The Merrimon “road diet” narrowed the thoroughfare from four lanes to three. // AVL Watchdog photo by John Boyle

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: Whenever time is available, and I hope you’re not snickering, can you see what the status of the Merrimon Avenue bike lane diet review is, since I think it has almost been a year, sans a few months, since it opened? I have seen a lot more traffic on Edwin Place and Kimberly Avenue, but worse than that, Merrimon comes to a crawl between eight and 10, and noon until after rush hour. It’s always been busy, but with the lane reduction and added bike lanes, it’s really amped up. It took me almost 20 minutes to get from Fresh Market near Beaver Lake to the Shell station at I-240. Normally, pre-road diet, it was an easy four to five minutes, if you hit all the lights. The frustration comes when I have seen maybe four bikes on the bike lanes traveling Merrimon in the last three months. Does the city still stand behind turning it back to four lanes if this “experiment ” didn’t work?

My answer: Wait a second — you’ve seen four bikes on Merrimon? That can mean only one thing: Time for more bike lanes on Merrimon to ease the overcrowding!

Real answer: It has been just about a year since the N.C. Department of Transportation, at the city’s behest, converted Merrimon Avenue from Midland Road to W.T. Weaver Boulevard from two traffic lanes in each direction to a three-lane configuration. Merrimon, a busy north Asheville corridor that is also U.S. 25, now has one travel lane in each direction, a center turn lane, and bike lanes on the outside of each travel lane.

Work started last October, and while most of it wrapped up in the summer, it is not quite complete yet.

Jody Lawrence, assistant construction engineer with the NCDOT’s Asheville office, said work remains on “a handful of curb ramps, finishing the permanent pavement markings and installing snow-plowable pavement markers.”

The road is operating in its new configuration, though, and everyone has just been happy as a clam with it. Yes, I jest.

This project has generated plenty of angst, anger and animus, mainly from motorists who get stuck in traffic and business owners who’ve become frustrated with a setup they say has hurt business. Supporters say it undoubtedly has created a safer roadway while slowing traffic only slightly.

Kim Miller, spokesperson for the city of Asheville, checked in with the city’s Transportation Department staff for this query. The official completion date is important, as a reversal procedure exists, but it has an 18-month timeframe from the completion of the project.

The Merrimon Avenue “road diet” has generated plenty of criticism, mainly from motorists who get stuck in traffic and business owners who say it has hurt business. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

“According to an agreement between the city of Asheville and NCDOT, there is a procedure to be followed to determine if a reversal is needed,” Miller told me via email.

Within 18 months of completion, the DOT and Asheville staff will meet quarterly to review safety data, non-motorized accidents, and vehicle operations.

The project will be considered for reversal if these factors occur:

  • 25 percent increase in total crashes
  • Fatal/serious crashes due to the road diet
  • Fatal/serious crashes due to the road diet
  • New or growing pattern of bike and pedestrian crashes regardless of injury
  • Increase of 50-85 percent of speeds
  • New or recurring traffic on 1-26 or I-240
  • Spillover traffic through adjacent streets

If the parties involved here decide Merrimon Avenue should revert to its former design, the DOT will make the revisions and the city will cover the costs, Miller said.

Regarding the timetable, Lawrence said, “the clock will start ticking for the 18-month review when the project is accepted, which will hopefully be by the end of October.”

So that would put us into the spring of 2025 for consideration of a reversal.

Mike Sule, executive director of Asheville on Bikes, which advocates for multi-modal transportation, said he thinks the new Merrimon configuration “is working quite well,” considering “it still being an active construction zone.”

“Cars are moving at a slower pace, (and) more and more people are biking and walking,” Sule said Monday.

A cyclist uses one of the bicycle lanes on Merrimon Avenue last spring. // Watchdog photo by John Boyle

He related a story about a person he met over the weekend who thanked him for pushing for the changes because their mother, who is visually impaired, now feels comfortable walking on Merrimon’s sidewalks.

Miller also noted the state’s 2012 “Complete Streets” policy supports efforts like the Merrimon Avenue reconfiguration. Additionally, the new design aligns with the city’s 2009 Downtown Master Plan, the 2016 Asheville in Motion Mobility Plan, and the 2018 Living Asheville Comprehensive Plan.

