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Asheville may get bicycle taxis

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10/25/2012 - Asheville may get bicycle taxis
by Mark Barrett - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- Residents and visitors might be getting around downtown on three wheels starting next spring following action by City Council on Tuesday.

Council approved a franchise agreement that allows Asheville Bike Taxi LLC to operate a pedicab service in downtown, Montford and the River Arts District.

Company head Jessie Lehmann said the human-powered taxis -- most are technically tricycles, although the vehicles are commonly called bicycle taxis -- have become increasingly common in recent years in cities with significant tourist traffic.

"It's kind of funny that Asheville doesn't have a pedicab service," Lehmann said before the meeting.

The city approved a similar agreement with a different company in 2008, city Transportation Director Ken Putnam said, but the service never got off the ground.

In a nod to the city's sometimes steep terrain, Lehmann said she will use pedicabs with electric motors to assist the human power provided by drivers.

She envisions people using the service as a way to tour parts of the city, as well as for ordinary transportation.

The agreement limits the motors to no more than one horsepower. Pedicabs will not be allowed on streets with speed limits of more than 35 mph except for Clingman Avenue.

Also Tuesday, City Council:

o Approved rezoning 1.9 acres at 671 Sand Hill Road in West Asheville from multi-family residential zoning to institutional zoning to allow a small school to locate on the property.

New Classical Academy, which has about 40 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, plans to move from Weaverville into a church on the property, city planner Alan Glines said. The church will continue its operations.

o Approved exceptions to some city policies to allow staffers to speed up loaning $300,000 from the city's housing trust fund to Mountain Housing Opportunities for Eagle Market Place.

The project MHO is developing with Eagle Market Streets Development Corp. will involve renovating existing buildings at the southwest corner of Eagle and South Market streets downtown and adding space above to create a total of 62 affordable apartments and some commercial space.

Environmental work is being done now on the property and actual construction is scheduled to begin in summer or fall of 2013, said Scott Dedman, MHO's executive director. Construction is to take about 18 months.

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