Earlier this week I promised my thoughts on walking around Asheville. Thanks to my classmate Karla I have photo evidence of one of our walks around, so I’m going to experiment with a photo journal style of post.

This series was taken on Merrimon Ave. (Route 25), which runs north-south through downtown. It’s a 4-lane road with traffic signals every couple hundred feet as you get closer to downtown. It also runs underneath Route 240, as you’ll see in one of the pictures. Along Merrimon within a mile from downtown there is a mix of residential, new mix-used, strip mall, and older small commercial uses. On the one hand it’s great to see this kind of new infill development mixed with older homes and offices, but the overall feel is incongruous – especially at the pedestrian level. Are we on a walkable main street or a highway arterial?

We stayed near here, and multiple times throughout our stay we chose to walk the 15 minutes to downtown vs. driving or taking Uber. Here’s what our walk looked like:

Merrimon Ave., Asheville NC
Merrimon Avenue, Asheville NC. Photo Credit: Karla Jiminez

No separate from traffic with a buffer or shoulder. Lanes were flush with the sidewalk. The posted speed limit is 35mph.

Merrimon Avenue, Asheville NC
Merrimon Avenue, Asheville NC. Photo Credit: Karla Jiminez

We crossed the road because it didn’t seem like there was good sidewalk or crosswalk connectivity on the other side. This is me looking down at my phone trying to see what Google Maps’ walking directions was recommending for our route. Although it doesn’t look too bad in the picture, cars felt awfully close.

 

Merrimon Avenue, Asheville NC.
Merrimon Avenue, Asheville NC. Photo credit: Karla Jiminez

Here, we look back on the other side of the street, where we were correct that there hadn’t been a good place to safely walk. This is also the highway underpass. This being Asheville, there’s some street art to theoretically encourage walking, but we are the only pedestrians on this stretch despite downtown being just up ahead.

However, as you’ll see in the last photo…

Merrimon Avenue, Asheville NC
Merrimon Avenue, Asheville NC (Photo credit: Karla Jiminez)

…we ended up having to jaywalk on our side of the street anyway. It was definitely the better alternative, as the eastern side of Merrimon Ave has less visibility to vehicles trying to access Route 240. This is me taking the shortest route across to the highway underpass (which, thank goodness, had a sidewalk).

My takeaways:

  • A street can be technically accessible and yet not feel safe.
  • Asheville’s downtown sidewalk network is decent, but within barely a half mile of downtown it starts to feel significantly less walkable.
  • The scale of development influences how walkable a place feels. Developments with wide, crosswalk-less driveways that are set back from the road (often by a parking lot) felt inaccessible on foot and way beyond human-scaled (such as the development in the upper-right-hand corner of the first photo). In contrast, buildings close to the street with human-scaled signage, planters, and frontage felt much friendlier.
  • Beg buttons are still my nemesis.

Trip: Merrimon Ave., Asheville to Broadway St., Asheville
Total trip time: 15 minutes
Total trip distance: 0.8 miles
Mode: Walk
Line: N/A
Frequency: N/A
Cost: $0
Level of crowding: None – we saw no other pedestrians
Trip quality: 1 of 5 stars
+ for it being theoretically possible to walk this route
– for feeling unsafe, little separation from the roadway, missing crosswalks

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