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.

Joint Statement from Bike HoCo & Horizon Foundation: County Executive’s Plan Signals Promise; Higher County Funding Essential to Success

Yesterday, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced a plan to put $8 million in county and grant funding over the next three years to improve 48 miles of bicycle infrastructure as part of its “BikeHoward Express” plan. The Horizon Foundation and Bicycling Advocates of Howard County issued the following joint statement in response to the plan:

The County Executive’s announcement to invest $8 million over three years to improve biking by building the “BikeHoward Express” is an encouraging commitment. For too long, Howard County has underinvested in bike routes, putting us far behind our neighbors like Anne Arundel County and Montgomery County.

We are pleased that this plan is highly similar to the Bikeway, which we proposed and advocated for.  It contains important routes, and by increasing and connecting safe spaces to bike, it will better connect residents with schools, transportation hubs and workplaces.  We are pleased to see the administration commit to an ambitious short-term goal. We are proud of local advocates and organizations for elevating and advancing the issue of bicycling in Howard County.

We look forward to seeing the County’s Executive’s commitment in action in his next budget. The funding level included in the upcoming budget, to be released in the spring, will signify the County’s down payment on its promise to build the mileage and connections needed to make biking easier and safer in Howard County. Much work remains to ensure that the County’s plan lives up to its promise as “the greatest financial investment ever made in bicycle infrastructure in Howard County.”

Last year’s budget allotted $600,000 in county funding toward Bike Master Plan projects, compared to $26 million budgeted by Montgomery County for bicycle improvements and $7.5 million by Arundel County. To reach an $8 million goal and fulfill its commitment, the county will need to substantially increase its investment.

More than 1,500 people and 30 businesses and community institutions have called on Howard County to increase its funding for 10 percent of projects in the Bike Master Plan that make up the Bikeway. This effort, led by the Horizon Foundation and Bicycling Advocates of Howard County, has demonstrated the widespread support for increased bicycle funding with the goal of creating a more bikeable, walkable community.

We are heartened to see Howard County move one step closer to this vision.

 

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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 (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. Learn more at www.bikehoco.org.

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.