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.

Editorial: Keeping Bike Howard in motion

The Howard County Times editorial board issued its own commentary and cartoon in the May 24, 2017, issue urging investment in bicycle routes and implementing the county’s Bicycle Master Plan.

Read: Keeping Bike Howard in motion

bikehoward-20170524 cartoon

 

For the most part, Howard’s elected leaders have supported the concept of a bike network and funding has been included in the county’s budget for planning and operations.

There’s a risk, however, that incremental funding could be an easy target for elimination in tight budget years and expansion could be stalled if the program falls off the priority list.

Statement: Budget Falls Short of Ensuring Bikeway

Budget Falls Short of Ensuring Bikeway Transportation Options Requested by 1,000+ People and 18 Community Groups

Joint Statement on FY2018 Capital Budget by the Bicycling Advocates of Howard County and the Horizon Foundation

The Horizon Foundation and Bicycling Advocates of Howard County issued the following joint statement in response to the county committing $600,000 in funding for Bicycle Master Plan projects in the FY 2018 capital budget presented Friday by County Executive Allan Kittleman:

Despite widespread support, research documenting the benefits of a more bicycle-friendly community and the county executive’s past statements in support of cycling, County Executive Kittleman presented a budget that falls far short of the investment needed to make bicycles a viable transportation option in Howard County.

More than 1,000 people and 18 groups representing business, environmental, health and transportation interests urged the county executive to fund the Bikeway for $3 million, sending in support letters, testifying at hearings and talking to neighbors. They, like us, believed that the county could do more to promote bicycling and reap the economic, environmental and health benefits. As one father told County Executive Kittleman recently, “I would like to see the Bikeway built in my children’s lifetime.” Unfortunately, at the level of funding proposed, families will be waiting for the foreseeable future.

We understand that the county faces tough budget decisions, but budgets are also a reflection of public priorities. Many communities across the nation are making great strides in funding infrastructure projects like the Bikeway. In Salisbury, which has a population that is one-tenth the size of Howard County, the mayor has proposed roughly $750,000 to implement projects in the city’s bike master plan for the next fiscal year. Montgomery County’s county executive has recommended more than $20 million for bike routes. Howard County is falling behind.

We are disappointed that Howard County’s proposed funding level will not allow the community’s built environment to truly promote health. The Bikeway would have brought 50 miles of routes accessible to more than half of the county’s residents, connecting them to schools, parks and other destinations. The Bikeway would have made it significantly easier and safer for residents to take a bicycle to everyday locations and achieve recommended physical activity guidelines.

When County Executive Kittleman took office, his transition team acknowledged the importance of instituting measures that would increase healthier lifestyles. The report stated that he should “aggressively address the County’s obesity issue” and “work with the business community and other community partners to develop both education and public policy strategies that will affect positive and measurable change.”

Promoting bicycling and walking is one of those policy strategies. Yet without adequate investment, the county executive’s budget falls short.

We are grateful for the many voices in our community who rose to support the Bikeway. Together, we are committed to health for the long haul. We will continue to advocate for the Bikeway and work with the county government to make it a reality.

 


Background information on the Bikeway

The Bikeway is a proposed 50-mile network of bicycle routes that would help people in Howard County bike more easily and safely to places they need to go. The Horizon Foundation, Bicycling Advocates of Howard County and other community organizations asked the county to fund $3 million for three consecutive years as the next step in ensuring county streets are designed to promote health, help the environment and contribute to a robust economy. The Bikeway includes 10 percent of projects in the county’s Bicycle Master Plan and would be located within one mile of more than half of county residences, schools and parks.

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The Horizon Foundation is an independent philanthropy dedicated to improving the health and wellness of people living or working in Howard County, Maryland. We invest in strategic grants and initiatives to achieve the greatest impact. We also build partnerships and advocate for public policy changes that advance our mission. For more information, visit www.thehorizonfoundation.org.

The Bicycling Advocates of Howard County (BAHC) is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization founded in 2008 as a coalition of cycling clubs and bicycle riders in Howard County, Maryland.  BAHC 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.

Op-ed: Bikeway is a win-win for Columbia

The Howard County Times published an op-ed on March 8, 2017, by Horizon Foundation CEO Nikki Highsmith Vernick calling on the county to fully fund and build the Bikeway.

Read: Bikeway is a win-win for Columbia

More work remains if we are to ensure a truly bike-friendly and walk-friendly environment that embodies the groundbreaking vision of this community and looks toward the future. This is why nearly 1,000 people and 14 organizations, including business, environmental and health groups, have called on county leaders to build a 50-mile core network of bike routes across Howard County called the Bikeway.