As I mentioned, plenty of business folks have expressed discontent with the new layout, and Sule is well aware of the criticisms. But he raises a fair point — Merrimon was pretty darned dangerous before the change.

“In all my years in Asheville, I’ve never really heard anyone ever say, ‘Merrimon is a great road to drive on. If I had to pick a road to drive on in Asheville, it is going to be Merrimon Avenue,’” Sule said. “I like to remind people it’s never been that great, and 150 percent more collisions than any road like it in the state of North Carolina is not an acceptable condition.”

In a February 2022 presentation about the project, Asheville’s Planning & Urban Design Department and its Transportation Department stated this about Merrimon Avenue:

“Over the last 10 years, this 2.5 mile section of Merrimon has seen more than the expected number of roadway crashes. Data shows that there is approximately a 150 percent higher rate of crashes on Merrimon compared to other similar roadways across the State (for every 10 crashes on other similar roads, Merrimon gets 15). The majority of vehicle crashes on Merrimon are related to vehicles making left-turns. Frontal impact and rear-end crashes are the most common due to vehicles stopping in the inside lane to turn left across Merrimon. Approximately 23 percent of crashes on Merrimon involve an injury and property damage estimates total more than $7 million.”

I find myself on the road several times a month. It’s definitely a little slower, but it also does indeed feel much safer — no cars zooming at you in the opposite direction at 45 mph, separated only by the suggestion of a double yellow line.

So yes, the new arrangement is less convenient for motorists, but it’s also definitely safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

“There’s not a great city in the world that is renowned for the motorists’ experience, meaning that all great cities are inconvenient to drive a car in,” Sule points out.

Offering more modes of getting from point A to point B will help ease that vehicular traffic.

“This is not a popular thing to say,” Sule added, “but there’s a certain amount of congestion that we have to begin to accept because our population is growing.” 

The solution, Sule added, is not more traffic lanes but diversifying travel mode options and creating more walkable places that are transit- and bicycle-friendly.

I suspect the comments on this column will be especially fun.

Question: Do you know what’s going on in the field next to Fletcher Elementary School? Our neighborhood hasn’t been told anything, nor seen any signs, except the construction company sign. My husband heard yesterday that it’ll be some type of emergency service. Interestingly, we’re about a mile away from the Fletcher Police Station, Fletcher Fire Department, and a few miles away from the new Mission Health emergency room on Hendersonville Road. We haven’t seen anything in the town newsletter.

My answer: I was sort of hoping this development would be new bike lanes, just so I could sit back and watch the community go bonkers.

Real answer: This is indeed Henderson County’s new Fletcher Emergency Medical Services Station 6.

The county issued a news release about the Sept. 6 groundbreaking.

“The addition of the Fletcher EMS Station will allow other ambulances in the county to remain in their districts, which results in decreased response times across the county,” Mike Morgan, the county’s chief communications officer, said in the release. 

The county’s website notes, “Currently, the EMS team assigned to this station works during the daytime hours out of the Fletcher Fire Station. When the new station is completed, a 24-hour truck stationed in Fletcher will have access to the amenities it needs.”

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the $3.1 million facility, using funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Construction will start this fall and should be completed by summer 2024, the county states.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at or 828-337-0941. To show your support for this vital public service go to

47 replies on “Answer Man: Can Merrimon Avenue ‘road diet’ be reversed? What’s going in next to Fletcher Elementary?”

  1. The DOT has not programmed the lights the Merrimon yet. Hopefully the timing/reprogramming is completed the traffic issues will be lessened. I have yet to run into any traffic and I’m on Merrimon regularly, albeit not during rush hour. Overall it’s a better, safer experience driving during most parts of the day.

    Additionally, the painting contractor/DOT did a poor job designing the striping. Normal bike lanes are constant width and use a hatch marking to fill in any extra width. In this implementation the bike lane can appear to almost be a travel or turn lane. This causes confusion and frustration.

    The DOT should fix these issues before any review of the reversal criteria.

