What happens when a community comes together to improve safety for its residents and visitors? Things get done.
I live and work in the north Charlotte Street corridor. My wife and I own the Chop Shop Butchery, right in the middle of Charlotte Street Innovation District, a city-based designation for areas of strategic growth in key neighborhoods.
Every day for the last several years, we’ve watched pedestrians, our customers, have close-calls with traffic — essentially hugging our building to avoid cars flying past, side-mirrors just inches from their elbows.
If you’ve driven or walked down north Charlotte Street in the last month, though, you may have noticed some changes. The street went from four lanes to just two with a center turn lane — and the five-foot bike lanes on either side now provide extra peace of mind for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
More: Asheville’s $1.3M Charlotte St. ‘road diet’ work starts; narrowing meant to improve safety
As a residential area dotted with small local businesses, Charlotte Street should be walkable — and now it is, thanks to a collaboration between the city of Asheville and the Charlotte Street Business Association, a group for which I’m currently the president.
This multimodal transportation and road diet project is something that the CSBA has supported from the beginning, even before I joined the association. Our membership includes not only great restaurants, bars, cafes and shops, but also Charlotte Street Animal Hospital, Dermatology of North Asheville, Hornaday Design, Making It Creative, Patton Parker House, Princess Anne Hotel and Siemens Family Law Group. First, my business neighbors advocated to reduce speed limits. Then to add crosswalks and warning signs.
Now, with this latest project, started around the time of our statewide lockdown and completed by the end of June, we can officially feel safe walking around our own neighborhood. Everyone is safer — whether you’re in a car, on a bike, on foot or in a wheelchair.
I’m proud of the work the CSBA has done for the corridor and the surrounding community. While narrowing this road may be an unexpected or unusual move for a growing area like ours, we feel this was the best choice for our members, our neighbors, our friends and our customers. We’re a close-knit community of family-owned, family-oriented businesses — many of which are housed in historical buildings boasting old-Asheville architecture.
We have no interest in becoming another Merrimon (no offense, Merrimon) — or just a through-street for the Grove Park Inn. We live and work together in this neighborhood, and these changes improve everyone’s quality of life.
More: A troubling trend: Asheville ranks first in the state for pedestrian deaths per capita
With our road diet plans now behind us, we’ll begin working on a zoning plan consistent with the city’s multimodal commitment — a fancy way of saying we’d like to work with the city to help us maintain the neighborhood’s mom-and-pop vibe. The zoning plan should place emphasis on preserving and enhancing diverse small businesses that serve the local community, discouraging large homogenous projects in favor of businesses that further enrich the corridor. We also plan to work with a local architect (and fellow member of the CSBA) to design custom bus stops and shelters, each of which will feature fun facts about the neighborhood’s history, courtesy of the Preservation Society.
For a while, COVID-19 hit the pause button on our neighborhood meetings and action plans. Things felt overwhelming and scary on both a personal and operational level. But as we get into the groove of this new “normal” — whatever that means — we’ve learned to be there for our neighbors in all-new ways, and we know we’ll come out of this even stronger than before.
Charlotte Street is a peaceful, community-oriented and newly walkable area, and the rest of Asheville should come over for a stroll.
PJ Jackson is a co-owner of Chop Shop Butchery and current president of the Charlotte Street Business Association.