The stages and the supporters could not have been more different for the Asheville Mayoral candidates yesterday: A power lunch at Magnolia's Bar & Grille sponsored by the more conservative Council of Independent Business Owners and an evening forum at the Odyssey Ceramic Arts Studio hosted by the multimodal-minded group Asheville On Bikes.
Before the three candidates —Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer, former Risk Manager John Miall and community activist Martin Ramsey — talked transit at the River Arts District gallery, they sipped beers with voters outside of Clingman Café.
Before Manheimer and Miall talked business interests in suits earlier in the day, they handed out buttons and stickers with the words “vote” followed by their respective last names. Ramsey did not attend the CIBO event due to a scheduling conflict, but he did participate in the “Get There AVL” forum.
As Manheimer and Miall faced each other one-on-one for the first time in a public forum setting, a piece of paper with Ramsey's name typed on it rested just feet away on an empty chair.
After Miall and Manheimer agreed that the fiscal and financial stability would be a top priority if elected as mayor, the two candidates echoed support for the I-26 Connector project, even if it means means widening West Asheville roads to eight lanes. The multimillion-dollar undertaking includes plans to wide the road in West Asheville — a contentious issue for many since talk about the project began years ago.
Miall, who currently lives in West Asheville and grew up off of Haywood Road, told the more than 50 people at the CIBO event, “Eight or 800 [lanes], we need relief. It's that simple.” He continued, “I don't think it's a question of how many lanes, I think it's a question of how committed are we [to completing the project].”
Manheimer told the CIBO crowd that she will “of course” support the connector.
“I'm not sure if the recommendation is going to include six lanes or eight lanes … but whatever the recommendation is, I'm going to support it because that's what it's going to take,” she asserted. “We need the I-26 project. That is not a question. We have been stymied in moving that [project] forward.”
Asked whether they would consider establishing a new study looking at the traffic calming measures along Kimberly, Macon and Murdock Avenues — specifically the success of bulb-outs and traffic islands — Manheimer said that though there have been “some hiccups in people learning to drive around them and not over them” that “the community has absorbed them.”
Miall, however, took a stronger stance on the matter when he said, "No."
“I'll go you one better than that. I would advocate that we get as much of the concrete globs out of the streets as we possibly can,” he said. “The purpose of a paved road is to express traffic. Anything else we do to inhibit that creates a problem.”
Hours later at the similarly sized Get There AVL forum, the moderator asked Miall to clarify his “eight or 800” lanes statement, along with his stance on traffic calming measures, multimodal issues and complete streets (roads designed with walkers, bikers, drivers and public transit users in mind).
“I don't think there's much conflict as there probably appears on the surface,” Miall responded.
The questions asked of the mayoral candidates at the transit forum were specifically crafted for each candidate.
Ramsey, who was the only candidate who did not complete the candidate questionnaire for the Get There AVL group, was asked to give his stance on multimodal issues verbally on the spot. Ramsey said he was glad to hear consensus among mayoral candidates about the need for multimodal transportation options in Asheville, however, the 31-year-old bicyclist said he wants to make sure that decisions done with “social equity ”
He explained that he wants to make sure that “non-elective bus riders voices are heard in this conversation; [that we heard from] people who don't just get to decide whether they ride a bike or take the bus when the weather is good.”
With a “Jeopardy-style” format where mayoral and city council candidates selected questions by categories with greenway-centric titles, the forum gave candidates an opportunity to respond to comments from their counterparts with pantomimed hat-tipping (indicating support) and hand-waving (signaling an objection).
Citing New Belgium as an example, Manheimer said there doesn't need to be a division between being a good businessperson and an advocate for multimodal transportation.
“When I spent time today at the CIBO forum answering questions, [I realized] there's a whole different population that still thinks differently about the concepts that this group is trying to further,” the current Vice Mayor declared. “We need to engage that community; have a dialogue so that we have a common understanding that we're not trying to defeat each other's purposes.”
Caitlin Byrd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 251-1333, ext. 140.