    1. Yes, I rarely travel Merrimon since the change. It is simply too slow for a major roadway, but – and my car’s not that big, I do use the bike lane as a turning lane. It seems now the right lane is too far over from the curb. Of course, I look out for any non-existent bike first.

      1. I wish people could understand context and nuance in all situations, but especially here. The ignorance and tunnel-vision about one aspect of the project shown by commenters here is maddening. Merrimon Avenue was not put on a diet to make room for a bike lane. It was put on a diet to make a safer road for cars, and pedestrians, and cyclists. John touches on it here but doesn’t explicitly state it: It’s not a bike lane project; it’s a traffic calming and improvement measure. The original inquiry is worth asking but it’s obviously a person frustrated by bike lanes and so many people here thinking it’s worthless because they didn’t see a bike this week. Also, interesting to note there seems to be a more holistic view of the project and consensus on Asheville Reddit that the road is better now and travel times are little-changed.

    2. Tim, It’s not possible that you drive on Merrimon regularly and have not “run into any traffic”! I live off of Merrimon and drive up and down it throughout all hours of the day, and traffic is definitely slower, which was actually the plan, and way more congested. Good that you admit that you don’t drive during rush hour, which is now common throughout the whole day!

      1. During daylight hours, the traffic slowdown is definitely here. However, night time hours, especially between about 10PM and 6AM, there is a very small trickle of cars on Merrimon and it’s easy drive without encountering any traffic slwodowns. I can personally vouch for that as sometimes I can’t sleep and take stroll on Merrimon at 4AM when the traffic is little to none. It’s just that 90% of people that drive Merrimon are doing so between 6AM-10PM and dont think about that time frame when it’s very easy to traverse Merrimon. Tim may indeed be driving during graveyard hours. If he never drives during high usage hours, ever, it is definitely possible he’s never seen the traffic backup issues. Some people may be using Merrimon Ave for 2nd or 3rd shift jobs and have no problems. Every person’s habits and when they drive on the road are unique and we have to taken that into account if we’re going to make any progress on what to do moving forward.

  2. The super squeaky and annoying wheel gets the grease, and this time it was a handful of privileged cyclists winning the squeak contest. You have to hand it to them. They must feel quite self-righteous for pissing off the majority who drive. We avoid Merrimon now, except a once a month visit to TJ’s. So yes, business has suffered.

  3. Such a wonderful idea to make roads less roadworthy! I prefer to ride my horse to town and since all 4 bike riders are hogging the road, let’s turn the other 2 lanes into bridle paths! It’s ecological, plus free garden fertilizer! And filling the lanes with mulch is cheaper than asphalt!

    1. I would’ve preferred more bus runs and extending the bus route out further and more hours per day to help alleviate traffic as well as making the sidewalks ADA Compliant. This would’ve helped so many people, especially service workers that don’t have transportation and it isn’t feasible for them to bike to work. Most work places don’t have a way for workers to change clothes and cleanup if they bike into work.
      Given there have been very few bicyclists using this and the bike lane doesn’t even run the length of Merrimon.

  4. ” . . .The solution, Sule added, is not more traffic lanes but diversifying travel mode options . . .”
    Bus travel is not a popular option either, but if buses were more frequent, every ten minutes, rather than every thirty minutes, would more people consider using them? More frequent buses during peak commuter times (7:30-9:30 a.m., 4:00-6:00 pm)?

  5. I am glad the Merrimon Gauntlet is no more… it felt like a free-for-all expressway before. If the traffic bothers your entitlement, plan for it or go another way….

  6. I’m a fan! Though the “new” Merrimon might be a tad slower, it’s a whole lot safer. That’s a tradeoff we can live with.

  7. Business will suffer. We’ve moved our scripts to Walgreens Tunnel Road, no more Petco..Pet Supermarket..Tunnel. No more Ingles..Harris Teeter from Chestnut. No more Valvoline, Wendy’s, or Fresh Market. Make the whole road bike friendly..other close options out of Montford.

      1. Or congestion resulting from future development on spaces left vacant by failed mattress stores and what have you…

  8. I think the big question here is why has it taken the DOT over a year to complete this project? It was a fairly simple job. If the lights still have not been properly timed, shame on DOT. Everyone also seems too focused on the bike lanes that “aren’t being used”. Merrimon has been a terrifying ride in the past and it’s much safer now. I’d love to see the accident data so we can make an educated decision.

