Howard County families and community leaders braved the rain and glimpsed the future of bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly streets at the Open Streets Howard County event on Oct. 1.

At the opening ceremony, the Horizon Foundation and bike advocates presented a proposal for the Bikeway, a core bike transportation network that would more fully connect Howard County residents to each other, their schools, workplaces, faith communities and commerce. Should the Bikeway become reality, Ellicott City residents, for example, could more easily and safely connect to places in Columbia, Elkridge, Clarksville and Laurel.

The Bikeway builds upon the county’s Bike Master Plan, which was introduced by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and unanimously approved by the county council.

“We are fortunate to have county leaders who know the importance of creating a community that encourages healthy, active transportation like biking and walking,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. “This is ultimately about making connections in our community and making it more convenient, safe and comfortable for all of us to bike and walk as part of our everyday lives, whether we’re going to school, to work, to parks, or other parts of the county.”

A Few Numbers

National data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that nearly half of adults fail to meet the recommended amount of physical activity. However, research shows that people living in areas with connected bikeways and sidewalks are much more likely to meet those guidelines.

Nearly 60% of county residents live within one mile of the proposed network, and more than half of county schools and parks are also located less than a mile from the Bikeway. The county’s four MARC train stations are within 2.5 miles of the route.

“We support the Bikeway because it represents freedom, for old and for young,” said Chris Tsien, president of the Bicycling Advocates of Howard County. “It lets you get out and get to places. It lets you get from here to there, and further, by foot, by bike.”

The Bikeway would entail a county investment of $3 million for three years, which is roughly 5% of the estimated cost of implementing the full bike master plan, according to an estimate by the Toole Design Group, a nationally recognized community planning firm that provided support to the county’s bike master plan development.

“With all of the progress the county has made to become more bike-friendly, this is a timely and feasible opportunity to take one more step to ensure that the goals of the county’s new bike master plan and complete streets statement are fully realized,” Vernick said.

Social Media Force

More than 100 individuals and organizations voiced support for a more bikeable and walkable Howard County in a social media Thunderclap that flooded local Twitter and Facebook accounts, reaching more than 130,000 people the day before the event.

At the opening ceremony, County Council Chairman Calvin Ball also mentioned Columbia’s recent designation as the top place to live by Money magazine and noted that encouraging active forms of travel fits in with the community’s identity.

“We believe in quality of life,” said Ball. “We recognize that you have to have a good quality of life, and that only happens when we invest in health and make a community that’s walkable, bikeable and easy to get around.”

Columbia Association (CA) has long recognized the role of active transportation options in creating a thriving and sustainable future.

“We don’t want to be an automobile-dependent community,” said Milton Matthews, president and CEO of CA. “We want to have many modes of transportation.”

In 2036

Participants at the Open Streets event biked and walked through demonstrations dotted along Little Patuxent Parkway of bike lanes and pedestrian crossings, which included Batman, Wonder Woman and Deadpool as crossing guards. Families also posed for photos with a sign that said, “I (heart) my bike,” tested out electric bikes, dined at food trucks, danced with Zumba instructors and participated in fitness activities.

The event was part of Horizon’s Open Streets Howard County initiative to promote active transportation and support measures that help everyone in the community travel safely, comfortably and conveniently whether by bike, public transit, car or on foot.

“We want Money magazine, 20 years from now, to continue to say we are one of the best places to live,” Vernick said. “To keep that up, we must invest in the infrastructure that will allow us to bike and walk in an active and healthy community.”