Do yourself a favor within the next week or two: Take a ride on the Asheville Transit System. It ranks among the area's best bets in efficient, comfortable, alternative transportation.
I splurged the other day and sampled one of the system's longest, most expensive options. For a whopping $1, I racked my bike and boarded the Black Mountain/Asheville Intercity Route 28. Two other passengers and I left the Coxe Avenue transit center, traveling down Biltmore, through Kenilworth, and cutting across the sprawl of Tunnel Road. The outbound ride continued past the VA Hospital and on through Swannanoa. Within 45 minutes, we were sitting at the depot in Black Mountain: WNC's scenic front porch.
The Asheville/Black Mountain route, which began service last May, is initially funded for one year by a combination of sources, including matching grants from the state Department of Transportation, the town of Black Mountain, Buncombe County's Mountain Mobility program and the city of Asheville.
"The ATS, Buncombe County and agencies like Land-of-Sky Regional Council have been successful in working together and making good use of the limited funds that support the intercity service," says planner Denise Braine of Mountain Mobility.
Because of the limited number of runs (three per day), I had a four-hour window of opportunity for exploring this lovely area before the next bus arrived. Executive Director Bob McMurray of the Swannanoa-Black Mountain Chamber of Commerce says the two towns have plenty to offer travelers of all ages. "We have over two dozen places to eat; unique, locally owned shops; and, most of all, a very walkable community," he proclaims.
Just how walkable is Black Mountain? About as good as it gets, in my book. The charming depot is only a stone's throw from an eclectic blend of homegrown businesses -- an outfitter, a bike shop, a blacksmith shop, one of the area's oldest hardware stores, a dulcimer shop and a bakery -- all within a block or two of one another.
And just a couple of blocks south of the depot, the paved Oaks Trail (Black Mountain's newest greenway) leads pedestrians and cyclists to the Black Mountain Recreation Park, which includes ball fields, a perimeter walking trail, a picnic area and a nine-hole disc-golf course.
A few blocks north of the depot, meanwhile, Lake Tomahawk Park offers a lovely 0.6-mile walk featuring splendid views of the dramatic Black Mountains. The park also provides tennis courts and a community-owned croquet course.
During my midday Black Mountain outing, I talked with McMurray, cycled to the Kitsuma Trail (east of Ridgecrest), admired the autumn colors, chatted with a professional boat builder, and still had time to sip a delicious mocha latte before the return bus pulled into the depot -- right on schedule.
On the ride back, I spoke with driver Bob Meadows, who said he's seen more riders on the eastbound route to Black Mountain. "While the new route is still being established, some days have better ridership than others," he observed.
Still, Meadows said he had 14 passengers along a stretch of Tunnel Road and Oteen during a recent run. And according to U.S. Department of Energy data, a bus needs just seven passengers to surpass the efficiency of the average single-occupant commuter vehicle.
But can I ride the bus to work?
For people looking to leave their cars at home, the Black Mountain/Asheville route does have some obvious problems. At the moment, there's no service before 11 a.m., and there's a six-hour gap between the afternoon and evening departures. Still, it's definitely a start -- and according to local transit planners, the prospects look good for extending service on the intercity route.
Grants from Job Access and Reverse Commute, a national program administered by the Federal Transit Administration, have been approved to fund the additional service. JARC provides funding to help communities expand employment-related transportation programs and services. Adding morning and evening commuter runs, notes Braine, "will help fill in the gaps with the current schedule and, more importantly, improve service for employment purposes."
The expanded service may begin as early as the first week in December, she said.
There are plenty of reasons for choosing to ride the bus. But for mass transit to be a viable option, it needs to transport masses. It's strictly a numbers game: If we don't use it, we may lose it.
On the run
Intercity Route 28 runs Monday through Saturday, as follows:
|Depart Asheville||Arrive Black Mountain|
|11:00 am||11:40 am|
|3:00 pm||3:40 pm|
|9:00 pm||9:40 pm|
|Depart Black Mountain||Arrive Asheville|
|11:40 am||12:30 pm|
|3:40 pm||4:30 pm|
|9:40 pm||10:30 pm|
For Asheville bus schedules, go to Ashevilletransit.com. For information about local transportation options, visit www.gettingaround-wnc.com. To learn more about Black Mountain, check out www.townofblackmountain.org.