Haywood County cyclists – and would-be cyclists – will soon be able to breathe a little easier and peddle a bit more freely, thanks to a comprehensive plan in the works to address a range of cycling issues.
The plan, spearheaded by local group Bicycle Haywood N.C., will look at a number of issues facing the area’s cyclists including safety, accessibility and awareness among both cyclists and drivers.
The idea got its genesis when members of the newly formed group decided last year that Haywood was lacking in formal communication among cyclists, the community and local and governmental organizations that could be working with them, like the Department of Transportation and the Haywood County Recreation and Parks department.
So, said George Ivey, the group’s vice chair, they sought out funding and approached the various groups about codifying a bicycle plan for the county, the first in Haywood and one of the few targeted towards the state’s more rural areas.
The plan is founded on what the group calls its five “Es:” engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation and planning.
Ivey said that while engineering is an important component — encompassing things like designated bike lanes and racks in downtown areas — educating the public about bike safety while cycling and road awareness is just as vital.
One of the goals of the plan is to educate drivers to get accustomed to bikes on the road, and show residents that cycling can be a viable option for them in a number of different ways, as a commuter, a recreational rider or anything in between.
“I think the plan’s going to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” said Ivey. “For some people, it may be a way for their kids to commute to school. For adult commuters, hopefully it will make it a lot easier for people to commute to work or the bank or the post office.”
Haywood County Recreation and Parks Director Claire Carleton agrees. She said that, from a recreational standpoint, the benefits of a bike plan could be brilliant for Haywood County families.
“It would be such an asset for the citizens living in Haywood County, as well as tourists,” said Carleton. “If it connected with local greenway trails and the plans that we have for that, it would provide such a wonderful network for families to take part in.”
And because there are such multi-facted uses and benefits of cycling in Haywood – and because of the challenges presented by the region’s geography and topography – Ivey said his group isn’t trying to get too specific in what they want. Instead, it is working with a plethora of outside groups and citizens to come up with a plan that provides residents with the most flexibility and usability.
Currently, the group is accepting applications for someone to spearhead the planning efforts, which will begin in April. But Ivey said he’s hopeful that the collaboration and cycling interest will continue happening long after the plan is in place.
“None of us expect every single road to have bike lanes, but we do want to have those options nearby,” said Ivey.
And according to Carleton, that meshes beautifully with the comprehensive plan drafted for her department several years ago that highlighted the need to move towards more cycling-friendly planning, both in terms of road building and growth corridors, as well as emphasis on education and increasing cycling use and awareness.
The plan is being funded largely through a grant from the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organizations, along with matching pledges and a smaller grant from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.
Bicycle Haywood N.C. meets to discuss the plan at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Waynesville Inn at the Waynesville Country Club.
More information can be found at bicyclehaywoodnc.org.