Black Mountain gets rolling on bike plan

Fred McCormick

The future of bicycling in Black Mountain is looking up with the Sept. 12 adoption of a 115-page bike plan by the board of aldermen.

The plan will serve as a comprehensive outline to guide the town as it looks to create a safer, more convenient environment for bicyclists.

The project, which began in May 2015, was led by Kostelec Planning, with support from Chipley Planning and Communications, Equinox Environmental and J.M. Teague Engineering & Planning. A steering committee made up of more than a dozen members of the community met several times to provide feedback to the consultants.

Kristy Carter of J.M. Teague Engineering & Planning presented the plan to the aldermen last week. She said the plan was completed in May, but a final presentation couldn't be made to the town until it was reviewed by the NC Department of Transportation.

Carter said the project began with data collection and field work, with those working on the project going to events in the community to ask for feedback.

"We were extremely pleased with the public involvement that we had," she said. "I think a lot of that is just built upon the work that Black Mountain has done for many years."

Dustin Donovan and Jeff Sawdy ride along Cragmont Road, just south of Lake Tomahawk.

In addition to four steering committee meetings, two open houses and a community bike ride were held to solicit input from bicyclists in the area. An online survey generated 259 responses, according to Carter.

According to the survey, Montreat Road is most in need of improvements, followed by Old U.S. 70. Downtown, Lake Tomahawk and Veterans Park were some of the most popular destinations for cyclists.

Town manager Matt Settlemyer said the information in the bike plan confirmed there's a growing demand for more bikable roads.

"We were just unclear on how to merge the need for bike safety with the roads in our town, which are narrow and hilly," he said. "This plan gives us the opportunityto take a look at our different options."

Settlemyer said that while the town has long heard anecdotal evidence that infrastructure for cycling is needed, the plan provides hard data to support those claims.

As with the town's existing pedestrian plan and greenway master plans (both adopted in 2008), the bike plan prioritizes recommended projects. The top two projects on the list of 21 are phase two and three of the Riverwalk Greenway expansion, which will ultimately connect the Flat Creek Greenway to the In-the-Oaks Greenway via the dog park.

Dustin Donovan, left, and Jeff Sawdy ride frequently in Black Mountain, and are encouraged by the town's adoption of a bike plan.

Settlemyer said the bike plan is an example of the town working to meet a need in the community and continues Black Mountain's tradition of promoting active lifestyles.

Jill Edwards, the health service programs administrator for the town, organizes events like Walk to School Day at Black Mountain Elementary School in May and the fall version of the event, which will be held Wednesday, Oct. 5.

"As people express more interest in walking and biking to school and around town, it's important for us to have a plan that tells us how to make that possible and safer," she said. "(The bike plan) lets us know what needs to happen."

Black Mountain becomes more popular with cyclists every year, with the continued success of events like Cycle to Farm, which took place in July and the Bookwalter Binge, which returns on Saturday, Oct. 29. Jennifer Billstrom owns Velo Girl Rides, a local company that leads cyclists on tours throughout the region. She was also a member of the steering committee that worked on the bike plan.

"Our steering committee included a wide variety of residents who served as representatives of all types of cyclists," Billstrom said via email. "I am excited about the implementation of this plan. Instituting some of the easiest projects on the list will get us started. Finding funds for the larger, more extensive projects on the list will be challenging."

Billstrom said making a commitment to becoming more bikable only enhances Black Mountain's status as an ideal destination for cyclists.

"Black Mountain is already a destination for cyclists, both those who ride mountain bikes and those who ride road bikes," she said. "Implementing our bike plan will encourage new and repeat visits to our town by cycling enthusiast while also improving safety and enjoyment for those who reside here year-round."