  9. I used to drive a school bus through there and was passed illegally at least weekly. The road diet makes that nearly impossible. Keeps everyone safer, so I am in favor of leaving as is.

  10. This road diet creates an additional 7 to 9 minutes of commute time. Everyday. It clogged feeder streets and it is difficult to get a break in the long line of ants in formation to be able to enter the road. The few bikes I have seen are not used for commuting but for pleasure. It’s simply awful

  11. You cannot pull out of Ingles and take a left. The designer must have been drunk. Merrimon has gridlock at 11:00am.

    Cyclists? Where?

    This project is the height of white privilege. The black neighborhoods don’t want a road diet nor do the businesses downtown. Why didn’t they do this on Broadway? Does anyone see a cyclist at Ingles grocery shopping?

    The focus of this project is for a minuscule number of elite “progressive” people who own bicycles valued at $2,000 and higher.

    Thanks City Council & AVL on Bikes for ruining & clogging up North Asheville and creating traffic jams on every street now. At least the city made it easy for the houseless to enjoy pushing Trader Joe’s shopping carts in the bike lanes all the way to Beaver Lake.

    Let’s not kid ourselves. This diet will never be reversed. We have anorexic roads with over bloated traffic. This is all performative theatre. You can go back to your scheduled programming.

  12. In recent weeks there have been mainuenenace-related lane closures some days on I-26 southbound between Weaverville and downtown Asheville. Drivers routing onto Merrimon to avoid the I-26 slowdowns seem to be a big part of the Merrimon congestion on those days. And that overloading would have been an issue under the old configuration. On days without the I-26 backups, Merrimon flows at a reasonable pace.

  13. I am not a fan. I have lived in north asheville my entire life (five decades). I have a business on Merrimon (and a location on Patton Ave downtown which is next on the list to have a road diet… being discussed at Oct 10 City Council meeting). The backlog of cars has made our parking lot impossible to get in and out of, and forget about it if you are heading north. If our lot is full it becomes unsafe because you can’t cut through to the side lot.
    When sitting at my desk which overlooks Merrimon it’s a constant sound of honking horns, and since the road diet I have seen three accidents at the light in front of our office. Pre-road diet I had not seen any. Aside from my business, I travel Merrimon multiple times daily and my drive times have tripled.
    The backlog and congestion in north Asheville now rivals that of Hendersonville Road and Patton Avenue. And you can’t escape it on Kimberly because Charlotte Street backs up all the way to Edwin. To be clear, I don’t hate bikes… I own a bike, my husband rides his road bike, half of our agents ride bikes. I love bikes… I don’t love traffic, congestion, delays, and inefficient travel times. In a town that is growing it is hard for me to make sense of removing lanes. There is too much density for just two lanes.

  14. Before the road diet I was passed by vehicles going 50+ on at least a few occasions. I walk from Ingle’s to several area stores and feel much safer now crossing at crosswalks. As for traffic congestion, yes it can be bad, but aren’t lives and peace of mind for pedestrians and cyclists worth it?

  15. I drive it daily, and while slower speeds are of course safer, it’s kind of a nightmare with extremely poorly timed lights. Charlotte St. plan worked out adequately because it’s a) a short street, and b) has less businesses on it. The people doing this clearly don’t drive on it, a typical NCDOT situation. And business ingress and egress points are so close in proximity that I frequently see cars in unexpected games of “chicken” in the center turn lane. Trying to enter traffic from a driveway is now also near-impossible because all the angry drivers won’t let you in while (still) speeding along, or they block you in while stuck in the snail-paced back-ups. Side street traffic has definitely increased.

    1. I grew up in Asheville in the 1950’s .. back then BOTH US-70 to Black Mtn and US 19-23 were 3 lanes with “contention arbitration” used for access to the center passing lane. That was scary and led to fatal crashes. The old road to Canton is still 3 lanes … but with alternating access to the center lane.

