusion for the people who use the driveway.”
He asked why NCDOT does not comply Federal Highway Design Standards For bike lanes in the current state of Merrimon Avenue. Currently, white lines mark where the bike lanes are, but no other signs are in place.
“I am 100% in favor of the redesign,” Sully said. “What we’re seeing now is a half-completed project with minimal communications from NCDOT and the City of Asheville as the project progresses.”
“It’s like a maze out there.”
Monyham explained that bike lanes will not be installed until after the resurfacing is completed.
“The width of the road remaining in this temporary state will serve as a paved shoulder until construction is completed, when the necessary signage and permanent pavement markings for bike lanes can be installed,” he said.
North Asheville resident and business owner Hadley Krupp hopes that once the repaving is completed, it will help clear some of the confusion.
She lives in Beaver Lake, towards the end of the conversion period, and owns the Asheville Realty Group, a company that is directly at the heart of the roadside diet.
“It’s like a maze out there,” she said of the temporary new lines, but once bike lanes are identified and traffic lights timed correctly, “I think it could be fine.”
“When it first happened, I hated it,” she said of the transformation. Krupp found herself avoiding Merrimont Avenue and down side streets, curious to see if this would be the long-term effect of the new traffic pattern, diverting more drivers to other routes. It can be a good change, she said, but people will need time to adjust.
“My biggest problem is that you are at the mercy of the slowest driver,” Krupp said.
Whether you like it or hate it, Billy Hughes, who lives on Chatham Road, off Merrimon Street, said the diversion making traffic slower was “indisputable.”
He’s been against the road diet ever since it was suggested and said that although the diversion could mean just a few minutes delay, if it’s a trail you drive daily, time is building up.
“We’ll see how it works,” he said of the project. “For those of us who live here and use this highway all day, every day, I’m sure I don’t want to see people coming through relatively quiet side streets. We’ll see what happens.”
Rachel Hines was walking down the aisle on October 17, her three-month-old baby strapped to her chest. She lives off Hillside Boulevard, walks and drives evenly on Merrimon Avenue, and said since the conversion, the section closest to WT Weaver Boulevard has seen the brunt of the congestion.
She wondered if the diet on the road would discourage people from visiting businesses along the way, but she said otherwise as a pedestrian, it was nice to have a barrier between the sidewalk and traffic, especially with the kids in the traction.
Brad Carpenter, who lives on Fenner Avenue off the affected area, is looking forward to safer roads and cycling. He often biked with his 10-year-old daughter to school at Era B Jones Elementary School, and before diverting, the trip was spent trying to get off Merrimon Street as quickly as possible.
“If we could fix the sidewalks, mark bike lanes and repave the streets and time the lights, I think that would be a great project,” Carpenter said. “It will become the neighborhood street I think it should be.”
As expected, Moneyham said, “Comments were mixed during the conversion.”
“We ask drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to be patient while everyone adjusts to new configurations and travel patterns,” said Monyham.
“The entire project team – including our partners in Asheville – will review the operation of the trail every three months to assess the effects of the diet down the road.”
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. news tips? Email email@example.com or send a message on Twitter at @slhonosky.
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