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

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.

New Howard County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball sees broad Bikeway support at first budget hearing

On Dec. 12, the new County Executive heard clear messages from us: 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.

THANK YOU to the businesses, organizations and community members who attended the Howard County budget hearing to advocate for $3 million in funding for the Bikeway.

Many speakers urged County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball to increase funding for bicycling routes in their testimony:

  • Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation
  • Jennifer White, community advocacy director of the American Heart Association
  • Mary Ann Scully, president and CEO of Howard Bank
  • Sandra te Plate, a parent and Ellicott City resident
  • Greg Klassen, a local entrepreneur from Elkridge who spoke on the Bikeway’s benefits to people with mobility needs
  • Willie Flowers, president of the Howard County NAACP
  • Hector Garcia, CEO and executive director of FIRN
  • Kevin McAliley, board member of Bicycling Advocates of Howard County and chair of the Wilde Lake Village Board.

Testifiers also asked for a complete streets policy and funding: complete streets are designed to benefit all users including walkers, transit users, people with disabilities, cyclists and drivers. Complete Streets advocates included Louise Green and Sharon Shaw, lead organizer and member of PATH – People Acting Together in Howard; Becky McKirahan, founder of Why Not Jessup; and Susan Garber, board member of the Savage Community Association.


Local health leaders talked about how building the Bikeway will lead to increased physical activity and health. “Horizon cares about biking and walking because we know that the leading causes of death in Howard County are from preventable chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes,” Highsmith Vernick said. “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!”

Community members shared in their testimony how the Bikeway would connect neighborhoods, schools, parks and businesses. “From our home, we can walk around our little development of Heritage Woods, and yet we are not able to safely walk to the park or bus stops. Most of our kids who live close to Guilford Elementary School are not able to walk to school,” said McKirahan.

Scully, who leads the largest locally based bank employing 300 people across the region, shared why the Bikeway will bolster the local economy, attract business and increase livability and wellness. “The value of investing in biking and walking facilities is striking,” she said. “We know that when American communities build safe places to bike and walk they see increased retail sales, rising home values, transportation cost savings and health care cost savings.”

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Howard County Times: Howard Executive Ball hears requests for funding on Ellicott City, undocumented immigrants, other projects

Howard County Times’ coverage of County Executive Ball’s first FY20 budget hearing included advocates’ calls for $3 million in Bikeway funding.

Read: Howard Executive Ball hears requests for funding on Ellicott City, undocumented immigrants, other projects

More than 35 people wearing bike helmets came to the hearing to support increased funding for infrastructure for bikers. They said that out of 1,038 miles of roads maintained by Howard County, only 35 contain bike lanes. The county has 108 miles of shared use pathways for bikers and walkers located off the street — 90 of which are in Columbia.

Neighboring Montgomery County has 55.41 miles of “properly marked bike lanes,” 41.62 miles of “bike-friendly shoulders” and 1.68 miles of “separated bike lanes,” according to Neil Greenberger, a spokesman for Montgomery.

Bike advocates in Howard are asking for $3 million for the next three years to fund street bike lanes and shared pathways, expediting a policy of including infrastructure for bikers and walkers in new roads, and for Ball to submit to the County Council a master plan to improve walkways for pedestrians.