Asheville - The city of Asheville is so bicycle friendly that nearly two miles of streets in the heart of downtown will be off-limits to motor vehicles for a full Saturday afternoon.
Organizers of the inaugural Open Streets Asheville - an event designed for residents and visitors to play in the streets, local business and restaurants - scheduled their event to coincide with one of the largest cycling conferences in the Southeast.
It's an appropriate conclusion to the North Carolina Bike Summit presented by BikeWalkNC in partnership with the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Starting on Friday at the downtown Renaissance Hotel, cycling experts from across the state, the Southeast and a keynote speaker from New York City will gather in a dynamic event focusing on the economic impact of cycling in North Carolina. All citizens and visitors are invited to attend.
"The real power of a summit like this is getting non-traditional folks together to have conversations about what it means to live in an active community," said Ed Johnson, acting director of the state's Division of Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation.
"The whole premise behind this, especially in Asheville, is not only to education cyclists and pedestrians, but motorists and law enforcement," he added. "We're all able to share our struggles as well as our successes."
The schedule for the fifth annual event has two days filled with panels, presentations, casual discussions a couple of bike rides, a reception at New Belgium Brewery leading into an innovating afternoon in the heart of Asheville. The city council has noted in its vision statement that sidewalks, greenways, and bike facilities are critical to the city because they provide transportation routes as well as encouraging active lifestyles.
"Governor McCrory understands the importance of a robust bike and pedestrian network in North Carolina," Johnson said. "As businesses look to relocate or expand, they expect access to a range of transportation modes, especially in high-grown and densely populated areas."
BikeWalk NC is presenting the education and development event in order to help make North Carolina the premier cycling and pedestrian friendly state. Greenway and cycling routes are an important part of the state's transportation network. In 2015, Governor McCrory unveiled his 25-year Vision for Transportation which includes the expansion of bicycle and pedestrian networks as a statewide goal.
Most of the break-out sessions this weekend will be centered on funding routes, greenways and development, advocacy such as safety and legislation and economic benefits including evaluating, measuring and implementing. Speakers and panelists include Johnson, professors, elected officials, business owners, multimodal experts, public policy experts, and traffic and bridge engineers.
Keynote speaker Mike Lydon will deliver his keynote speech on Saturday at 9:15 a.m. in the Sherrill Center on the campus of UNC Asheville, which is the site for the Saturday sessions. He is an internationally recognized planner, writer and advocate for livable cities whose firm has bases in Miami, New York City and San Francisco.
“When we improve access to bicycle and pedestrian facilities we encourage healthier lifestyles, increase real estate values and promote economic vitality resulting in an enhanced quality of life for residents,” said Lisa Riegel, executive director of BikeWalk NC. “We are very excited to work with the NCDOT, appreciate all of our supporters, everybody who attends — and everybody is welcome — and can’t wait to continue the bicycle movement.”