  16. We live right smack dab in the middle of it and are big fans. It is slower but I am pretty sure that was the plan. We have no trouble turning onto Merrimon in either direction, maybe because folks are driving slowly enough that they can see cars wanting in. The parking lots are as busy as always so I am having trouble attributing a considerable loss of business to the configuration. I have read business is down everywhere. We now walk more along Merrimon and were not expecting but are pleased with slightly lessened road noise.
    It is also our understanding that the project is not complete and while I don’t know much about road paint, I agree it can be confusing. The amount of time it has taken to complete this final phase is baffling to me and surely is not helping in the general acceptance of the plan.
    Regarding bikes, OMG can’t people read? The bike lanes are a byproduct of a safer configuration. I’m not mad about it but that is what it is. Obviously bike advocates are pleased to back the change but they are not the boss of NCDOT. However, until people cool their jets about the change I am a little afraid to check it out so I am still waiting for at least the project completion.
    Someone above implied that a small number of loud people made the road diet happen for personal reasons. Being that I live in a very active and social neighborhood and do not know one person off social media who doesn’t like it, I would hold that a different small loud group are responsible for the negativity. These days, if we get stuck down on 26 trying to access Airport Road or even if it is just too windy, my husband mutters “dang Merrimon road diet!”

  17. Businesses suffering on account of the now slower, but safer Merrimon? I’ll bet the only businesses really suffering are the North Asheville car body shops. 😉

  18. John – did someone say we need an article in 5 minutes and you just whipped this up? I know this is an opinion piece but it would have been nice to talk to some business owners and/or some neighborhood association people and not just Mayor Sule.

    And it would be nice is someone/anyone would push back on the city and their selective use of Master Plans, Comprehensive Plans, etc. Whenever citizens try to use the UDO, Small Street plans, current zoning to fight oversize development, it’s all dismissed as these things are just “guidance” and the city can do what it wants. This selective use of the rules is part of the friction point with city leaders/agencies.

    And of course, to present this without any context of the fact that there will be close to 1000 units built within 1/2 mile of Merrimon in the coming years, makes this an empty argument. 5-10 minutes now isn’t the upsetting part, it’s the ability to move around in a few years that has me (and others) concerned.

    1. This was one of my primary questions before the conversion and it remains my primary concern…of course, a few years from now, people may act as if they’ve been blindsided and taxpayers will likely be on the hook for a new plan.

  19. It does feel safer for walkers now. I am retired now, but I do recall the stress of trying to get places on time. I was always one to set out early to reduce my stress level.

  20. I’ve read that no one sought the approval the businesses and property owners for the project. It was a unilateral decision. If that’s true, how are the businesses and land owners to be made whole for their losses? Are they going to have to sue? Isn’t public road access is one of the most significant impacts to the value of land? Is this road diet increasing the value or diminishing it? I do hope they don’t plan to do this every route north. There needs to be (at least) one open & unrestricted northbound thoroughfare for vehicle traffic. At least until the bikers and pedestrians outnumber the tax payers in vehicles. Also, why is so much of this road dieting happening in North Asheville? If biker and pedestrian safety is really the reasons for this, then it seems neglectful that they ignore the bikers off of Tunnel, Patton, Hendersonville, Brevard, or Sweeten Creek roads. Just sayin’.

  21. Has anyone thought about fire and EMT matters? That should have been on the list of considerations for reversal. It’s hard to imagine the Fire Department’s response time hasn’t been reduced. There’s also the scenario of a wild fire on Sunset Mountain or up in Beaverdam. The feeder streets, Merrimon, and Kimberly/Edwin/Charlotte which has been significantly impacted as well, experiencing the heavy congestion now would come to all but a standstill. A variation of the Lahaina disaster is entirely possible.

  22. We drive Merrimon daily around 7:15am and again around 8:45am. We find it much better and easier with the new layout. I realize we’re in the minority but for the times we travel, it’s much improved.

  23. None of the criteria for reappraisal calls for a study of the number of bike riders actually using the bike lanes. I travel Merrimon at least once a day and I have never seen one. Wasn’t that the point of shrinking the road?

