As Howard County's BikeShare program officially launched Thursday morning at the Columbia lakefront, dozens of bicyclists tested some of the new wheels dispersed across seven stations in Columbia. (Michael Ares / Baltimore Sun)
Howard County has long been recognized as among the “best”: best places to live, best schools, highest median family income and high job growth. Its guiding principles have always been to provide an environment of optimal health — physically, mentally, socially and environmentally.
Yet many communities in the region have similar goals, so Howard County increasingly competes for businesses, residents and workers. It’s a hard race and we are not always keeping pace. One area where we are in danger of falling behind is bike routes.
Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties significantly outspend Howard County on bike lanes, trails and other bike-friendly infrastructure accessible to people of all ages and income levels. In their most recent budgets, Arundel County put $7.5 million into biking and Montgomery County put $26 million, while Howard County allotted only $600,000.
Last year, the Howard County executive and County Council passed the first Bike Master Plan and set a vision for the future. However, the plan calls for about $3 million in spending a year, and the $600,000 budgeted last year by the county executive is not enough to bring this plan to reality.
Howard County’s Office of Transportation announced Tuesday a multi-million dollar improvement project for the county’s fledgling bike network, one of its first significant steps to implement its BikeHoward Master Plan.
Bike routes address physical health, social health and environmental health. They are no longer a nice-to-have amenity; they signify a community’s commitment to nature, activity and accessibility for a diverse population.
Increasing the bike-friendliness of Howard County is good for business and good for the community. Research and examples from across the country show that when communities invest in cycling facilities, they reap the benefits in increased retail sales, rising home values, transportation cost savings and increased appeal to younger and older generations.
These amenities attract potential residents and businesses that want to build the best workforce.
Howard Bank employs more than 300 people in the region and is poised to become the largest locally-based bank. We are in a tight labor market and compete for talented millennial workers. Surveys of millennials and older adults resoundingly show a strong preference for living and working in places with diverse transit options. Bike- and pedestrian-friendly environments help businesses like Howard Bank and our clients to recruit and retain these workers.
We also recognize that the local population of older adults will grow to unprecedented levels in coming decades. Our community must keep pace with their increasing interest in biking, walking and transit.
Because of the benefits to property values, the local business climate and our own hiring, Howard Bank has joined more than 30 businesses and organizations to call for a $3 million investment in local bicycle routes in the next county budget, and we believe that money would be best spent on the Bikeway.
The Bikeway is a core network of 50 miles of bike routes from the county’s Bike Master Plan that would make it easier and safer for people to bike to everyday places. These routes would effectively connect more than half of county residences, schools and parks with routes extending from Clarksville to Elkridge and Laurel to Ellicott City.
A broad cross-section of companies and organizations from diverse sectors representing health, business, environmental, transportation, real estate and other interests supports the Bikeway, including COPT, W. R. Grace & Co., Enterprise Community Investment, Inc., and the Columbia Association. Additionally, more than 1,500 residents have written letters stating they too want more bikeability and support the meaningful investment needed to get the Bikeway started.
We want Howard County to be a place where everyone can bike and walk where they need to go. We believe our county leaders agree with this vision. But we must prioritize this issue, lest we lose out on attracting the best businesses and residents to our neighbors. We urge the county executive to provide $3 million in funding in his upcoming FY 2019 budget.
Funding and building the Bikeway will help bring Howard County and the greater region further into the future — at a more cost-effective price tag than other types of transportation infrastructure. And when more people can choose biking and walking over driving, they can save money, improve their health and protect the environment too. This community, known for prioritizing quality of life and public amenities, will hold that reputation in the coming decades.
We need to make bicycling a priority and fund it accordingly. It just makes good business sense.