By Emma Castleberry | Photos by Justin Mitchell
Mike Sule, executive director of Asheville on Bikes (AoB), describes the organization’s approach as three-pronged. “We educate cyclists on how to ride, we advocate for transportation facilities that are safe and functional for all people and we celebrate the joy of bicycle riding,” he says.
AoB began officially in 2006, when Sule gathered 25 costumed cyclists to participate in Asheville’s Holiday Parade. AoB’s initial funding came from the parade’s “Spirit of the Parade” and “Best Overall” cash prizes. This founding story, which Sule calls “humble and, frankly, kind of silly,” is a perfect reflection of the organization itself. “AoB’s capacity to effect change is significant and we are a serious, focused and driven organization,” he says. “But we continue to relish a good time and keep a sense of humor. What’s more childlike then riding a bicycle? The childlike approach to the world remains strong in AoB.”
Since those humble beginnings, the group has worked tirelessly to make life easier for pedestrians and bikers in Asheville. Their efforts include a number of community bike rides, such as the October Pumpkin Peddler and the March Bike of the Irish, as well as other events throughout the year, such as Strive Not to Drive week in May. AoB also supports various infrastructure initiatives like bike corrals, protected bike lanes and the installment of rentable bike lockers downtown. AoB officially earned its nonprofit status in 2016.
Education is another important component of AoB’s work. Abby Walker, an avid cyclist and AoB board member, says one of her favorite arms of the organization is the Bike Education Program. AoB is a service provider for In Real Life (IRL), an afterschool program hosted by the Asheville City Schools Foundation. “Each week, AoB teaches several groups of middle school students how to ride a bike in the city,” says Walker. “For many of these students, it is their first time on a bicycle and may be their only opportunity to learn how to ride a bike. We cover lessons in safe bike riding, starting with how to shift gears and moving on to how to ride throughout our city. It is an empowering program for our youth. Teaching middle schoolers how to ride bikes in the city will also make them better drivers and more aware of cyclists and pedestrians in the future.”
Ten years ago, Asheville earned bronze-level Bicycle Friendly status from the League of American Bicyclists. For a decade, it has maintained that status with no changes. “That simply isn’t acceptable if Asheville is going to maintain its vibrancy and opportunity,” says Sule. “Asheville can’t rest on its past accomplishments. We must look to the future if we want to continue to attract and keep talent. Active transportation facilities are a critical component of a healthy, competitive city, and AoB plays a key role in moving our city’s transportation system forward.”
At the end of 2018, AoB launched Asheville’s first tactical urbanism project on Coxe Avenue in partnership with the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and AARP. Tactical urbanism is a new approach to infrastructure planning that funds small projects in an effort to see what works and what doesn’t before investing large amounts of money. The Coxe Avenue project features a number of changes to the corridor, including two new stop signs, six new crosswalks, a widened pedestrian area and a street mural. “This project was transformational for the organization and our city,” says Sule. “It was AoB’s opportunity to showcase new types of pedestrian and bicycle facilities and also test traffic-calming measures. We’ve received overwhelming support from the community on the Coxe Avenue corridor and we’re excited to launch a new project in another area of the city.”
Through projects like these, AoB hopes to continue nurturing a robust culture of urban and commuter cycling in Asheville. “Growing a community for a safer pedestrian and cycling lifestyle has infinite positive impacts on our community,” says Walker. “It’s exciting to be part of making that happen here in Asheville.”
For more information, visit AshevilleOnBikes.com.