  24. You guys deal with it, me personally I will not patronize any businesses on US 25 Merrimon Ave
    There are many other roads for bicycles to use that are not US ROUTES. I cannot wait until future I 26 starts from Asheville to the Tennessee line.
    Us 25 is the alternate route north if I 26 north is shut down. And just think all this for 3 or 4 bicycles or to say it another way for the many to suffer for the wants of the few?

  25. The majority of residents that live in North Asheville hate Merrimon Ave now. The businesses on Merrimon Ave hate it. Who uses it? The residents and businesses in North Asheville mainly. The only ones that didn’t have a say about US Hwy 25. Weird the state wouldn’t allow lowering the speed limit but gladly removed a lane. Lol. So glad Mike Sule, Ruler of Asheville Roads and the other West Asheville bike riders love it so much. Will you please come and run my errands for me? I can’t get off my street onto Merrimon unless someone will let me in.

    1. I live in North Asheville and travel on Merrimon by car multiple times daily, including morning and evening rush. I definitely use it and I definitely don’t hate it. Merrimon was terrifying before the conversion. I’ll take safety over convenience any day.

    2. I live in North Asheville and hate it. I used to drive on Merrimon regularly but mostly avoid it now. I don’t get how a four land road through the center of town can be terrifying. If you think Merrimon was terrifying and feels unsafe, how can you manage interstate highway driving.

      1. Thanks for your concern Karen. I manage just fine on interstate highways. They are designed for elevated vehicle speeds by not having stop lights, intersections, or driveways. They have proper lane widths, curve radius minimums, limited access points, and appropriate signage. The current configuration is much more appropriate for it’s use and I-26 is still available for those who wish to blow through North Asheville without slowing down for anything or anyone.

        1. Glad to hear you’re okay on the interstate. By the way, there was an accident on the road diet the other day with ambulances, so be careful.

  26. The criteria for “failure” are calculated to guarantee success. Don’t even get me started on the cynicism involved in this “plan.” As one educated in planning, assessment and evaluation this is a seriously flawed planned and executed product.

    My wife had a serious head injury and the rolling blockade seriously slowed down getting her to the hospital. We had no alternative to waiting for some kind soul to let us in the throttled flow, and sitting through ridiculous light cycles all the while burning gas and sucking up exhaust. People in California refer to sitting in road diet traffic as “soul killing.” It can also be fatal to the seriously injured.

  27. Y’all. This was a crazy road and now it is not as crazy. We all know people loved to fly down this road at 45-50mph. It is a 35mph zone and because people chose to drive like stock car drivers, we now have a road that forces you to slow down. If drivers would’ve been cool and driven responsibly, we could have kept our four lanes. The reality of the situation is that it was dangerous and now is less dangerous. That was the point. The bike lane was an easy thing to add to fill the extra space in the road, not the point of it all. Terrible drivers were the catalyst for this whole thing. I don’t own a bike, and I travel this road regularly. It’s all good. Leave a few minutes early, take some deep breaths, enjoy the scenery and the slower pace. We live in a beautiful place, look around. I would love if the city or state made my road safer.

    The resistance to change is the root cause of human suffering.

  28. I’m agnostic. But I’ve long felt that there should be signs posted on Future, Someday, Perhaps, Maybe, When We Get To It I-26 southbound saying, “Downtown Use Broadway.” That would take some traffic off Merrimon. Thirty or so years ago we fought a big battle over whether to 4-lane or 3-lane Broadway. The 4-laners with medians won, and it remains the least used four-lane thoroughfare in all WNC. Merrimon striping in ambiguous in some places. It needs more crosswalks and pedestrians who will use them and/or obey crosswalk signals.

  29. Mr Boyle, I almost always find you to be a straight shooter in your stories, even the tough ones. In this case, you really took a rather lazy approach. You basically went to everyone’s favorite bike zealot Sule and made all of his hackneyed talking points. You couldn’t find anyone to quote with another viewpoint. Just your casual personal observation and Sule.

    How about exploring the trade-offs between congestion and added pollution with making a tiny band of elite bikers a bit happier? What evidence is there that the number of in town bikers is growing? And please don’t cite any stats from the city where they announced the date of the bike count in advance and summoned the biking community to be the counters.

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