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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.

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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.

Howard County Bike Spending Signifies a Small Step Forward, Still Falls Short

Joint Press Statement on County Council-Approved FY 2019 Budget

The Horizon Foundation, Bicycling Advocates of Howard County and American Heart Association, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, issued the following joint statement in response to the Howard County Council’s approval of the FY 2019 budget proposed by County Executive Allan Kittleman, which includes $1.45 million in funding for bicycle infrastructure projects:

Today the Howard County Council approved $1.45 million in bike spending proposed by County Executive Kittleman. As proponents of a more bikeable and walkable Howard County, we are heartened by the County Executive’s intent to improve bikeability on our community’s streets as part of his BikeHoward Express plan. We remain concerned, however, that this level of spending and this plan barely scrape the surface of what is needed to make a meaningful difference for health, the economy, the environment, transportation equity and quality of life in our county.

Though the county’s 2019 funding on bike projects exceeds that of the previous year, it still lags far behind bike spending levels in neighboring counties. Last year, Montgomery County budgeted the equivalent of $24.97 per person and Anne Arundel County budgeted the equivalent of $13.20 per person. In Howard County, even with the small progress cited above, this year’s bike spending comes out to $4.57 per person.

This amount is not enough to truly make bike routes that are more safe, accessible, connected and useful for county residents. At this funding level, the county is poised to undertake only the bare minimum, cheapest forms of biking facilities possible.

Over the past two years, nearly 2,000 people and more than 40 local businesses and organizations spoke out in support of county investment in the Bikeway, our proposed network of core, connected bike routes from the county’s Bicycle Master Plan. Earlier this year, the County Executive announced his commitment to build the BikeHoward Express – a set of connected bike routes in the county. Together with the funding included in the FY 2019 budget, this plan represents a small step forward, but falls dramatically short of the need and vision expressed in the Bikeway plan. There are key differences:

Bikeway BikeHoward Express
50 miles of connected bike routes 46.5 miles of connected bike routes
$9 million total county cost $3.3 million total county cost (county will try to raise $4.7 million of state grant funding for an additional 1.5 miles of critical shared use paths though that level of state funding would be unprecedented)
Designed for safety, accessibility and quality to help more people feel comfortable riding their bikes around the community Seemingly designed for lower costs and biking by experienced bikers and not the majority of the population
Greater use of the safest, “higher-level” bike facilities, such as bike paths that are physically separated from roadways Seemingly greater use of cheaper, “lower-level” facilities, such as unprotected bike lanes painted onto existing roadways/shoulders
Very detailed plan, specifying all bike facilities envisioned along with route-specific costs Less detailed plan, does not specify all bike facilities envisioned nor route-specific costs

Our coalition of supporters believes that our community wants and deserves the safest, best quality, “higher-level” bike infrastructure envisioned in the Bikeway plan that makes both biking and walking more safe and accessible for everyone, from children going to school to residents heading to work. We must increase our county’s bike spending to ensure that this vision is achieved and to ensure that we do not continue to fall behind.

We are thankful for the many leaders in our community who have taken a stand for bike spending in Howard County and we look forward to continue working with the County Executive and County Council to make the vision of a more bikeable and walkable Howard County a reality.

Background information

The Bikeway is a proposed 50-mile network of bicycle and pedestrian routes from the county’s Bicycle Master Plan that would help people in Howard County bike and walk more easily and safely to places they need to go. More than 40 businesses and organizations and nearly 2,00 people have asked the county to fund the Bikeway with $3 million to ensure that the community’s streets are designed to promote health, the environment, the economy and transportation equity. The proposed routes would be within one mile of more than half of county residences, schools and parks. In February 2018, the County Executive presented his BikeHoward Express plan which would include 46.5 miles of routes through $3.3 million in county funding over three years and 1.5 miles of critical shared-use paths reliant upon $4.7 million in competitive state grants. Over the past five years, the county has averaged $400,000 per year in these grants.

The Horizon Foundation is the largest independent health philanthropy in Maryland. We lead community change so everyone in Howard County can live a longer, better life. We are committed to improving health through innovative initiatives, collaborative partnerships, strategic grantmaking and thoughtful advocacy. Learn more at www.thehorizonfoundation.org.

The Bicycling Advocates of Howard County (Bike HoCo) is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization founded in 2008 as a coalition of cycling clubs and bicycle riders in Howard County, Maryland.  Bike HoCo advocates to improve the visibility and safety of bicycling, supports bicycling education programs for adults and children, and promotes a vision of bicycling and sharing the road as part of a healthy, energy efficient, and environmentally sound transportation system to help achieve a sustainable future for Howard County and for Maryland. Learn more at www.bikehoco.org.

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.  For more information visit www.heart.org.

