Haywood County is one step closer to getting a defined bike route traversing the county and improved cycling amenities.
The county commissioners approved a comprehensive countywide bicycle plan at its meeting Monday (Nov. 7). The plan aims to get more people on their bikes, whether for commuting or recreation, by making it safer and more convenient.
The proposal includes a central route that connects Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Clyde and Canton.
Members of Bicycle Haywood N.C., the group spearheading the plan, have been making the rounds to town and county leaders looking for an endorsement of the plan. They have gone before every board so far except Canton.
The group was “met with outstanding responses,” said Cecil Yount, a member of Bicycle Haywood N.C.
A future path would also incorporate U.S. 276, U.S. 19, U.S. 23/74, Interstate 40 and N.C. 209, among others.
Overall, the total cost of the recommendations is between $64 million and $114 million — much of the estimated cost involves road projects that are already in the works.
Better accommodations for cyclists could be added to the road projects for “very little additional costs,” such as bike lanes and signage, said County Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger.
No county funding will pay for the project, but the county may apply for grants, Swanger said.
The proposal is comprised of five E’s: education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering and evaluation.
Engineering would involve connecting a designated cross-county bike route to greenways, adding signage, repainting road marks and ensuring that intersections do not pose a safety threat to cyclists. A number of the recommendations include adding four- to six-foot wide shoulders along the side of the road.
“The good thing is that it gives you space to ride,” said Don Kostelec, a consultant hired to oversee the plan.
Education and encouragement include offering classes about bicycle safety and rules of the road, promoting healthy living and helping kids find safe bike routes to school. Enforcement simply means working with the police department, cyclists and drives to make the commute safer.
From 1997 to 2008, Haywood County reported 21 bicycle crashes; of those, 8 involved a person who was 17 years old or younger.
Once the plan begins, the committee will evaluate how many people use the bike route, participate in the classes and other cycling activities.
“I think it’s a quality of life issue,” said Swanger. “I think to have a safe place to ride is important.”
The path will also attract visitors to the region, stimulating the local economy.
According to a survey of a little more than 20 participants, the Blue Ridge Breakaway, an annual bike ride based in Haywood, the majority of respondents spent the night in Haywood County and stayed an average of 4.3 days, spending anywhere from $30 to $400 a day on accommodations.
There is no definitive timeline to complete the project, but Bicycle Haywood N.C. hopes to begin offering classes soon and would like to see towns add bicycle racks.
“This whole thing will take a while to do,” Swanger said.
The planning process began in April, and several public input meetings were held to get feedback about a possible route.
The idea got its start when members of the newly formed Bicycle Haywood N.C. decided last year that Haywood was lacking in formal communication among cyclists, county residents and local and governmental organizations, including the Department of Transportation and the Haywood County Recreation and Parks department.
The group of cycling enthusiasts received a $50,000 grant to develop the comprehensive plan — $40,000 of which came from the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization. The organization is responsible for transportation planning in Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson counties. The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, Mast General Store, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and members of Bicycle Haywood N.C. donated the remaining $10,000.
Survey says: we like bikes
This year, Bicycle Haywood N.C. surveyed county residents about what bicycle-related improvements they would like to see, and 151 people responded.
County residents would like to:
• Mark road shoulders as bike lanes: 75.7 percent
• Build off-road multi-use trails/greenways: 74.3 percent
• See more “share the road” signs: 56.6 percent
• Offer bike accommodations on bridges: 53.3 percent
• Have more bike racks: 36.8 percent
• Have wider sidewalks on bridges: 36.2 percent
• Post way-finding signs: 36.2 percent
• Incorporate an environmentally friendly design: 35.5 percent
To see the comprehensive bike plan, including specific recommendations for making your community more bike-friendly, go to bicyclehaywoodnc.org/BikePlan.html.