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For housing abundance and diverse, livable communities in Asheville

Pro-Housing Organization “Asheville For All” Endorses “Complete Streets” Downtown

by Asheville For All
September 20, 2023


ASHEVILLE — The local grassroots political advocacy organization Asheville For All has issued a statement endorsing the plan to add bicycle lanes to College St. and Patton Ave. in downtown Asheville.

The group’s statement links the goals of incentivizing walking, biking, and transit on one hand and solving the region’s housing shortage on the other. “Just as suburban sprawl, exclusionary zoning, and segregated land uses make it hard for us to adopt alternative modes of transportation,” it states, “so does auto-centric road design make it harder for us to achieve housing abundance in vibrant, amenity-rich neighborhoods accessible to all kinds of working families.”

The city’s current proposed plan to add bike lanes to downtown follows the priorities laid out for transportation and accessibility by the Asheville City Council’s 2036 Strategic Priorities and Vision and the 2018 Comprehensive Plan. The new bike lanes would foster a more connected network for bicyclists in the urban core, make crossing the street easier and safer for pedestrians, and the new road design would increase loading space for downtown businesses.

While Asheville City Council has previously resolved to support “complete streets”—streets that serve the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians, rather than those of only automobiles—councilors appeared divided on the matter at an August council meeting, and the implementation of the plan for College and Patton is at risk for delay.

The City Council is scheduled to discuss the project further at its October 10th meeting.

Asheville For All’s full statement is as follows:

Statement: Asheville For All Endorses Complete Streets for Downtown

Asheville For All believes that there is no path to reaching the abundance of housing and variety of housing types that Asheville needs to resolve our area’s housing crisis that does not include transforming our auto-centric street design, land use, and culture. Therefore, we strongly support the proposed bicycle lanes and pedestrian improvements for College Street and Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville.

Let’s start with some basic facts about the housing crisis. There’s no debate that a prime cause of housing scarcity and unaffordability are the zoning codes, incentives, and subsidies of the past century—at local, state, and federal levels—that have made apartment buildings scarce and have induced suburban sprawl. To the extent that housing is available for renters and home buyers at prices that they can afford, it is likely to be far from job centers and transit. Everyday people face impossible choices, trading off between exorbitant housing costs near city centers, and costly and soul-crushing commutes in exurbs that lack amenities and opportunities. The result is automobile dependency. Not only are homes more expensive than ever, but American families now pay more than $1,000 each month to own and maintain their cars, averaged over the life of the vehicle.

Eight percent of Asheville’s households do not have an automobile. For these families, the search for housing is particularly circumscribed. Scarcity combined with sprawl and limited transit and biking infrastructure means that their options are severely limited.

The reforms being implemented nationwide and abroad that have been proven to lower housing costs for a broad spectrum of lower- and middle-class people—without exacerbating commutes and automobile vehicle-miles-traveled—involve adding dense, multifamily housing to core, high-value, high-demand neighborhoods, in and near downtowns. Such reforms create more housing supply where demand is highest, and also make possible the construction of a more diverse array of housing types, which makes for more efficient land use and gives renters and home buyers more options. They also open up high-opportunity neighborhoods to greater socioeconomic and racial diversity.

The icing on the cake for these kinds of solutions to the housing crisis is the potential for more vibrant, walkable, amenity-rich neighborhoods. Population density brings new businesses, like coffee shops, grocery stores, restaurants, and daycares within walking and biking distance. And the increased tax base means more amenities like schools, parks, and greenways.

Automobile-centric governance decisions in land use and street design will stymie proven pro-housing solutions that depend on density. Prioritizing cars and parking over people runs counter to the efficient land use required for housing abundance. And disincentivizing alternative modes of transportation in our core neighborhoods does nothing to grow the capacity of our streets to efficiently, safely, and sustainably get a greater number of residents of dense walkable communities to nearby jobs, schools, parks, and businesses. If we want to make Asheville a welcoming home to ALL kinds of people, our roads should do more than move only the loudest, most polluting, most congestion-causing, most expensive, and most street-clogging mode of transportation.

In short, just as suburban sprawl, exclusionary zoning, and segregated land uses make it hard for us to adopt alternative modes of transportation, so does auto-centric road design make it harder for us to achieve housing abundance in vibrant, amenity-rich neighborhoods accessible to all kinds of working families.

Writer Henry Grabar points out that our dependence on automobiles is one reason that opposition to housing can become so fierce in established neighborhoods; existing residents view zoning reforms and residential density through the lens of “Malthusianism” because they’re afraid of increased competition for on-street parking. As a result, our cities more readily allow for the construction of “more three-car garages than one-bedroom apartments.” City councilors have the power to positively shape the conversation around the need for more housing downtown and in nearby core neighborhoods. But if they lack the will to even challenge the small number of outspoken opponents of downtown’s proposed bike lanes because of sixteen measly parking spaces—note that all sixteen of the parking spaces to be removed under the city’s plan are within easy walking distance of a public parking garage—then how can we expect them to lead when it comes to pro-housing zoning and land use reforms, changes that will surely raise the ire of “NIMBY” residents with the same unwarranted and shortsighted loss aversion that opponents of bike lanes have expressed?

As our neighborhoods downtown and elsewhere grow to accommodate more homes and housing options, it is imperative that we grow our mobility options too. Complete streets will incentivize bicycling and walking, modes of transportation that contribute magnitudes less to roadway congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing livability and quality of life. Bicycles, it should be noted, cost orders of magnitude less than automobiles to buy, fuel, insure and maintain—even higher-end e-bikes and cargo bikes. And, even for drivers that must still use automobiles, complete street solutions help by taking other cars off of the road.

Contrary to the statements of some city councilors in August, we know bicyclists of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds in Asheville; we see them biking in our neighborhoods regularly.

We also know that at different times, and in different places, bike lanes in our city may appear to be underutilized. We cannot expect a widespread culture of alternative mobility to flourish overnight. It is up to the city to build the infrastructure that will permit and encourage changes in habits and norms. Just as overwhelming amounts of subsidies and biased planning practices paved the way for our low-density, car-dependent, and housing-scarce urban landscape today, so must we prioritize the kinds of mobility that we want to see tomorrow. In cities across the country, “complete streets” infrastructure projects have preceded an increase in numbers of people using safer, more sustainable, more affordable, and more scalable modes of travel.

Most importantly, complete streets may help to prime our neighborhoods to shed their outdated land use patterns, reduce the amount of space mandated for automobile parking, and make way for the dense residential infill that we need for an abundance of housing and housing options in downtown and our core neighborhoods that will in turn make homes more affordable for lower- and middle-class Ashevilleans.

About Asheville For All

Asheville For All is a nonprofit organization that advocates for housing abundance and diverse, walkable, and affordable communities. It was established in spring of 2022. Asheville For All is a member of YIMBY Action, a nationwide pro-housing 501c4 organization with over forty-six chapters in twenty states.

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