Joint Statement: Howard County Bike Funding Improves, Still Lags Behind Neighboring Counties

Horizon_stacked_cmyk      BAHC logo MOD 6_12_17     AHA logo

 

Howard County Bike Funding Improves, Still Lags Behind Neighboring Counties
Joint Press Statement on FY 2019 Proposed Budget

The Horizon Foundation, Bicycling Advocates of Howard County and American Heart Association, Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, issued the following joint statement in response to the County Executive’s proposed FY 2019 budget which includes $1.25 million in funding for bicycle infrastructure projects:

When the County Executive announced his plan to invest $8 million in bike routes over the next three years, we were encouraged by this commitment, which he described as “the greatest financial investment ever made in bicycle infrastructure in Howard County.” This plan responded to the demand of more than 30 businesses and community institutions and over 1,500 people who called on the County Executive to significantly increase county funding to build the Bikeway and realize the vision of a more bikeable community. This coalition of supporters includes leading businesses, realtors, developers, environmental advocates, health groups and individuals who know that plans require an adequate investment to get properly implemented.

The $1.25 million in county funds allotted for bicycle infrastructure projects represents a notable increase compared to the $600,000 allotted last year. However, it still pales in comparison to neighboring counties like Montgomery and Anne Arundel, which spent $26 million and $7.5 million in FY18 respectively. It also falls short of the County Executive’s promised plan.

Although we support the County Executive’s intention to secure competitive state grant funding, the county lacks a track record of receiving significant levels of such funding. Based on projected county funding and this track record, it will be extremely challenging for the Bike Howard Express to be built, as envisioned, within the promised time frame.

As funding for bicycle and walking routes continues to lag, many in our community face the consequences: lower-income workers who struggle to get to work to earn a living, students who need safe routes to get to school, businesses that want to attract a millennial workforce, older adults who want to live in neighborhoods where they can bike to local attractions and property owners who desire the highest quality of life in their communities. Walkers miss out too: With full funding, the County Executive’s plan would include miles of shared bike/walk paths.

If we continue to fall behind in funding, we will continue to lose out on the potential benefits to health, the environment, the economy and local residents and workers. A plan should be judged by how well it is funded and implemented, not how good it sounds.

It is long past time that Howard County elevate bicycle and pedestrian transportation as a priority and invest the funding needed to build safe, accessible and connected routes that will allow people to easily travel to places they need to go – work, school, places of worship, MARC stations and more.

We are deeply grateful for and proud of the many leaders in our community who have taken a stand for bike and walk funding in Howard County. In the midst of competing priorities, we are heartened to know so many sincerely care about making safe and accessible biking and walking possible for more people in our community. We look forward to continue our efforts to work with the County Executive and County Council and make the vision of a more bikeable and walkable Howard County a reality.

Background information

The Bikeway is a proposed 50-mile network of bicycle and pedestrian routes from the county’s bicycle master plan that would help people in Howard County bike and walk more easily and safely to places they need to go. More than 30 businesses and organizations and 1,500 people asked the county to fund the Bikeway with $3 million to ensure that the community’s streets are designed to promote health, the environment, the economy and transportation equity. The proposed routes would be within one mile of more than half of county residences, schools and parks. In February 2018, the County Executive presented his plan to fund and build projects aligned with the Bikeway in his Bike Howard Express plan with $8 million over three years, of which $4.7 million would rely on competitive state grants. Over the past five years, the county has averaged $400,000 per year in these grants.

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The Horizon Foundation is the largest independent health philanthropy in Maryland. We lead community change so everyone in Howard County can live a longer, better life. We are committed to improving health through innovative initiatives, collaborative partnerships, strategic grantmaking and thoughtful advocacy. Learn more at www.thehorizonfoundation.org.

The Bicycling Advocates of Howard County (Bike HoCo) is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization founded in 2008 as a coalition of cycling clubs and bicycle riders in Howard County, Maryland.  Bike HoCo advocates to improve the visibility and safety of bicycling, supports bicycling education programs for adults and children, and promotes a vision of bicycling and sharing the road as part of a healthy, energy efficient, and environmentally sound transportation system to help achieve a sustainable future for Howard County and for Maryland. Learn more at www.bikehoco.org.

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.  For more information visit www.heart.org.

70+ People Turn Out to Support Bike Funding at County Budget Hearing

On March 8, dozens of Bikeway supporters came out with helmets, bike bells and bike parts to say “We can’t ride on partial funding!” Several supporters also testified before the county executive, urging him to increase funding for bike routes: Gerod Blue of the American Heart Association, Kevin McAliley of Wilde Lake Village, Cliff Hughes of the Association of Community Services, Jenny Bonilla of PATH (People Acting Together in Howard), Chris Tsien of the Bicycling Advocates of Howard County and Paul Gleichauf of the Horizon Foundation. These leaders powerfully stated the value of bicycling infrastructure for health, transportation equity for lower income residents, neighborhood vitality and quality of life.