Testimony from Horizon Foundation CEO Nikki Highsmith Vernick at the Howard County Budget Hearing on Dec. 12

On Dec. 12, the new County Executive heard clear messages from Howard County community members, businesses and organizations: our community wants $3 million in funding for the Bikeway, we care deeply about healthy, green, equitable transportation options and we are organized! Add your voice of support.

Check out testimony from Horizon Foundation CEO Nikki Highsmith Vernick from the budget hearing.

Hello, my name is Nikki Highsmith Vernick and I am the President and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. As you know, we are Howard County’s health foundation. We work to help everyone in the county live a long, healthy life – and believe nobody should be left behind because of who they are or where they live.

First of all, congratulations on your new role as our County Executive. You have always been a champion of health throughout your time as a public servant and we look forward to working with you in the many years ahead. We appreciate how often during your campaign you named biking and walking as something you want to work on.

We appreciate that you joined us at our October Walk Audit in Guilford, and that you walked through the grass with us and saw how a lack of sidewalks, bike lanes and safe intersections kept residents separated from their parks, schools and neighbors.

We are here tonight because we want to you to take bold, ambitious action on biking and walking, and we want you to know that you’ll have strong support. Tonight we ask for $3 million for the Bikeway in the FY 2020 capital budget as the start of that bold action. Could all supporters with us tonight please stand up? Thank you.

Horizon cares about biking and walking because we know that the leading causes of deaths in Howard County are from preventable chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. There are two main ways we can prevent these diseases: improve our nutrition and increase our physical activity.

People in our community are not getting enough routine, daily exercise – and we think one reason is they often can’t walk or bike in their own neighborhoods! You know the problems. Many of our bike paths are short, disconnected, and unprotected. They are impossible for families and kids to use.

The county needs miles more of sidewalks and they need to be better connected to parks and schools. The lack of sidewalks especially impacts members of our community who rely on the bus and walk to and from bus stops. Many of our bus stops are just a sign stuck in grass, and are inaccessible on foot or by wheelchair.

There have been a few pedestrian deaths in the county this year. We can and should be doing more to keep people safe. We need to address these problems and start investing in a brighter, greener, more equitable future. That’s why tonight we stand together, to ask you to budget $3 million dollars in the 2020 capital budget for the Bikeway.

As you know, the Bikeway is a network of bike routes that extends from Clarksville to Elkridge and from Laurel to Ellicott City. The Bikeway is 50 miles of connected and integrated bike lanes that touch village centers, parks, schools and employment centers. It also includes 10 miles of new, off-road paths that are also great for walkers.

With a $3 million allocation, you could make fast, significant progress on this project. Our hope is that you don’t stop there. We want to work you to pass a strong Complete Streets Policy and Pedestrian Plan this spring and to craft a bold vision for biking, walking and transit by the end of the year.

You can build the Bikeway and connect neighborhoods, parks, schools and businesses. You can build sidewalks to bus stops to help people get where they need to go. If you boldly invest money and leadership in improved biking and walking, this can be a highly visible, signature initiative of your administration that will save and improve lives.

Better walking, biking and public transportation will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and it will help lower income residents of the county, disproportionately people of color, safely access all our county has to offer. Invest in the Bikeway and complete streets and it will help you reach your environmental and equity goals too.

If you invest and lead, we will celebrate every step of the way. Our community is mobilized. The County has received more than 2,000 letters from supporters and hundreds of phone calls asking for $3 million of funding on the Bikeway. 

Over the last two years, we’ve gathered support from more than 40 businesses and civic organizations. I’ll leave their letters with you tonight. We’d like to recognize some of our supporters that are present tonight including FIRN, The Sierra Club, Transition Howard County, the American Heart Association, the Local Health Improvement Coalition, and the Wilde Lake Village Board.

We’d also like to recognize and support advocates from Guilford and Jessup who will testify for complete streets in their neighborhood. We ask you to fund the Bikeway at $3 million, but more importantly, we ask you to make biking and walking a priority of your administration and to dream big. I know you do.