Making walking and bicycling regular modes of transportation for people in Harford County is a noble goal, and one that has some potential.
It happens to be a goal of a County Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan reviewed by the county's Environmental Advisory Board recently, but it could also be a goal another county advisory board, the one appointed to find ways to deal with weight problems that affect many of us to varying degrees.
Advocating for walking and bicycling is a bit like advocating for losing weight and eating healthy: All are great ideas, and only a fool would advocate for fewer exercising opportunities, packing on the pounds and eating nothing but burgers, fries and ice cream.
Still, burgers, fries and ice cream, purchased at a drive through and followed by a crash on the couch are a series of things that plenty of us can remember partaking of, even as we know such things aren't healthy, at least not in excess.
The point here is we all know walking and bicycling are good for us, and it'd be nice to be in a position to walk or pedal to work, or some other regular destination, more often than driving there. As a society, unfortunately, we've pretty much become hard-wired to equate driving with getting the kids to practice, with getting to work, to church – even to the gym. This goes double in a county that grew up as a commuter bedroom for people who work many miles away.
The odds are stacked against efforts to turn bicycling and walking into regular modes of transportation the way they can be in a compact place like a city. Still, Harford County has seen a substantial amount of success in promoting bicycling and walking. Proof can be found any day of the week along the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail, which links Fallston to Forest Hill. Only deep snow limits its use, and then only for a few weeks at the most.
It may well be that turning every day into Bike to Work Day is an idea with some merit, as Bike to Work Day was part of the inspiration for the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. Realistically speaking, however, though Bike to Work Day has grown from 50 registered participants to 280 in just a few years, only the percentage increase is impressive. The raw numbers reflect the harsh reality that bicycling to work just isn't a realistic option for most people. Most people just live too far from where they work.
Bicycle paths and pedestrian walkways, however, are worth pursuing for other reasons. Among them is the reason why the Ma & Pa Trail is so popular: having access to a place to walk or ride a bicycle is a strong incentive to walk or ride on a regular basis, even if the trip is to nowhere in particular.
No matter how many sidewalks are installed, or bicycle paths are built, it's going to be difficult to promote walking or cycling to work to great numbers of people, but walking or cycling to health or relaxation is an equally noble goal, and one that has proven attainable.